Fighting the War at Home

It was a warm summer evening and Lisa Dunster and her husband Sean were hosting a dinner party at their suburban Cincinnati home. Lisa was peeling some vegetables with a knife in the kitchen when Sean came inside to see how Lisa was doing. She didn’t hear him enter, and when he walked up behind her, he startled her. That was the moment life changed.

Lisa instinctively spun and swung the knife. It grazed Sean on the chin. After a moment of sheer terror, she returned to her senses and dropped the knife. As she stood there, motionless, reality began to set in—the reality of what she almost did to her husband and the reality that the person she had once been was still alive inside her.

Early in their marriage, Lisa had what she laughingly calls a “sick romance with the military.” She joined the National Guard and was sent to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. Her deployment only lasted six months, but six months of war is more than enough.

“I knew I wasn’t the same person,” she says. “I knew too much. I saw too much. The innocent girl who went over there was gone. The entire flight home I kept worrying, ‘What if my family doesn’t love the girl I’ve become?’ ”

She came home and changed careers. She earned her MEd in 1997 and spent the next 14 years teaching. But what she couldn’t change was the dark side of war that comes home with veterans.

“There’s an unwritten code that you don’t talk about war,” she says. “That’s wrong. That’s why the Vietnam vets ended up the way they did. So when Sept. 11 happened, I looked at Sean and told him I had to do something or we were going to have an even bigger problem than in Vietnam.”

It took a while, but in 2008 Dunster left teaching and started the Compass Retreat Center, a nonprofit business that helps vets and their families readjust to life at home.

“Having worked in education, I was familiar with the ripple effect that problems at home can have on children,” Dunster says. “So our niche is that we bring them to camp as families. And it works.”

It’s also free. Dunster says the vets already paid their dues and charging them to attend would not be fair. It’s a financial challenge, but she’s not backing down. “There’s more than enough need,” she says. “We could run the camp year round.”

Guest Speaker

Xavier students have been overwhelmed by guest speakers during the Fall semester, including: 

• Raslan Abu Rukun, the Israeli deputy consul general who is also a Druze Arab. He discussed the decision he made and how it has directed his life choices as both a Druze Arab and an Israeli. The Druze religion is a secretive offshoot of Islam. Rukun is the first non-Jewish Israeli diplomat to be stationed in the United States.
• William McDonough, a consulting professor of engineering at Stanford University and the U.S. Chairman for the Board of Councilors of the China-U.S. Center for Sustainable Development. In 1996, he received the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development, and Time magazine has twice recognized him as a “hero” for the environment.
• Patrick McCaskey, co-owner of the NFL Chicago Bears and founder of Sports Faith International to promote the value of sports in forming Christian virtue. He spoke at the Ann Buenger Speaker Series.
• Franklin McCain, who staged one of the most visible and iconic events of the civil rights movement by sitting down at a “whites only” lunch counter at a Woolworth store in Greensboro, N.C., in 1960.

Breaking Cycles

In an era when Catholic high schools are closing, DePaul Cristo Rey High School is a rarity. When it opens this summer, DePaul Cristo Rey will become the first Catholic high school to open in Cincinnati in 50 years. In an era when lower-income families are virtually shut out of attending Catholic schools because of the high cost of tuition, they’re the only ones allowed in.

“Our goal is to reach families that wouldn’t otherwise attend Catholic high schools,” says Andrew Farfsing, the school’s principal who graduated with a bachelor’s in history in 2000 and a master’s in education in 2004.

DePaul is part of a small but growing, nationwide network of Cristo Rey high schools built around an innovative program that aims, through education, to break the cycle of poverty that besets large American cities. Students in Cristo Rey schools pay for their education—and gain invaluable life experience—by working in entry-level office jobs at large corporations, law firms, small businesses and nonprofits. Rather than getting a paycheck, though, the corporate sponsors contribute the wages toward the student’s tuition.

Being part of that opportunity is what motivates Farfsing, who is following the trail blazed by another Xavier grad, John P. Foley, S.J. The Jesuit priest earned a bachelor’s degree from Xavier in 1958 and eventually helped launch the Cristo Rey network.

Farfsing is joined by other Xavier grads at the Cincinnati school: Norah Mock, DePaul’s director of development, and Keianna Matthews, director of enrollment. And why not? They’ve already been well trained in the Jesuit ideals.

Going Public

In 2001, Michael J. Graham, S.J., had just taken over as president of Xavier and was giving a speech to faculty about his vision for the University. By the time philosophy professor Paul Colella shuffled into the auditorium—habitually late and only half listening—Graham was mentioning something about creating a new honors program, to be called Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

“I think I’ll have to talk to Paul Colella about this,” he said.

