Students Practice Jesuit Advocacy in Washington D.C.


Photo Courtesy of Juhi Nayak

Jesuits have always been called to advocate for those living on the margins of society.  On Nov. 16–18, a group of students practiced this advocacy in Washington D.C. as part of the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ), the largest Catholic social justice conference in the country.  


Before making the trip to D.C., however, students put in a lot of time and effort to make sure that they were well-informed on whichever one of the three policy issues they were focusing on: criminal justice, immigration justice or environmental justice. These issues drew passionate students from across campus, with the groups comprised of students majoring in  entrepreneurship, occupational therapy, political science, international business, theology and many others. 


While these policy issues resonate with many SLU students, everyone chose their advocacy topic for different reasons. Sophomore Katie Velazquez, who advocated for immigration justice, is a first-generation born U.S. citizen and Mexican American. She has grown up hearing the struggles of her family members who immigrated here and wanted to use the opportunities she has been given at SLU to work to change a system that has drastically affected her family and loved ones. Senior Brandon Smith, on the other hand, advocated for environmental justice. He felt that it was his responsibility to use his financial and academic privilege to be a voice for those whose voices have been stifled or who have a harder time getting their opinions heard. 


Each of these three groups researched bills that are currently in congressional proceedings in order to participate in the IFTJ Public Witness and Advocacy Day. This preparation included weekly meetings, many hours of research and a mock advocacy day. The extensive research that each group did on these bills allowed them to intelligently and holistically present their findings to representatives. 


Three months of work led up to the actual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice where each group met with staffers and even Representative Clay from Missouri’s first district to present their research on their respective policy issue. Representative Clay even agreed to co-sponsoring one of the criminal justice team’s bills and offering his support to many others. While advocacy can seem like a daunting task, it is a vital part of democracy and the Jesuit mission. Through the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, SLU students got the opportunity to be part of this Jesuit tradition and are confident that their actions made a difference to give a voice to the voiceless.