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May 30, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – Eight students from Barry University in Miami and one from Siena Heights University in Adrian began their summer with an intense week of learning outside of the classroom: as participants of the Environmental Leadership Experience. (ELE).
“It’s a new experience,” said Barry University sophomore Sierra Johnson, a marketing and graphic design major. “Being born in Miami and being the youngest of three, I never really had a chance to go out or experience the world.” She and her colleagues explored this new world together during the week of May 7-13, 2023, accompanied by two faculty members from Barry University.
Participants came together to “learn about sustainable agricultural ecosystems,” explained Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, General Councilor and former Director of the Office of Sustainability. “Through the lens of environmental stewardship, the program [offers] hands-on activities on the Adrian Campus and Permaculture Gardens.”
Begun in 2017, ELE made a comeback this summer after years of absence enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic. ELE is a collaborative effort of the universities and the Motherhouse Office of Sustainability.
Activities included a tour of the Motherhouse grounds and the Permaculture Garden and work in the Reflective Garden at the Dominican Life Center. But the students spent a major portion of their time building a two-basin rain garden next to the parking lot of Weber Retreat and Conference Center. Along with serving as a pathway to the labyrinth and Cosmic Walk behind Weber Center, the garden was built “as a means of mitigating the degradation caused by rainwater and snow melt coming from the higher ground,” Sister Corinne explained.
The students rounded out their experience with a tour of the Detroit River, a visit to nearby Hidden Lake Gardens, dinner at a nearby restaurant, and a presentation to the Sisters of their experience at the Motherhouse.
For Anita Zavodska, Professor of Biology at Barry University, the experience in Adrian was a renewal of an enjoyable time in 2019. This year’s experience is “just as wonderful” as in 2019, she said. “We have another wonderful group of students who are really willing to get their hands dirty and work and make a difference,” she said. “It’s like coming home.”
For the students, ELE was not only a new experience of planting seeds in the Motherhouse grounds, but of planting them in their own hearts as well.
“I’ve always wanted to work for the environment,” said Lily Hernandez, a Barry student majoring in biology. As a member of Barry’s Green Team, she hopes to incorporate what she learned through ELE into work at Barry. Yet, as she considers a career as a doctor, she hopes to go beyond her time in college. “Everybody could use [this experience] and be a little more sustainable, whatever you’re going into – being more sustainable, loving Earth,” she said.
Benny Rubinsztejn, a history major at Barry University and a native of Brazil, hopes to begin a second career after 25 years as a stockbroker.
ELE “is like a highway that works both ways, because students learn something new and bring it home,” Benny said. He sees ELE as important not only because of the environmental impact but also because of the impact on human society, at a time of great division and polarity. When people work together on a project such as the rain garden, he said, “you can build some bridges to [other] people so they respect each other. That’s the most important thing right now.”
Both Lily and Sierra were inspired not only by their work through ELE but also by the different vegetation and wildlife they experienced in Michigan. “This week in Michigan continuously reminds us of how important it is to take a moment to appreciate all that we have and all that God has given us,” Sierra wrote in a blog organized by the ELE students.
Read the students’ entries in the blog, and watch a video of the experience below.
May 30, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – During a recent presentation on Understanding Gender, guest speaker Socorro Sevilla offered a key recommendation for encountering gender expansive persons: common courtesy and respect.
A 25-year social services and social work professional and now a counselor with a private practice in Adrian, Socorro recently gave the opening presentation in a new series offered by the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Office of Racial Diversity and Cultural Inclusion. The series brings speakers from various racial, religious, cultural, and gender communities to the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse to present their world view.
“My hope is through understanding and education, [the series] can bring compassion, and we can be better allies to so many communities that need help with their voice,” said Kevin Hofmann, Director of the Office of Racial Diversity and Cultural Inclusion.
Speaking to an audience of Sisters, Associates, Co-workers, and community members, Socorro noted that many people experience “confusion, fear, anxiety, and questions” when working through the changing views of sex and gender: from traditional, binary, biological male and female to include transgender, non-binary, gender fluid, and other gender expansive identities.
In recent years, Socorro said, the idea of binary gender shifted to seeing gender as a spectrum: a line along which people fall, with male on one end to female on the other. Yet more recently, they explained, gender is seen as a galaxy. “Every person’s gender is a star somewhere in this galaxy – unique, distinct, but maybe clustered in areas.”
Socorro spoke from experience as a counselor primarily to youth, with 82% of their clients in the LGBTQI+ community. Many in the LGBTQI+ community experience “distinct and chronic stressors related to their sexual orientation and/or identity,” as well as to racial identity. Many of these stressors come from the assumptions that others make about their identity. The stress, they said, is “not so much what’s happening [inside you] … It’s dealing with everybody else’s stuff coming at you.” Young people and those who have been rejected by their families can easily internalize the messages they get from others, Socorro added.
Socorro suggested a simple way to help people in the LGBTQI+ community: common courtesy and respect, accepting them for who they are and using their preferred names and pronouns. This simple form of respect can decrease suicide in the LGBTQI+ community by half, Socorro said. “If that’s all we need to do to cut suicide rates in half, I don’t think it’s that much to ask.”
Watch the entire video of Socorro’s presentation.