How to Use Ignatian Spirituality for Anti-Racism and Racial Justice

An edited version of Dr. Wardell-Ghirarduzzi's article was published in the second issue of the Alpha Sigma Nu Magazine, which is hitting mailboxes in October. Watch for your issue to arrive! Read the magazine for this and other thought-provoking articles highlighting the theme of Ignatian spirituality.


How to Use Ignatian Spirituality for Anti-Racism and Racial Justice

By Dr. Mary J. Wardell-Ghirarduzzi (U of San Francisco `09)


Ignatian Spirituality and Diversity

In March of 2012, I led a series of university dialogues on Ignatian Spirituality and Diversity to spotlight the importance of diversity and inclusion at a Jesuit Catholic university. Serving as the Vice Provost for the University of San Francisco’s (USF) Office of Diversity Engagement and Community Outreach, we teamed up with the Office of Human Resources and University Ministry to sponsor this professional development conversation to frame diversity, equity, and inclusion as a moral imperative informed by our Jesuit Catholic mission and identity. Bringing together distinguished religious thinkers and diversity education teachers, the purpose of the series was to discuss Ignatian Spirituality and Diversity by examining how racial justice, cultural inclusivity, and cultural humility are critical parts of a campus culture where students, staff, and faculty continue to learn and examine our individual and collective biases and assumptions as we commit to the Ignatian principle of Magis -of being and doing More.

Looking back now, I realize just how much we were ahead of the time as an urban-situated campus, as we understood fundamentally that the university could not imagine the fullest expression of the mission without understanding what diversity, equity, and inclusion means in the context of Ignatian Spirituality.

Amid civil unrest with the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbury, a long overdue reckoning on race in America is happening. This reckoning has captured the attention of people who have not thought deeply about race until recently. Seizing this moment is critical to fulfill our Jesuit Catholic mission as there is an urgency buoyed by the demands of marginalized people that institutions have a responsibility to address racial inequalities and a duty to understand what racial justice means in the context of their works.

As I have spent the last few months coaching my own young adult black children on how to manage their fear and frustration about racism as well as my own black students at USF, I believe that Ignatian Spirituality has taken on a new meaning as a way to understand racism and how to do better for students of color experiencing racial injustice. As a black executive woman and black mother working in Jesuit Higher Education, I know we must do better for their futures.

All of this brings me back to the original framing questions that informed the 2012 Ignatian Spirituality and Diversity dialogue series at USF. Led by Sonny Manuel, S.J., professor of psychology, I knew the combination of his clinical training and important work at the intersections of psychology, faith, and multiculturalism along with his spiritual work with underserved communities uniquely qualified him to begin the discussion. For such a time as this, I would like to offer the same framing questions we used from our 2012 discussion series to all members of the Jesuit higher education community to further examine the role and purpose of Ignatian Spirituality in the current state of rampant racial injustice:

  1. What is the intersection of the Jesuit university mission and diversity, equity, and inclusion? And how can the tools of Ignatian Spirituality inform how we address racial injustice to make a difference?
  2. What are the tenets of Ignatian spirituality that are connected to diversity, equity, and inclusion?
  3. How does Jesuit education core values and beliefs embrace people of diverse backgrounds? When and how has Jesuit education been exclusionary?
  4. What are the beliefs, behaviors, spiritual practices that inform and embrace diversity, equity, and cultural inclusiveness?
  5. And finally, How does one’s life story inform their approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Jesuit educational tradition? What are the desolations associated with personal and institutional narratives that have led to racial injustice?

Responding to an unprecedented call to address the enduring harms of structural racism in Jesuit works and in society, we must assert the link of our Ignatian spirituality to a faith that does justice. This means that we recognize the harm committed to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) by individuals and institutions and take responsibility for that harm. We especially need our white allies that are institutional actors in Jesuit higher education, to use their platforms for the purposes of understanding what anti-racism is and its relationship to address racial injustice.


