Winter is a time for planting at Cretin-Derham Hall. Every February for the past 20 years, students have been given the seeds of understanding to help them cultivate a more just society. The harvest is not expected right away, according to Lou Anne Tighe of CDH’s Religious Studies Department. “The change may not come until later in a student’s life,” she said. “To move from pondering and reflection to a change in attitude—that’s what we hope for from Justice Week at CDH.”

Tighe serves as the moderator of Justice Week, scheduled from February 8-12 at the high school, 550 S. Albert St. The theme this year, the Dynamics of Race, comes in response to the death of George Floyd last May.

Cretin-Derham Hall
Cretin-Derham Hall sophomore Greta Cunningham and junior Annie Noyes create a poster for the high school’s upcoming Justice Week programming on The Dynamics of Race. Photo by Brad Stauffer

“We’ve been doing race and diversity work for decades,” Tighe said, “but the death of George Floyd was a turning point. It went from ‘this would be a good thing to do’ to ‘we cannot not do this.’ It would be irresponsible to not do this.”

CDH’s attention to social justice stems from the school’s dedication to Christian values and academic excellence, according to Tighe. It is an extension of the values of CDH’s cosponsors, the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet. “The Christian Brothers are dedicated to education for social transformation,” Tighe said. “The Sisters of Saint Joseph are devoted to the love of neighbor without distinction.”

Past Justice Week themes have included immigration, gender equity, environmental justice, human rights and seeking justice through the fine arts. Among the speakers were Jackson Katz, author of Tough Guise: Violence, Media & the Crisis in Masculinity; the late Reverend Samuel Billy Kyles, who was on the Memphis motel balcony with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was assassinated; and young women who have been victims of sex trafficking.

“At CDH we’ve set up some protocols through the student council on how to have conversations on difficult issues,” Tighe said. “That involves practical things: listen, be prepared to feel uncomfortable, be open to ambiguity. It’s something we need to work on all of the time.”

Planned by students as well as faculty, this year’s Justice Week will cover Pope Francis’ message about dismantling racism; student experiences of racism in college; race and the COVID-19 pandemic; race and law enforcement; racial identity, social perceptions of race and their impact on mental health; and race and neighborhood development.

Featured speakers will include Black author and professor Carolyn Holbrook, who will read from her new collection of essays, Tell Me Your Names and I Will Testify; and Bemidji State University professor Dr. Anton Treuer, who will address the topic, “Thriving in Indian Country: What Gets in the Way and How Do We Overcome?” There are also plans to have students read from The Highwaymen, a play produced by the History Theatre that documents the construction of I-94 through Saint Paul and the resulting destruction of much of the largely African American Rondo neighborhood.

Students will also be creating a “Say Their Names” display. “The students and I will fabricate headstones and include the names of (people of color) who have been killed,” Tighe said. “In addition to those who were killed by police, it will include the names of those who have died because of systemic racism, the Native Americans hanged in Mankato, the casualties of Wounded Knee.”

“At CDH we’ve set up some protocols through the student council on how to have conversations on difficult issues,” Tighe said. “That involves practical things: listen, be prepared to feel uncomfortable, be open to ambiguity. It’s something we need to work on all of the time.”

Why focus on race?

“The focus on race is important for CDH students, teachers and staff because it’s a necessary action for justice and peace to be possible,” Cunningham said. “To fully and accurately represent Catholicism as a school, we have to be committed to equality and equity. Anti-racism is a vital actualization of that commitment.”

“We need to take leadership and come together as a community to fight for what we believe is right for the people around us who feel oppressed,” Noyes said. “It’s important to have everyone at CDH on the same page.”

“The most powerful manifestation of school spirit—and on a larger scale, patriotism—is to want to make the place you love better, to never be satisfied but to continue pushing for radical empathy,” Cunningham said. “This initiative is intended to strengthen, vitalize and expand the work we’re doing as a school to support racial justice. As Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to be Antiracist, explained, racist ideas can rain on us without us even realizing we’re wet. We’ve worked to create an umbrella, but we have to check for leaks and execute plans to patch them.”

— Anne Murphy

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