Ignatian Reflections for the Fall Term

A portrait of Tom WallThe fall term always seems to bring a feeling of hope and renewal to college campuses. For many people the season also begins a period of anticipation, with the holidays, the beauty of autumn, and meetings with family and friends. In some respects, it’s the time of year that most embodies the adage that “happiness is having something to look forward to.”

The influx of young minds to the academy brings new ideas and expectations as well, and if I could borrow an Ignatian metaphor, these emerging ideas and conceptions symbolize the heart; and conversely the University with its history and stability are more akin to the mind. Together, the convergence of the students (heart) and University (mind) form a compelling dynamic that is at once challenging and punctuated by optimism. When it works, we have the meta-instance of Ignatian consolation; when it struggles, we have desolation.

Ignatius offers a number of concepts I’ve been reflecting on lately in the context of anticipating change. In addition to consolation: accompaniment, mobility, and indifference.

As an inherently dialectical process there is always going to be ambiguity, change and some discomfort because in essence, the University represents a melting pot of differing perspectives, theories and reasoned debate. At Boston College, the dialectic is almost a tri-alectic: through a collective commitment to a process of discernment, we develop and nurture, as Father Jack suggests, the hearts, souls and imaginations of our students. Or, put another way, we are about bringing together service, faith and knowledge in our students and as a community writ large.  Father Appleyard named this defining aspect of the Boston College experience “formation.” If allowed, I would suggest the Ignatian principle of “accompaniment” applies here as well.

In the libraries we facilitate formation through our content, spaces and services. Our content represents all reasoned viewpoints, which should challenge existing assumptions and help our community develop broader, more thoughtful perspectives. Library spaces are designed for flexibility to accommodate students as their needs warrant. In this way we strive for a collectively mixed landscape to include opportunities for group and individual study, flexible seating options, technology readiness, and a welcoming feeling. Our services continue to develop, as do our partnerships. Traditional research, reference and instructional services continue to add value, and the folks at the reserve and circulation desk are fully engaged. O’Neill Library also includes a robust set of ITS-based technology services, as well as the Library-based Digital Studio and associated digital scholarship and data/GIS support. Behind the public scenes our staff work tirelessly to ensure content is acquired and discoverable. The special libraries serve specific populations, and provide highly focused services and collections. The Burns Special Collections Library has transformed into a teaching and research library, where all are welcome.

Still, we face many challenges ourselves, even as we strive for excellence. In an effort to be our best selves, both collectively and as individuals, the Library has embarked on an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) process that is inwardly reflective and outwardly focused. With the fall renewal we are reminded of the importance of difference, and the critical role that embracing otherness, surfacing assumptions, and a willingness to listen and change are essential for growth and continuous improvement. The EDI initiative is really a process without a timeline, where we all toggle among the realities of a more diverse world and the historical and personal sensibilities that have shaped each of us at any given moment. In this way EDI involves a level of personal vulnerability that by its very nature calls us to reflect deeply with a willingness to change. When Jesuits embrace the idea of “mobility” I see movement in place and mind, and that the EDI commitment suggests Ignatian mobility as a dispositional point of departure, and compels the Library to remain committed to facilitating that mobility in all we do, collectively and for BC community.

One final Ignatian principle bears mention, that of “indifference.” First of all, indifference should not be confused with apathy. In fact, indifference provides an empowering approach to seeing the world as it appears and situating oneself as a person  in and of it. Perhaps the more appropriate interpretation would be something like the “epoche” espoused by many great thinkers,  whereby a suspension of assumptions allows a process of discernment and ultimate recognition of assumptions as potentially edifying or limiting. Indifference then, to me at least, is something of a dispositional approach to seeing the world and all people anew and fresh, with all the complex problems and enduring questions, thus providing a path forward to being better, always, in the manner of Ignatius.

I wish you all a prosperous fall term filled with experiences that inspire your hearts, souls and imaginations.

Tom B. Wall

University Librarian