Engaging the World Through Summer Research

Intellectual Endeavors

From epistemological crises in Flannery O’Connor’s stories to health promotion in inner-cityMinneapolis neighborhoods, the following young men and women in Catholic Studies have been provoked by challenges and moved to embark upon in-depth research, with the awareness, as one notes, that “any principle within us that seeks to know and see God is a holy motivation.”

Bryant Ortega“Families who struggle with bringing sufficient food home don’t have time to think about healthier options,” Bryant Ortega tells me. A student in the Latino Leadership program who comes from a low-income neighborhood in California, where the ratio of fast-food restaurants to grocery stores is four to one, Ortega knows firsthand that the road to a healthy lifestyle is paved with difficulty for many families.

Ortega, a junior studying Catholic Studies and ethics and business law, was one of six students selected by the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation to receive a $4,000 scholarship supporting the development and implementation of a selfdesigned service project to address unmet needs in Minnesota. Ortega has learned that recently, in this state alone, the financial burden of obesity was “$1.3 billion, with nearly 63 percent of Minnesotans being overweight or obese.” His project, “Health Offers People Enlightenment,” will focus on the growing obesity epidemic in low socioeconomic communities of color.

Next summer, project HOPE will be enacted in Minneapolis as an eight-week camp with a “youth-centered curriculum focused on healthy eating and physical activity,” because children are the most vulnerable population. There also will be “trainings, workshops and events to help parents and families to develop family meal planning and family outings to promote physical activity.” For Ortega, this work in health promotion is not foreign, but a continuation of something he did in high school and a mission he has been passionate about for years now.

He quotes Saint Francis of Assisi, who said we must “preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words.” Ortega recognizes that this is an ambitious project that will entail a great deal of creative planning and hard work, but he knows that “having a compassionate and patient heart is the key to showing these families how crucial their health is.” Helping families understand the importance of leading a healthy way of life has a goal that goes beyond curbing obesity and diabetes. It is actually a means by which people can come to a greater awareness of their personal dignity and face difficult circumstances with renewed hope.

Clare Naughton“In the cases that have come to light recently, you can see, hear, taste and feel real evil,” Clare Naughton says. She refers to the human trafficking crimes that today keep more than 12.3 million men, women and children enslaved. Naughton, an international studies major with minors in Catholic Studies and the Renaissance program, has embarked this year, through a UST community-based research grant, in a study that she has titled “Trafficking in the Twin Cities: A Lay Person’s Guide to a Threatening Reality.” Naughton was in Dr. Elizabeth Kelly’s “Woman and Man” class last November when a classmate mentioned her interest in trafficking. Naughton was provoked by what she learned and moved to do this work because “the number one thing we must do to combat human trafficking is spread the awareness of it.”

Hard facts and statistics on the subject are not easy to find, and victims are difficult to identify. For this reason, Naughton knew she needed a niche, and so she chose to explore what human trafficking looks like locally. Minneapolis, she has discovered, is the 13th most dangerous city in the United States for prostitution of minors. Those who suffer most are 12 to 14 years old, and Native- or African- American. “Like all of our suffering, it finds redemption in the cross.”

Through her research, Naughton also has come to understand that the unity, universality and worldwide presence of the Church make it an especially effective promoter of antitrafficking efforts. “Our international nature is not aloof from the people but is based in grass-roots work through a local parish structure.” The Church is poised, in other words, to spread the awareness that is necessary for both the prevention of trafficking and the rehabilitation of victims whose lives are afflicted by the crime. Recently, Naughton interviewed Sister Patrice, one of the Sisters of the Divine Savior, an order based in Milwaukee, Wis. “She and her order have developed a comprehensive and multifaceted approach through legislative initiatives and public awareness to combat trafficking both in Wisconsin and across the globe, wherever they are located.” Learning about such efforts has been “exciting” for Naughton. Fully aware that poverty and evil never will be eradicated by our wordly efforts, she recognizes that what needs to exist is “the understanding of the eschatological reality we are approaching in this life, along with reflection, through prayer, to keep us ever vigilant of the dignity of the person.”

