It has been a busy year for the Pope Francis Forum for Dialogue and Diversity and the club wouldn’t have it any other way. From the beginning of the semester, students and moderators Jennie Neighbors, Megan Koon, and Julie Schroeder welcomed guest speakers just about every month to speak with the entire student body and the community at large to address issues happening locally, nationally, and internationally.
The point, plain and simple, is to our open eyes, ears, and hearts to those who live among us who may experience life differently due to their ethnicity, religion, ability, and other individual factors.
In October, SJCS graduate Leena Dbouk shared her experiences as a Muslim woman while growing up in the Upstate. The first speaker of November was SC State House Representative Chandra Dillard, who discussed the House’s decision to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds.
Mid-November proved to be a moment of true emotional growth for much of the SJCS community and for many in the Upstate community. Mr. Robbie Waisman, a Holocaust survivor who now lives in Canada, shared with us his experience as a Buchenwald concentration camp survivor both at lunch for a “Brown Bag Session” and in the evening in an event open to the public. Mr. Waisman shared the loss of his family during the Nazi invasion but maintained that it is his legacy to give witness to the lives of those who were lost and to educate those too young to know the importance of this devastating and historic moment in time. The SJCS community was blessed to have Mr. Waisman on campus the majority of the day and were thrilled to work alongside many community sponsors for the event including: Furman University, Bon Secours St. Francis Health System, Greenville Health System, South State Bank, The Humanities Council SC, and the Greenville Jewish Federation.
This was a beautiful beginning to a program that has already planned out more experiences and speakers for the next semester. Moderator Jennie Neighbors excitedly reported that they are planning on a “Dialogue Dinner,” where student leaders in diversity will break bread with student leaders at St. Joseph’s. Mrs. Neighbors says that the event, “will consist of a panel to discuss some relevant diversity issues for each of the student groups they represent.” She also added that later in the semester the students will organize a “First Responders” campaign in the Middle School to help students recognize and address bullying. Additionally, they plan on bringing in a mental health professional to speak during a brown bag lunch for the entire student body.
The effect of the Pope Francis Forum (lovingly shortened to PFFDD) has permeated to the faculty and staff and is being actively integrated into the mission of St. Joseph’s. Recently a large group gathered to learn about ways to embrace diversity and solve problems in and out of the classroom related to intolerance through training exercises, led by Director of Diversity and Inclusion of Wofford College, Ms. Jennifer Gutierrez and Greenville Chamber Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, Mrs. Nika White.
The collaboration that has already taken place due to the efforts of the PFFDD is truly inspiring and can only help in continuing to bring our community to a more common place of love and understanding, enhanced by our mission.