Dorothy Day community lives, works for social justice

At first glance, Straz Hall’s third and fourth floors seem like ordinary residence hallways. But the students living on these floors are taking part in the first year of a unique living experience: the Dorothy Day Social Justice Living Learning Community.

Composed of 44 Marquette sophomores, the community provides opportunities for students to engage in social justice issues through two common course sections, service learning, and participation in reflection and development programs.

Straz Residence Hall Director Renee Wiedenhoeft said residents will be able to share a common language and encourage each other through their common classes and experiences.

“It’s just something that doesn’t typically happen in your ordinary residence hall floor,” Wiedenhoeft said.

John Ebben, resident assistant for the men’s floor, said the community will help students deal with the challenges of learning and working closely with enormous social issues like racism, poverty and inequality through their service placements.

“A floor like this allows residents the opportunity to develop a sense of community, to get to know one another and to have a kind of support network behind them,” said Ebben, a senior in the College of Health Sciences.

Brian Konyn, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration, said serving together, living together and having class together creates an environment where people will be exposed to ideas they might not be exposed to when working alone.

Konyn said the community will help them focus their interests on local, tangible issues.

“Sometimes you look too big and too far away to try to help people, and there’s stuff in your own backyard that you could be doing to help people that really need it,” Konyn said.

This semester, participants will take the same philosophy course and, next semester, a theology course on Christian discipleship. Intended to foster discussion focused on social justice, both classes are designed only for community participants.

In addition to the courses, Wiedenhoeft said each student has begun volunteering with Milwaukee organizations dedicated to social justice issues relating to poverty, education and ecology.

Ebben said the idea behind service learning is to combine service in the community with classroom learning. The Dorothy Day community takes service learning one step further.

“We are taking our experience together as a floor and trying to realize that this is not just something you learn in the classroom and not just something you do,” Ebben said. “It’s also a way that you think about the world and the way that you live.”

Gina Berce, resident assistant on the women’s floor and College of Business Administration junior, said the community hasn’t delved completely into the social justice topics yet.

Nevertheless, Berce said residents are very excited to learn about different social justice issues and begin work at their sites.

“My biggest hope is just that we can all work together to identify our passions and to grow in those and really impact Straz and Marquette and Milwaukee as a whole,” she said.