If You Choose to Accept It: The Challenge of the Liberal Arts

By Lauren Squillante

The Saint Peter’s University (SPU) campus is a haven in the chaos of a booming metropolis. Catering to students and a community of diverse ethnic backgrounds, we host countless campus activities which address the corporal works of mercy as well as interfaith and ecumenical religious programs which strengthen the spirit. We oversee a Campus Kitchen, which has served 41,100 meals since its establishment in 2014, and a campus clothes and food pantry, which has distributed nearly 11,500 pounds of food, clothes, toiletries, and household items in four years. We have the IGNITE Institute, which joins students and local businesses in community leadership; numerous spiritual retreats throughout the academic year; and community vigils to acknowledge victims of environmental catastrophes, human tragedy, and social injustice. Our athletics department holds physical health and fitness events to care for our bodies, and campus ministry cosponsors performance art programs which nurture our souls. SPU is also dedicated to sustaining the environment, advancing the underrepresented through our campuswide service-dog training program, and protecting the oppressed with our Center for Undocumented Students.

While it appears as though the Jesuit mission is fully realized at SPU, these are only the efforts undertaken to educate and serve outside the classroom. How is our university continuing the tradition of Jesuit education inside the classroom?

Fr. Rocco Danzi, S.J., vice president for Mission and Ministry, helps prepare food with student volunteers at the Saint Peter’s University Campus Kitchen.

Fr. Rocco Danzi, S.J., vice president for Mission and Ministry, helps prepare food with student volunteers at the Saint Peter’s University Campus Kitchen.

Saint Peter’s comprehensive core curriculum – consisting of classes from the humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields, many of which emphasize the study of ethics and pluralism – introduces students to the Jesuit standard of liberal arts education. But because contemporary priorities are changing, students often are not interested in expanding their schedules to include humanities courses beyond the core requirements. There is nationwide advocacy for STEM fields, motivated by the effort to keep America competitive in our evolving technological world. In Jersey City, we face the additional challenge of encouraging students – many of whom are first-generation college students – to major in the humanities, when all they want is job assurance after graduation; it is only logical that these students would choose a degree in a pre-professional program rather than something they consider esoteric.

If Saint Peter’s wants to continue to teach students in the Jesuit tradition of the liberal arts college, it has to focus more on promoting the benefits of a degree in the humanities. These disciplines teach us focused writing, in-depth research, critical thinking, analytical reading, and idea synthesis. These are important skills students will need once they get into the workforce. It is true that some advanced degree programs require a degree in a pre-professional program, but why not encourage students in those circumstances to take a double major in their chosen field and in the humanities? Students aiming to become civil servants, physicians, and entrepreneurs need to understand human nature and other cultures, as well as the past, and can benefit from the study of art, foreign languages, history, literature, philosophy, and theology. The idea of a liberal arts education is to direct students away from a one-track mind and to broaden their horizons. We must remember that the humanities play a crucial role in generating cura personalis.

Plus, all that cultural knowledge makes you more fun at cocktail parties!

Lauren Squillante, ’16, is a graduate of Saint Peter’s University, where she studied history and English. She currently works at her alma mater as the administrative assistant to the honors program and philosophy and history departments.