Sara JoyceThrough a grant awarded to her by the Luann Dummer Center for Women, Sara Joyce, a senior studying psychology and Catholic Studies, has embarked upon research looking at the contributions of the influential psychologist Florence Goodenough to the field. Goodenough practiced during the 1920s through the 1940s, a period when psychologists struggled to define their field as a scientific one, different from popular and pseudoscientific approaches.

Working in child psychology, Goodenough played an important role in shaping debates about the roles of amateurs, such as parents and schoolteachers, in the research process. “Using archival data I hope to document her method of and reasons for involving mothers in the research process, even while setting limits on how they could and should contribute,” Joyce said. Further, by gaining insight into the amateur versus expert debates that took place among early psychologists, “one can better understand the progression of psychology at the time, and even further why psychological research is organized the way it is today. In this, one also can see how women’s roles in psychology has vastly transformed over the past century.”

This is the first time Joyce has partaken in archival research, reading Goodenough’s letters and articles written by her for Parents magazine. The process has been “really interesting,” she notes, because Goodenough’s observations, recorded in such an intimate and personable way, reveal much about the psychologist and the environment she worked in. “One of Goodenough’s letters to a colleague, for example, refers to ‘men’s jobs’ in psychology, a reminder that gender discrimination in the early years was legal, common and affected hiring practices.”

Reading Goodenough’s exchanges with parents, through which she sought to provide child-rearing advice based on the latest scientific research on child development, even has begun to change the way Joyce looks at the eight-month-old twins she cares for. “There is more of a connection between who we are in our infant years and the adults we eventually become than I ever really had thought about before.” Learning this, she is inspired to do further research inquiring into the characteristics and mannerisms of infants and their correspondence in adulthood.

Joyce is coming to understand, through her in-depth study of Goodenough’s life and work, that both psychology and Catholic Studies seek to know the truth of the person. “For this reason, they are actually very compatible!”

Paul BlaschkoPaul Blaschko’s backpack is filled with volumes of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, letters and essays. Considering that the “mother of the American short story” died at 39, it is quite remarkable that her brief career yielded such a wealth of writing.

Blaschko, a senior studying philosophy, English and Catholic Studies, plunged into the depths of O’Connor’s life and literature when he decided to take up the “examination of the means by which Flannery O’Connor depicts movements of grace in the lives and times of ordinary people.” In Blaschko’s inquiry there is also a philosophical dimension as he views the question through an epistemological lens, that is, from the point of view that asks questions about how we come to knowledge. “O’Connor claims that it is through breaking down the stories we tell ourselves about the world around us (i.e. ‘I’m powerful and independent,’ ‘I need no God’), often violently and always through real, flesh-and-blood situations, that God brings us to a fuller understanding of Him and of where we stand in relation to Him.”

The violent events in O’Connor’s stories, the shocking and grotesque things that befall her characters, are actually the means through which they encounter divine grace because “it is often in the painful and distressing moments when we empathize most perfectly with Christ.” Thus, O’Connor’s characters find freedom at the most unlikely times, coming to the true knowledge of their human condition. “And of course, for O’Connor, this is a condition of sinfulness that, once recognized, can be redeemed and sanctified by the God made flesh.”

Blaschko has been able to conduct this research thanks to a Young Scholars grant he was awarded earlier this year. Dr. Mary Reichardt, professor of literature in Catholic Studies, is his faculty mentor. In 2008, Blaschko was a student in one of her courses and through the years has referenced her book on Catholic fiction, Exploring Catholic Literature. Knowing that Dr. Reichardt was familiar with O’Connor and her scholarship, Blaschko said she was the first person who came to mind when he developed an interest in the topic. When asked about the significance of those many hours of study spent in the library, pouring through books, Blaschko said that it’s been an “arduous, disconcerted effort,” but that the pursuits of meaning and of the proper way to communicate things academically are “holy ones, even if they are very difficult ones to accomplish well.” Blaschko’s research took him to Andalusia, the plantation in Georgia where O’Connor once lived, where he learned more about the writer and her work.

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