Theme 3: Faith in Action: Giving Legs to the Mission
Many of the students reflected on how the community-building process provided an opportunity for them and the university to “live out our charism as a Marianist University” by concentrating on creating a community focused on mutually facing Grand Challenges. This concentration was mirrored by partners who saw it as an equal partnership and one that was important to the development of their organizations. This theme was likely influenced by the shared values and orientations of University of Dayton and MVLA.
The shared values emerged in one particularly surprising way as the students and community members talked about how the multifaceted approach to addressing poverty based on five areas of personal life (financial, intellectual, physical, relational, and spiritual) aligned extremely well to the University of Dayton’s focus on educating the whole person (also prevalent in Christian higher education as a sector). A community partner described how these overlapping values created a new sense of shared experience and communal identity “because we all arc entering with known and felt poverty in our own lives. So, when we see someone with poverty that might look different from ours, we are still on the same playing field.” These mirrored perspectives, across two different religious traditions between the MVLA and the University of Dayton, seemed to align with and reinforce the value for the flat power structures characterized by the GEMnasium and Freedom Enterprises approaches.
Reflecting the theme on shared community and how that aligned to Marianist views on community, one student said, “There is nothing more Marianist than sitting around a table; literally we are all sitting around a table. I am sitting next to my professors and talking, when we go to east end we are sitting around a table, we are all sharing a discussion, sharing a meal.” Another student talked about how approaching problems from the mindset of evolving together rather than fixing it was consistent with Marianist perspectives on community and the common good. For these students, who were deeply involved in the religious lite of the institution, this type of community engagement was seen as an ideal manifestation of mission.
Theme 4: Uncertain Long-Term Impact
Notably absent was a sense that this project had yet to deeply impact the Dayton community beyond creating new partnerships and breaking down barriers to collaboration. This lack of community-wide impact reflects a sense shared by all participants that community engagement was a longterm process and would require continued time and investment from all parties. A community partner described this investment by saying, “Even with facing what some would consider failures or setbacks, it still feels good to be committed to something beyond myself.”
There was some disconfirming evidence to this theme. In particular, there were smaller aspects of the project that had already met success, including a sub-project that led to a new supply of locally grown microgreens to a local school where multiple students had been experiencing malnutrition. This example perhaps indicated that it was just too early to see community-wide results from a project so focused on starting with building community at more micro levels. As this project continues to unfold and be collaboratively assessed, we are confident that the broader, long-term impact to the Dayton community will become more tangible. This confidence is bolstered by the emphasis on perseverance highlighted in the second theme.