Agent of Change: For Creighton Senior, D.C. Trip Defines Advocacy
Agent of Change: For Creighton Senior, D.C. Trip Defines Advocacy

By Maria Fagerland
Creighton University, Class of 2017

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Ignatian Family Teach-In (IFTJ) in Washington, D.C.

IFTJ is an annual gathering of Jesuit institutions to gather in the context of social justice and solidarity to learn, reflect, pray, network and advocate together. The Teach-In also honors the Jesuits and their companions who were martyred in El Salvador in 1989.

On Nov. 11, 48 other Creighton students and I crammed our backpacks and luggage into a charter bus as we prepared to depart from Deglman Circle on campus and settled in for the 20-hour ride to D.C.

When we arrived at the hotel I was overwhelmed by the number of Jesuit high schools, colleges and universities represented at the Teach-In. It was thrilling to see so many young adults all residing in the same place advocating for social change.

Keynote speakers, including the Rev. Greg Boyle, SJ, and the Rev. James Martin, SJ, talked about issues of immigration and gang violence.

I also had the opportunity to attend various break-out sessions with topics varying from the Dakota Access Pipeline to the current political climate.

Aly Schreck, College of Arts and Sciences senior, Carol Zuegner, PhD, and I had the great privilege of presenting the Creighton Backpack Journalism film, “El Deportado.” This past summer, Aly and I and 10 other students traveled with Backpack Journalism to the United States/Mexico border for a two-week immersion focused on the current immigration crisis to produce the documentary.

After the showing, we opened the session to questions, and Aly and I had the chance to share our personal experiences at the border.

On the final day of the Teach-In 1,000 participants walked to Capitol Hill for advocacy day to share stories and facts and to ask for more just policies with their designated officials.

This year’s advocacy priorities were immigration and criminal justice reform.

My immigration reform group had the opportunity to talk to Jessica Prol, legislative assistant for Sen. Ben Sasse. For months our group had been practicing our scripts and outlining our message.

My job was to give a testimony about my experiences with immigration and to share the story of someone who has been affected by immigration.

I chose to not practice my testimony. I felt rehearsing and memorizing the story would take away the authenticity of my experience.

During my testimony I described the wall on the U.S./Mexico border in Nogales and how it felt to cross the border. I spoke about a migrant desert walk I took with our group, and I shared the story of a migrant who is featured in “El Deportado.” I was surprised to find myself holding back tears as I reflected on my experiences from this summer.

I realized that my trip to the border had come full circle during the legislative visit. IFTJ helped me to recognize the importance of going out to the margins and to be able to be in that exquisite mutuality with the other.

Before this trip, I never really understood the point of advocacy. But thanks to Pope Francis, the Catholic Church recently completed its Holy Year of Mercy. During this time, we were called to look for ways to show mercy and to enact change.

I tried to put myself in the shoes of those who need mercy, especially migrants. What fears and regrets might those people have? How is it that when we give a person the title of “migrant” or “illegal” we often forget our shared humanity? How have we forgotten that where we are born — whether into peace or strife — is simply the luck of the draw?

Pope Francis asks us to put the human person at its center in order to care for the individual person. How can we create a society that puts the human person at its center? Where are those people on the margins in my life, my community and the world who are suffering?

While I’m left with more questions after this trip, I am reminded that creating a more just world takes time. To help create a more just world, it is important to share my gifts, pursue justice in all things and practice concern for the poor and marginalized. I am grateful for this trip because I got the chance to experience being an agent of change.

Maria Fagerland (at left in photo) is a Des Moines, Iowa, native and Creighton University senior in the Department of Journalism, Media and Computing majoring in advertising.