Changing Faces by Ann Thompson

(Above) Twenty-two percent of the "Gen Y" students on Jesuit campuses in the United States, the sons and daughters of baby boomers, are minorities. University of San Francisco's minority population is 60 percent; at St. Peter's College in Jersey City 30 percent of the freshman this year are Hispanic; Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles reports a minority enrollment of 50 percent.

Student body? It's not as homogenous as it used to be. Jesuit colleges and universities are welcoming new groups to campus.

In Philadelphia, an aspiring young exec from Nanking, China, studies for an MBA at St. Joseph's University. In Spokane, a freshman of Mexican descent attends a Native American Saints celebration at Gonzaga University. Muslim students in Chicago face Mecca during daily worship in the campus mosque at Loyola University.

Across the country, faces are changing on Jesuit campuses. Once bastions of primarily white, Catholic men, the 185,000 students on Jesuit university and college campuses today are now predominantly female (57 percent) and are including students from a widening range of races, faiths, and cultures at a rapid clip.

The trend toward greater diversity on Jesuit campuses is in many ways a microcosm of what is happening nationally. By the year 2008, the pool of incoming freshmen will include the largest number of minority students in U.S. history. Says Rockhurst University admissions counselor Alicia Douglas, "Rockhurst is changing the way the world is changing."

Generation Why?

The massive Baby Boomer generation gave birth to their own "boomlet" in the '80s, and Generation Y is now coming of age. These "boomlets" have their own unique character, which has distinctly changed the nature of the student body at today's Jesuit colleges and universities.

According to Bob Lay, Dean for Enrollment Management at Boston College, Generation Y students are curious, bright, and highly motivated scholars. At Boston College, the number of freshmen with Advanced Placement credits has risen by 119 percent. "We're getting freshmen who are so prepared for college they're like transfer students," says Lay.

Accustomed to the Internet, Generation Y students expect and demand instant service. "It puts pressure on the adults," observes Lay. "We're telling our professors they better use that laptop and start a website, because these freshmen want to hit the ground running."

These are clearly brainy kids-but they also have heart: Today's college students are very involved in community service and political activism. Says David Conway, Vice President of Enrollment Management at St. Joseph's, "Apathy doesn't exist anymore."

Not surprisingly, Generation Y is flocking to Jesuit schools, where social justice concerns and community service programs are integral to the college experience. Ignatian spirituality fills a void for many students. "These kids are hungry for values," says Lay. "They are looking for meaning and spiritual development."

Perhaps this is why St. Joseph's University found enrollment ballooning after they revamped admissions materials to include a tagline that put their Jesuit identity front and center: "St. Joseph's-Philadelphia's Jesuit University" was emblazoned across the front of every publication. Soon after, applications shot up from 2,500 to 3,500, the freshman pool doubled, and the number of students from outside the Philadelphia area increased by 50 percent.

Promoting Diversity

Caring about values means that these Jesuit institutions of higher learning have a moral imperative to promote diversity. "The Ignatian philosophy has a lot to do with 'faith that does justice.' That's why, at our recent national meeting of Jesuit university admissions directors, the dominant theme was diversity," says Raymond Reyes, Associate Vice President for Diversity at Gonzaga University.

The University of San Francisco, for instance, made a formal commitment in 1991 to promote multiculturalism with clearly positive results today: USF's 60-percent minority student body is largely Asian-American and Hispanic, with numerous ethnicities within those broader categories.

Creative is a good way to describe some schools' enrollment-boosting efforts: inside the admissions packet St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia sends is that business card-sized CD with audio tracks, video overviews of campus, course catalog, application form, handbook-you name it. Omaha's Creighton University includes this fee-waived application form in its alumni magazine, encouraging the school's graduates to get it into the hands of potential Creighton students.


Of course, fostering diversity at USF has been comparatively easy since California is a minority-majority state. An urban university, USF has always served the sons and daughters of immigrants. "It's just that the immigrants are no longer Italian and Irish Catholics," observes USF's Associate Dean Dr. William Henley.

Fred Cranwell, Director of Public Affairs for St. Peter's College, his alma mater, agrees: "At St. Peter's, we've always taught 'first generation' college students. That's never changed. It's just that now the students have all kinds of ethnic backgrounds. But they're the same kids, with the same hopes, the same dreams."

Located in Jersey City, New Jersey, St. Peter's is very close to Union City, the largest Cuban community in the United States outside Miami. Not surprisingly, nearly a third of the student body is Hispanic. Another 19 to 21 percent are African American, Asian, and other nationalities. At the baccalaureate mass, St. Peter's students recite the Prayers of the Faithful in up to fifteen languages, including German, Chinese and Swahili.

Other Jesuit universities have initiated programs to foster greater diversity-and they are bearing fruit. In Kansas City, Rockhurst University's freshman class is 19 percent minority, up from 12 to 13 percent in the 1990s. Le Moyne College in Syracuse has a multicultural enrollment of 12 percent, less diversity than Dean of Enrollment Management Dennis DePerro would like to see, but a 50 percent increase since 1995 nonetheless.

Justice Begins at Home

Serving the community is a high priority for Jesuit schools-and this is where the rubber hits the road in terms of social justice issues. "At Jesuit schools, serving the community is a way we can embody our values, as being 'men and women for others,'" says Rockhurst's Alicia Douglas.

Douglas, herself a woman of color, recruits minority applicants from inner-city high schools in the Kansas City area. "If we want to recruit students from the inner city, we have to step in and help the public school counselors," she says. Nationally, there are more than 500 students for each high school counselor. "These people are on overload, and they're not just handling college counseling. They're also dealing with home problems, emotional crises, parole officers . . . Many inner city students who could go on to college just end up getting lost in the shuffle."