An Ignatian Call to Action

Ignatian spirituality provides a framework for people of conscience who believe that God has a plan for everyone to prosper. Ignatian spirituality also gives up a framework to understand racism is a sin that can exist only within structures of power, privilege, and oppression.

Centering the needs of marginalized and vulnerable communities on our campuses is an Ignatian call to action. We hold these Ignatian spiritual gifts to help us dissolve the desolation of guilt and shame and confront the institutionalized evil of racism:

  • Seek to find the divine in all things – in all peoples and cultures, in all areas of study and learning, in every human experience;
  • See life and the whole universe as a gift calling forth wonder and gratefulness;
  • Give ample scope to imagination and emotion as well as intellect;
  • Seek to find the divine in all things – in all peoples and cultures, in all areas of study and learning, in every human experience;
  • Cultivate critical awareness of personal and social evil, but point to God’s love as more powerful than any evil;
  • Empower people to become leaders in service, men and women for others, becoming whole persons of solidarity, building a more just and humane world.

Once we employ our Ignatian tools of understanding for the purposes of racial justice, our institutions will become platforms for transformative change where individual actors can labor to end all forms of structural racism where we live, where we work, and where we do business.


Disrupting Whiteness in Jesuit institutions

Anti-racism is the active process of identifying and challenging racism, by changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices, and attitudes to redistribute power in an equitable manner. Anti-Black racism is a two-part formation that both strips Blackness of value (dehumanizes), and systematically marginalizes Black people. (Center for the Study of Social Policy) When we say Black lives matter, we are talking about the ways in which Black people are deprived of basic human rights and dignity. It is an acknowledgement that Black poverty and genocide is state violence and the fact is that the lives of Black people—not all people—exist within these conditions is consequence of state violence. (Alicia Garza, Co-founder of Black Lives Matter).

Disrupting whiteness is essential racial justice work. To do so takes courage and a commitment to bear the witness of others while uncovering one’s own lack of awareness and complicities. Hearing the experiences and truths from those who have been marginalized, excluded, and whose dignity has been left behind is an act of Ignatian solidarity - we see the divine in others as God’s love through us. Disrupting whiteness means cultivating an awareness of the stories of people who are different from your own. Disrupting whiteness means empowering BIPOC through one’s power, privilege, and resources so they, too, can reach their highest potential. Disrupting whiteness means seeing the divine in Black students, faculty, and staff.

As we prepare for the work ahead to address racial injustice, reflecting and unpacking whiteness through an anti-racist lens is a critical step by answering these questions: What is my role in enacting anti-racism? Do I understand what that means? Why is it important that people have said for years that Black lives matter? Why do some people insist on saying, well, don’t all lives matter? Am I one of those individuals? What is my understanding of the historical context and experiences of BIPOC of whom I have been called to serve? What might I need to unlearn that I was taught? What do I believe about race? What do I need to do now to take advantage of this time that God has given us? and, how is God calling me to be a person for others during this racial pandemic? The good news is that we have inherited a spiritual tradition that has equipped us to disrupt whiteness and a guide to push through difficult conversations and revelations.

Jesuit institutions must do better now and not later. As we begin the start of another academic year, my hope is that we will engage our Magis to root out everyday forms of institutional racism for my children, for our students of color, and for our colleagues of color. Now is the time to muster our collective courage, to be responsive to the demands of racial justice with a sense of urgency, to answer the call from people everywhere, to commit ourselves to Black lives on our campuses. May we each learn how to call upon Ignatian spirituality to do this work and frame our humble yet earnest response in a climate of injustice to stop the effects of institutional racism for the greater glory of God. If we do this work, we are truly living the mission.

Dr. Mary J. Wardell-Ghirarduzzi is the inaugural Vice Provost & Chief Diversity Officer for the University of San Francisco and the President of the San Francisco Public Library Commission. She serves on the boards of the Ignatian Solidarity Network and St. Ignatius College Preparatory High School in San Francisco. Her first book, Twice as Good: Leadership and Power for Women of Color was published in 2020.