“I must’ve caught his eye,” Colella says. So he did what any professor in his position would do: He hurried back to his office and started researching. What he found was such high-minded programs that merge philosophy and politics are generally a British tradition, although American versions exist at exclusive schools such as Yale and Stanford. The British model typically requires students to quickly narrow their focus, but if a similar program were to exist at Xavier, he thought, it should reflect a broad Jesuit education, with enough flexibility to allow students to customize it to suit their interests.

Colella and his colleagues decided the program should be called Philosophy, Politics and the Public, or PPP. The word “public” was important, Colella says. “It seemed open enough to accommodate all of the things we wanted to see happen.”

After hammering out a curriculum in two years, the first class of 14 PPP majors was selected in 2003. Since then, more than 70 students have gone through the program.

The four-year program emphasizes philosophy and history to complement a hands-on approach to political science. A final 30-page senior thesis allows students to apply all their learning to a topic of their choosing.

“The program allows students to craft areas of interest without having to shoehorn them into a discipline,” Colella says. The end goal, he says, is to produce “public intellectuals to work for the public good.”

Freshmen begin with a course in philosophy and history, taught by two professors to show the interrelation of the subjects. Within the first few days of their sophomore year, they are thrown into the deep end of the political swimming pool. Each student is instructed to volunteer for a politician’s election campaign—whether it’s for a race for city council or president of the United States.

“By the time they’re done, they under stand what it takes to get elected into a public office in the United States,” says Gene Beaupré, a former director for two mayoral offices in Cincinnati and political science instructor. “You could drop a student into any campaign headquarters in the country and they’d know what’s going on.”

After the elections, they switch to working with public policy. Students research an issue, take a position on it and then travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with policy-makers for a frontline lesson in political advocacy. “It teaches them how to interact with people from the highest levels of the government to little interest groups,” Beaupré says. “At the end of their sophomore year, they see someplace they’d like to go with their careers.”

In their junior year, students take a class called “Enlightenment and Revolution,” which explores the centuries-old philosophy and history that forms the backdrop to the political theater in which they have just participated. The capstone to this course is an intensive two-week seminar in Paris.

The PPP program is one of the main reasons Alyssa Konermann came to Xavier. A native of nearby West Chester, Ohio, Konermann thought she would leave the state for college and settle elsewhere. But the PPP program intrigued her, and when she graduates in May she will stay in Cincinnati. “I find myself very invested in the city,” she says, “and I don’t plan on moving.”

Konermann, who minors in studio art, is writing her senior thesis about New York City artist Tim Rollins who incorporates philosopher John Dewey’s views on art as a socially transformative experience to help teach struggling students in the Bronx. She hopes to do similar work in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine, a community she says understands the idea of “the public” better than most suburbs.

“This isn’t some foreign thing that they can’t be a part of,” she says.

Colella and Beaupré are both impressed by where their students land. PPP graduates have become political satirists, appointed federal employees and development workers in South Africa, India and Mali. “I think about what a slug I was in college,” Beaupré says. “When I was their age, I went to Canada and thought it was a big deal.”

BMAD

The little boy sat in the van, lost in thought. He and a group of other boys in a summer camp were riding back from a homeless shelter in Detroit where they served food to chronically homeless people. One of the men told them how his lifelong struggle with homelessness was brought on by poor decisions he made when he was young.

Marcus was a difficult participant in the camp. The boy complained, caused problems and never got on board with the camp’s aim to salvage young boys through positive role models, character education and community service projects and field trips. But this day, Marcus listened to the man’s story. And he cried. It had made a difference.

“He told me he had been homeless for three months one time,” says Norman Hurns, a high school social studies teacher who started the camp. “They got kicked out and moved around to shelters. He kept saying, ‘I thought I was the only one.’ That man’s story turned him around.”

The camp is one of the programs run by BMAD—Brothers Making A Difference—a nonprofit organization started by Hurns, a 1994 education graduate, and his Xavier roommate, Walter Winston.

As a teacher, Hurns saw so many students held back by multiple social problems that he started BMAD as an after-school intervention program in 2003. Two years later when he moved to another school district, he reorganized BMAD to target younger boys. His research showed that reaching kids at younger ages can deter them from poor choices that lead to failure in high school.

The goal is to develop in boys a sense of responsibility for themselves, their families and their communities to counter the negative images many experience in their neighborhoods and even at home. “If we don’t deal with them now, we’re laying the foundation for problems developing later on,” Hurns says.

BMAD still operates an after-school enrichment program, but summer camp is its main focus. Every summer, up to 35 boys attend an 18-day camp that includes field trips and activities around health, recreation, math and science, technology, life skills and character education. They explore real-life issues like work and fatherhood. They go places, like homeless shelters to serve people who are worse off than they are. And they make a difference.