And many of those who do go on to college often come from substandard schools and arrive without the skills to stay afloat in college. So Rockhurst partnered with Donnelly College, a local, two-year Catholic school. If a Rockhurst minority freshman is not academically ready for college, she or he can attend Donnelly first to get up to academic speed before transferring into Rockhurst.

The Global Campus

In addition to being home to a growing number of U.S. minority students, Jesuit campuses are fast becoming part of "the global village." Says Ashling Lyons, a recent graduate of St. Peter's College, "The beginning of classes [at St. Peter's] was the opening of the world to me. I met people from all over: Africa, Europe, Asia, Central and South America. It was one thing to study about those cultures, but when I got the chance to actually meet people from those places, it just made my studies so much more interesting."

Globalization is something that comes quite naturally to Jesuit schools. "Remember, the Jesuit educational system is an international educational system," says Elaine Ike, Associate Director of International Student Programs at Gonzaga University.

"These kids are hungry for values," says Bob Lay, Dean of Enrollment Management at Boston College. "They're looking for meaning and spiritual development." Hundreds of community service programs at Jesuit colleges and universities attract thousands of students like this Marquette University student.

Working with youth

Gonzaga has had for some time a vibrant international student population. For 50 years, GU has had exchange students from the Far East, Africa, and Central and South America. The ebb and flow of international students is directly linked to economic trends overseas. "During the oil cartel period in the 1970s, we had students from Venezuela, Indonesia, and the Arab nations," explains Ike. "As the oil money subsided and the Asian economy boomed, we saw a rise in the Asian population throughout the '80s and '90s."

"Our international numbers are way up," says David Conway at St. Joseph's University, where recent shifts in international enrollment have more to do with marketing the school than with international economic trends. Only a year ago, the university initiated innovative MBA programs in India and China, with instantaneous success.

In India, St. Joseph's has set up a satellite admissions department in Chennai (formerly Madras), with two staff members and a fully equipped office. The on-site office has sent an estimated 150 full-time Indian graduate students to study on the Philadelphia campus.

St. Joseph's also has recently developed cooperative MBA programs with three of China's top universities in Nanjing, Shanghai, and Shenyang, and just signed agreements with two more. "China is a major part of our [recruitment] strategy," says Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Gregory Dell'Omo. In the Chinese MBA programs, students split their studies 50/50 between a university in China and St. Joseph's. Plans are under way to launch similar programs with another thirteen Chinese universities.

Says Conway, "It's been an enormous endeavor," and one full of delightful surprises-not the least of which was when Executive Vice President Dr. Daniel Curran recently visited China to promote the new program. Told he would be speaking to "a small audience," Curran found himself in front of 1,000 people, sharing a stage with Chinese actors and rock stars. He explained the MBA program at St. Joseph's and discussed the Jesuit mission of faith-based education, social justice, and service to others. After the presentation, when Curran remarked about how large the "small" audience had been, he was told, "Oh, you weren't speaking to those 1,000 people-you were being broadcast to 13 million people!"

A New View of God

How do the international and multicultural students affect the overall student population at a Jesuit university? "The students from Asia or the Middle East are generally not Catholic, and they contribute a different view of one's relationship with God and the universe," says Ike.

Fr. Gene Szarek, CR, a theology professor at Loyola University Chicago, reports that his course in Christian marriage is particularly popular among Muslim students, who make up 10 to 20 percent of the class. Conservative Muslims enliven his class discussions by bringing a unique perspective to the topic of arranged marriages, the case for many of their parents or grandparents.

This different view has very practical applications for students, as Ike explains, "Once the non-Muslim students understand Ramadan, for instance, they are more conscious about not bringing snacks into the classroom during the fast." Muslim students, in fact, have their own mosque on Gonzaga's campus, as they do at Loyola University Chicago, where the cafeteria recently began serving halal meat (the Muslim equivalent of kosher) and stopped serving pork out of respect to their Muslim and Jewish populations. "Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu students together are our fastest growing student population," says Loyola University's Vice President for University Ministry, Fr. Lawrence Reuter, SJ.

Why would students of other faiths seek out a Jesuit education? "The students understand that this is a religiously based university that is a 'home for all faiths.' Religion is taken seriously and talked about here," says Fr. Reuter. Loyola theology professor and practicing Muslim Dr. Marcia Hermansen concurs: "The Jesuits show an extra respect for students of other faiths, allowing them to flourish in their own right. There's a sense of caring about the faithful part of students in the context of their own tradition."

Women at Creighton University have outnumbered men at the school all through the 1990s; in 1991 they accounted for 51 percent of the total enrollment; today it's 54 percent. Nationally, women account for 57 percent of the enrollment at Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States.

Patti Ray, Director of Hillel at Loyola, a very active branch of Hillel, the nationwide organization for Jewish students, agrees. Being a Jesuit institution, Loyola values observant Jewish students. Within the Jewish community, Loyola has a reputation for having one of the most vibrant Orthodox student communities in the United States. Her office is located in the same building as both the campus mosque and the Christian ministries office.

Three world faiths peacefully sharing the same space: Such coexistence and collaboration promise to become commonplace on Jesuit campuses. It is a new, multicultural world in a new and evolving millennium. As Fr. Reuter observes about Loyola and other Jesuit universities: "We can be a force for allowing students to know, speak, study, and be involved with people of different faiths. That is a wonderful investment in peacemaking for the future."*


Ann Thompson

Ann Thompson, a freelance writer in Washington, D.C., recently wrote for Company magazine on Hispanic ministry in North Carolina.


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Copyright(c) Company Magazine, 2000. Updated: May 12, 2001