Santa Clara University

Opening to Solidarity


Lulu Santana (front), acting director of Casa de Solidaridad, with SCU junior and immersion participant Sarah Attwood, outside the Mission Church and the memorial to the El Salvador Jesuits.

Lulu Santana sees small miracles every day. In her role as a Campus Minister, Santana talks with SCU students who have had immersion experiences and are now reflecting on what they have learned while moving out of what might be their natural comfort zones and into other environments and cultures.

These students have been living and working in poor rural or urban neighborhoods in San Salvador, at Dolores Mission, the Jesuit parish in East Los Angeles, or at a number of other immersion placement sites. The students’ role is to be with people who struggle to build and sustain meaningful communities, to listen and learn from their lives, and to connect with them around the issues that matter most to them: education, health, economic opportunity, faith. When the students return to SCU, their challenge is to integrate what they encountered into their own broader understanding of the world, of faith for justice, and of community.

“What happens,” Santana says, “is frequently the experience of solidarity. Students come to realize the contact has changed them in subtle ways.”

One young man told Santana that he had learned habits for the rest of his life from working with the poor and marginalized in San Salvador. Another told her she had “found God” after working at Dolores Mission. Santana explains that returning students talk about understanding more deeply the value of humanity after living with people who have forged humane, cooperative communities in difficult circumstances.

“Students ask, ‘How can I carry this with me for the rest of my life?’ It’s intentional. They’re saying, ‘I want to be changed.’”

Many of the University’s immersion experiences take place through the University-run Casa de Solidaridad, located near the University of Central America, the Jesuit university in San Salvador, at which those with Spanish language proficiency can take classes. (It was at UCA in 1989, during the civil war, that six Jesuit priests, along with their housekeeper and her daughter, were murdered by paramilitary soldiers.)

Santana, who currently is acting director of Casa de Solidaridad while its founding co-directors are on sabbatical, observes that for many students the immersion experience opens up a new understanding of faith and religion. “They see how faith is lived in these communities, and they’re challenged to think how they can do that in their personal and professional lives.”

Santa Clara’s faculty and staff also have immersion opportunities through the University and, like students, often come back motivated to change the way they relate to the poor and marginalized. Some have maintained relationships with the people they have met, establishing ways to continue to serve that match their expertise with a community need.

As developed and practiced at Santa Clara, immersion experiences can change long-term thinking and prepare individuals for more effective and richer interactions in the increasingly global community. As such, they help the university carry out one of its primary initiatives—to structure an integrated education, the education of the whole person.

These experiences also lead to a great deal of open and exacting discernment and debate, the very qualities Fr. Paul Locatelli has challenged the University to explore.

SCU’s students are active and engaged on a number of social justice issues, as are students everywhere. Santana notes that students sensitized by their experiences of solidarity want to practice that when they return to campus.

"They have taken the lessons to heart, and sometimes take us to task. But that's a good thing-they're making those connections for solidarity. It is the University's role to nurture this desire for solidarity with dialogue, to mentor them as they learn how to translate their knowledge and their emotions into action that will be productive."

  • Every quarter, 400 undergraduate students participate in a service partnership through the Pedro Arrupe, S.J., Partnerships for Community-Based Learning.
  • Santa Clara University ranks 10th among smaller colleges for the number of volunteers currently serving in the Peace Corps.