I am very excited to be at IPS as a visiting instructor this academic year. I come to IPS in my final year as a Ph.D. student in a program that examines the ways that religion, psychology, and culture operate in the world, and as a fellow in the theology and practice program at Vanderbilt University. I am teaching Foundations of Social Justice in fall and Diversity and Equity in the spring.
My academic research and writing focus on practical matters of care and justice, especially in light of theological ideas and practices in Catholicism, and, more broadly, in Christianity. I am also interested in how these ideas and practices are put into action in communities, as well as how to look for them, measure them, assess them, and how they are revised in light of concrete experiences that show where our theories and practices of theological justice-making and care-making are limited.
My interest in these kinds of questions began after I finished my Bachelor’s degree in Theology at DeSales University, (I switched after a short-lived 3 semesters in the pre-med track) and found myself working a job in non-profit social services, offering care and support to six men with developmental disabilities in a residential facility. I was overwhelmed by the work–responding to and overseeing medical needs, social supports, educational goals, family, psychological and social services, Medicaid and Medicare; overseeing the physical upkeep of the home; and staffing for 24 hours a day/7 days a week. But more than this, I was bedeviled by the vast array of responses to the men and to me with them in the public sphere. Most responses were of an infantilizing nature: kind and ‘cute’ (It’s shocking how often a 48 year old man with Down’s syndrome can be cute, but never handsome) and child-like with me as a mother-stand-in, of sorts (Although the men were twice my age). When they showed parts of their personality, they were deemed weird, a little strange, not normal.
I returned to graduate school as a Master’s student in Theological Studies at the University of Dayton. In the biopic movie-version of my life, trees with bare branches reaching high ensconce me as I walk across the National Mall headed towards the Capitol, with a close companion, ruminating over questions of Othering, the justness of care for persons with disabilities in political, social, and ecclesial spheres, and theological anthropology, as I consider returning to school. However, in the reality-tv version of my life, you’d be more likely to see me cleaning various body fluids from floors and bathrooms, getting punched in the face by a consumer (what the non-profit agencies called a person who lived at the residential facility), and struggling to staff the house. This was the formative experience that started me thinking about psychology, social-political systems, who counts as a person and as a citizen, Othering, the Church, and practices of care and justice, especially those practices self-identified as ministries. I seem to come back to the intersection of these questions, even when the topics seem so radically different.
In the years since, I’ve been given the opportunity to walk with and learn from persons in a variety of pastoral, social justice, higher education, and non-profit settings: teaching undergraduate and graduate students in theology and ministry, doing practical theological research, pastoral counseling, campus and prison ministry, supporting youth in crisis, working in student affairs initiating service-learning opportunities and advising student organizations, co-founding an urban farm for environmental education and food justice, and supporting Jesuit volunteers during their year of service. I am looking forward to teaching and accompanying students in their journeys this year as we consider what justice is and examine specific topics and movements in social justice, as well as immersing myself in Chicago, its neighborhoods, and its people.