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viewpoint

Save the Office for the Common Good

| Tuesday, March 28, 2023

To the Saint Mary’s administration, Board of Trustees and community:

On March 8, Saint Mary’s vice president of mission Julianne Wallace emailed Saint Mary’s students, staff and faculty detailing changes to the Division of Mission. As written in the email, the Center for the Study for Spirituality and the Center for Faith, Action and Ministry will act as branches for the Mission Division. One of the major changes announced is the expungement of the Office for the Common Good (OCG). As the student leaders in this office, we unanimously raise our voices in opposition to this change and its implications on the future of community outreach at Saint Mary’s.

The March 8 email was the first form of communication we received regarding the reorganization of the Division of Mission. It was not until March 24 — over two weeks later — that we had an in-person explanation from the administration about the details of this transition. We have been told that these decisions were “student-driven,” yet we were not asked for input during the decision-making process.

At Saint Mary’s College, the OCG serves as a bridge between Saint Mary’s students, staff, faculty and the broader South Bend and Michiana areas. It was previously known as the Office for Civic and Social Engagement. Our programs include Beyond the Belle, a day time teachers‘ aide and an after-school tutoring program; Food Waste Fighters, a food recovery and composting program out of Noble Family Dining Hall; the Sustainable Farm, a functioning farm on Saint Mary’s property that promotes ecological justice and grows its own produce and SMC Votes, a nonpartisan campaign to increase voter registration, participation and civic engagement on our campus. We also organize and lead Service Saturdays and Explore the Bend programming which allow the Saint Mary’s community to get involved in and enjoy the broader South Bend community.

This is just a glimpse as to all the programs and opportunities the OCG offers Saint Mary’s students, staff and faculty.

The email we received on March 8 from Julianne Wallace writes that the “reorganization will bring all of our programs in line with best practices and unify the work of our student-facing offices.”

This unification would bring together programs from the OCG and Sustainable Farm with Campus Ministry. As it currently exists, the OCG serves an important role in providing all SMC students with service and outreach opportunities regardless of their faith affiliations. The OCG does not focus solely on faith-based work, which has allowed us to create a space for students who are not religious to serve the community. Our programs are non-exclusive. To associate all community programming and volunteer opportunities with faith has the potential to alienate the 38% of Saint Mary’s students who do not identify as Catholic. In direct alignment with the mission of Saint Mary’s College, the OCG welcomes students from all walks of life.

Although we, as student leaders for the OCG, were hired through federal work-study to work for specific programs, our office operates with a strong sense of collaboration. None of us have worked solely for the programs we were hired to do. Our well-rounded experiences, broad understanding of community service and teamwork skills can be attributed to the community we have built within the OCG. We are better students, better citizens and better people because of our involvement in the OCG, and, in particular, with the mentorship of our directors Rebekah Go and Maria Gonzalez-Diaz.

The Saint Mary’s community thrives in large part due to our close-knit community. Many may not know the name of our office but are familiar with the faces within it. Rebekah Go, director of the OCG, and Maria Gonzalez-Diaz, assistant director of the OCG, are an integral part of the success of our programs. Under this new organization, both will be demoted with decreases in salary and a higher number of expected hours worked. We believe this to be a slight to the hard work and dedication both Rebekah and Maria have done for the Saint Mary’s community. These changes are based neither in justice nor meritocracy.

OCG programming does not owe its success to its hierarchical leadership. Many students who have participated in our programs are unaware of our official titles, designated roles or even office name. Our office is known for its resourcefulness and, as Julianne Wallace praised in our March 24 meeting, “radical hospitality.” As student leaders, we simply followed Rebekah’s and Maria’s examples. It has been our focus on building interpersonal relationships that directly contribute to the success of our programming.

As students at Saint Mary’s College, each of us is receiving an education and social experience that emphasizes Catholic social teaching and the College’s values of inclusivity and service. We have developed into citizens who will speak out against injustices and stand for what is right. We stand with the OCG and ask that administration honor the dedication Rebekah and Maria have proven to the Saint Mary’s community.

All 12 student leaders employed by the Office have signed and contributed to this statement.

Libbey Detcher, senior
Jeanett Ochoa, junior
Emily Rusch, senior
Yajali Rodriguez, senior
Valentina Rubio, sophomore
Catherine Reynoso, sophomore
Suzanne Rivas, senior
Delia Lopez, senior
Anahy Torres-Vega, senior
Jacquelyn A Junco, senior
Galilea Falcon, senior
Dakota Freel, junior

March 27

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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