By Monica Cruz, Director of the Ettling Center for Civic Leadership, University of the Incarnate Word
I have had the wonderful opportunity to serve as a member of the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Committee (JPIC) for the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word for nearly 2 years. Our committee has hosted several educational and inspiring presentations to understand the importance of creating a sustainable environment, Laudato Si and understanding the plight of victims of human trafficking and refugees around the world.
Another important area of JPIC is to develop the advocacy skills of members who wish to increase their civic participation on important social justice issues. Last summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Changemakers gathering sponsored by the Marianist Social Justice Collaborative. During this event, we were asked to commit to develop a project or initiative that we felt was important to further develop leaders who understood and embraced social justice causes in our community. As someone who has taught State and Local Politics courses and serves on the CCVI JPIC committee, I was inspired to commit to developing a Social Justice Advocacy Training for university students. I had been playing with this idea for quite some time but my involvement as a member of JPIC propelled me into action to develop this training for students that focused on Texas public education and finance—an issue that the students selected to focus on.
The 3 day training took place during spring break with the first two days in San Antonio and the third day with a trip to the Austin capitol. Students from 6 colleges in San Antonio gathered to become knowledgeable about school finance and curriculum development; more knowledgeable about the public policy process for education; and more comfortable speaking and advocating about these issues in the community and in government through the lens of social justice. Students critically analyzed Senate bill 3, the school voucher bill and learned how the idea of equally distributing public school vouchers to children in Texas did not necessarily translate into achieving equity in our schools.
Robert Cavazos, a student from the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) who participated in the training stated, “All of us recognized how important, and unfortunately how rare it is, for college students to engage in local and state politics and advocate for social justice. We considered what we can do to further our training and advocacy experience beyond this spring break conference. We felt the burden of responsibility that UIW instilled in us through an emphasis on Catholic Social Teaching; and with the tools of social justice advocacy now at our disposal, we are ready to make our public schools and our communities better through our willingness to care.”
It was truly inspiring watching these students walk through the halls of the state capitol advocating for equity in our public schools. We hope the experience gave them the tools to continue as social justice advocates on issues affecting the most vulnerable in our community for years to come.