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Chemistry alumna embraces Baltimore community

During Loyola University Maryland’s 2020 Commencement, the Natural and Applied Sciences academic division awarded for the first time the Choudhury Sarkar-Dey medal to an outstanding graduating senior who has shown remarkable commitment to diversity and community service during their time at Loyola.  We are proud to share with you the reflections submitted by the finalists, nominated by their faculty and departments, in this series of posts.

Reflection from Loyola chemistry major Jennifer Valencia, ’20 on “cura apostolica,” care for the community.

Jennifer Valencia, '20While I have learned about cura personalis, or “care for the whole person,”over the past four years, I was introduced later to cura apostolica, or “care for the community,”in a conversation with one of my friends. These Jesuit values go hand-in-hand and are both necessary for the growth as an individual and as a community. At Loyola, I credit much of my personal and intellectual growth to the experiences that I have shared with others, some of which include my involvement in the Center of Community Service and Justice (CCSJ) and the Evergreen Orientation Staff.

To learn about the city as a first-year student, I attended a series of student-led seminars that discussed the history of racism that the black community of Baltimore suffer from. These seminars introduced me to the discrimination, both subtle and overt, that our own neighbors experience. Having discussions with my peers inspired me to take part in service programs through CCSJ. As food deserts are prominent in Baltimore, I volunteered in programs, such as farmer’s markets and soup kitchens, that extended fresh produce into the reach of impacted communities. These early experiences laid the foundation for my learning and engagement in social justice and diversity work at Loyola.

This past year, I was chosen as a student coordinator at CCSJ. I prepare and run the Last Sunday Meal Program at St. Vincent de Paul’s Beans & Bread, a soup kitchen where participants serve meals restaurant-style to those experiencing homelessness or hunger in the community. A lesson that I have learned through my supervisor is that the meal is one part of the program; relationships and community are most important. Providing a meal at Beans & Bread is simply a way in which our community can connect and get to know one other. Through CCSJ, my idea of community service shifted to community engagement. The days at Beans & Bread are opportunities where my participants and I can share our life experiences and listen to the unique experiences of others over a meal.

As part of my training for CCSJ, I participated in weekly Racial Justice Formation Training sessions to define and differentiate the types of racism, to share and listen to experiences in both combined and affinity groups, and to brainstorm various actions we can take to address racial justice issues. Each person came with their own life experiences, beliefs, and questions. These weekly discussions for the past year have enriched my understanding of racial justice inequities and have equipped me with the tools needed to take action in my community.

In addition to my involvement with CCSJ, I also served as a member of the Evergreen Orientation Staff for two years at Loyola. While in this role, I organized individual meetings with my fifteen first-year students to get a sense of their transition to college and to introduce resources to enhance their experience. In addition to Enrichment Hours, I coordinated off-campus activities, such as visiting the Baltimore Museum of Art and the famous Hampden Christmas lights. As an Evergreen, it was important for me to not only build a sense of community within the class of fifteen students, but also to spark a sense of appreciation for their new home in Baltimore.

These meaningful experiences were fueled by the Jesuit education I received at Loyola that has emphasized the importance of not only the care for oneself, but also the care of the community. The past four years have been filled with lessons that I will carry with me and share with others as I move forward in the world. And, I look forward to the days when it is safe, and we can all celebrate, as a community, once again.