Reflections on and a Call for Humanity

As I sit in my apartment appreciating the picturesque view of Marquette’s campus, I wonder how I got here. My brain is dwelling on the reality that I am graduating in less than two months but my heart is yearning for more time. I didn’t believe everyone when they said how fast college goes by, how the years seem to be so long in the moment but when you look back, they seem drastically shorter. I think about the movie nights and study nights in my dorm room when I was a freshman. I look back fondly on waking up to the first snowfall from my eighth floor dorm room sophomore year. I question whether junior year happened at all because it was so busy! And now I’m here, a senior.

I struggle to face the reality around me. The world is in shambles. Social injustice, systemic racism, bigotry, sexism, a pandemic, and so much more plagues our nation. I thought I could take comfort in my academic work, as I always have. But unfortunately, even that was all too idealistic. Instead, beginning my last semester of college is inseparably linked with institutional failure.

Thinking back to high school me, I smile to remember the stress of choosing where I’d go to college. I was privileged enough to have several options, most with great scholarship packages. My love for violin and soccer essentially drove my college search. I was eager to play a collegiate sport. It seemed like everything I always wanted.

My cousin, a MU alumna, invited me to a Joan of Arc 10pm mass on a cold February night. I was reluctant, studying for AP exams and all of my extracurricular activities took up most of my time. But I said yes anyway. I remember walking up to the chapel and feeling my anxiety about my work fade away. We sat on the floor of the chapel, surrounded by Marquette students. Everyone was genuinely happy to be there. They were warm and friendly towards me, a high schooler. I have never had an experience with mass like I had at Joan of Arc that night. Growing up Catholic, many times mass felt like a process, a series of steps. This mass was the most human experience I have ever felt. Intense emotions of joy and passion and love filled my heart. I sat through the homily with tears silently streaming down my face. I will never forget that night and how it made me feel.

I knew instantly I would attend Marquette because of that experience. I had applied to Marquette because of their Jesuit values. Cura personalis (which I will talk more about later), a commitment to serving others, a liberal arts education. My parents raised me to live my life in service to others. It wasn’t about getting a job, it was about finding a vocation, a calling. Marquette seemed to offer me all the opportunities to continue to live out these core tenets of who I was. Soccer and orchestra still could be an integral part of my collegiate experience, but I chose to place my value system and the quality of my education first.

My freshman year, I spent most of my time working on completing the core requirements. While my AP score got me out of one semester of Latin, I needed one more course. I enrolled in 2002, a class that was taught by the Classics adjunct. There were only three of us in the course, but the small size created a close bond between us. I met my best friend in that class, who is very much like a sister to me. At the beginning of that semester, she encouraged me to also take the upper division class on Virgil’s Aeneid concurrently. I did not need to take the course and my advisor certainly told me to avoid taking 19 credits, but I did it anyway. That decision changed my life, quite literally. I declared my Classics major after only a few classes and fell in love with a discipline that I had enjoyed since I was a little girl building a replica of the Trojan Horse with my grandpa.

I soon realized that Marquette didn’t have the resources I needed. I outgrew the Classics program almost as soon as I started it. We had one professor, who was brilliant, but pedagogically, it was difficult to feel like I could grow as a scholar. Marquette had already cut down the languages faculty, it was essentially bare bones. What I didn’t understand was why they did this. Sure, save money. But… mission?

They advertised incessantly about “be the difference” and how they valued Jesuit pedagogy. Well, Jesuit teaching is founded on the humanities. It was utterly paradoxical.

Flash forward several years and the situation is worse. COVID-19 obviously isn’t helping, but Marquette recently proposed cutting around 200 (if not more) faculty because of our financial situation. It’s pretty clear that most of those cuts will come from the humanities. This is a hastened continuation of Marquette’s degradation the humanities in recent years.

I chose this university because of its mission. I had better scholarships from other schools. I could have played collegiate soccer at other schools. But I chose to prioritize my education and my values.

I am asking Marquette to do the same.

As a Classics major, I want to take a moment to break down one of the Latin mottos that Marquette constantly harps on. Cura personalis. In translation, Ignatian spirituality says this means “care for the whole person.” I give this translation an A+… but with a catch. Classicists will applaud you for your ability to translate, but perhaps more important is your ability to contextualize. This is where the work begins!

Cura gives us the English cognate care. This term necessitates some nuancing, which can help use better understand the motto. Cura as care has a lot of other Latin words bound up in it. Diligentia, opera, labor, studium, all of which are a part of this. Diligence, work, labor, and zeal. Cura incorporates toil, duty, passion, work. Cura personalis isn’t only care for academic success in college. It is care for the spiritual, physical, emotional wellbeing of students and faculty. Cura isn’t easy to accomplish. It takes work and diligence but most importantly, it takes commitment.

Personalis gives us the English cognates person/personality. Quite literally, it means “of the person.” Again, this term is integrally connected to the aspects that make up a person. This is about the soul or the innermost being of every human. Taken as a phrase, cura personalis charges those who use the expression with caring for the individual soul, the personhood of those who they meet. The phrase is pregnant with responsibility to individuals and therefore, attention to their talents, desires, needs, and concerns. For Marquette, this motto is often employed to demonstrate that the university goes beyond caring for the academic success of their students, instead offering a well-rounded education that makes students better people.

But if Marquette wants to tout that they teach more than academics, the humanities are indispensable to that process. The humanities teach students how to critically navigate their world. The humanities are not cut and dry. Liberal arts ask students to engage with problems from different angles. Disciplines like history, philosophy, theology, languages, and many more are essential to creating these kinds of students.

You cannot have cura personalis in the most legitimate and real sense of the phrase without humanities being at the center of education.

For the value of a liberal arts degree:

I want to leave Marquette University better than I found it, for the students and for the faculty. I am asking Marquette to shoulder this desire with me. The goal of cura personalis at its core is humanity. This reflects the emotions that I experienced at my first Joan of Arc mass. By putting “human” back into humanities, Marquette can be at the forefront of maintaining Jesuit ideology.

Marquette can actually “be the difference.”

We are stronger together. We can accomplish our goals when we are united. We need to voice our frustrations and our demands. Undergraduates, graduate students, alumni, faculty, and staff. No one gets fired. That is the only way to truly embody cura personalis.

Please sign this petition:

Brooke McArdle is a senior at Marquette University, majoring in Classical Languages and History. She is planning to pursue a doctoral degree in Classical Philology after her graduation.

I am a current senior at Marquette University majoring in Classical Languages and History.