News from the Aurora University community

Spartan Spotlight: Jonathan Dean, Assistant Professor of Religion

Posted by on December 19, 2011

As the holiday season approaches, the AU community is showing its generosity and compassion through a wide variety of community service projects and awareness activities. We asked Jonathan Dean, Fellow of the Wackerlin Center for Faith and Action and Assistant Professor of Religion, to describe the center’s recent activities and plans for future community efforts.

Jonathan DeanWhat led to the success of Sleep Out on the Quad, with more than 150 students participating?
We had been hearing the theme of homelessness in conversations with students and student leaders. The project also grew out of some of the work our students did in Chicago during the Wackerlin Center spring break mission trip. We wanted, therefore, to offer an event that was both educational and experiential, in which participants could gain insight firsthand about the realities of homelessness, and find resources to help them address the issue in their own communities. The evening helped students appreciate that homelessness can truly happen to anyone. The homeless population is very young, and many homeless people are simply the victims of circumstances over which they are powerless. Beyond the interest factor of a night sleeping out, the students took the night very seriously because it focused on an issue that arouses their compassion and their desire to help their neighbors.

The momentum from Sleep Out on the Quad continued at the December Day of Service. How did AU students engage with the community at that event?
Last weekend, students volunteered at about 10 sites around Aurora, working on low-income housing, offering companionship to shut-ins, doing yard work at Mutual Ground and assisting local non-profits. More than 100 students participated in the event.

As you look to the spring semester, how will the Wackerlin Center continue to support student service activities?
We’re planning two major activities: another Morning of Service, and an event focusing on global poverty. We may be asking the campus to go shoeless for a day!

What is the “Part of the 100” movement and how will those efforts be carried out the rest of the year?
To celebrate the centennial of the move to the Aurora campus, we at the Wackerlin Center wanted to issue a challenge to our students and offer a vivid demonstration to the city of our deep commitment to enriching the life of the wider community. So, we set a target of 100 students giving at least one hour back to Aurora in community service projects this year. Happily, we’re already three times beyond our target! Aurora University students constantly amaze us with their generosity and compassion. By the centennial celebration next April, we hope to have 500 student participants. Both of next semester’s activities are included in the initiative.

In general, what has been the AU community’s response to the Wackerlin Center’s efforts?
Every day, every week, we are astounded by the generosity and enthusiasm of all groups on campus. This semester, in addition to service projects, campus ministry and leadership training, we also hosted a major national traveling exhibit on Emma Lazarus. This encouraged a conversation on campus about immigration and identity coinciding with the 125th anniversary of the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty. In all of this, nothing would be possible without the wholehearted and energetic participation of students, staff and faculty. And, in terms of service projects and community engagement, it’s truly a joy to find and build on the extraordinary passion for helping others and mending the world that our students, staff and faculty already possess.