Alumnus Pedro Rios '95 Talk Concludes Series on Catholic Perspectives on Racism, White Supremacy

Alumnus Pedro Rios '95 Talk Concludes Series on Catholic Perspectives on Racism, White Supremacy

One of the best opportunities for an institution of higher learning to make a tangible impact on the understanding of a societal issue is to provide a forum. This forum encourages and allows voices to be heard, stories told from firsthand experience, and the sharing of knowledge. Best of all is when this forum can occur on a consistent basis and attract audiences who may differ on their opinions in some ways, but everyone sees value in a conversation to bring us together.

This fall semester, through the co-sponsorship of the Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture (CCTC) and University Mission and Ministry, a six-part virtual series, “Catholic Perspectives on Racism and White Supremacy,” took place at the University of San Diego on Sept. 3, 10, 17 and Oct. 8, 15 and 22.

On Thursday, Oct. 22, the series finale featured USD alumnus Pedro Rios ’95 (BA English), U.S.-Mexico Border Program Director for the American Friends Service Committee, discussing “Federal Enforcement Parameters that should Bridge Border Communities with the Movement for Black Lives.”

“USD holds a special place in my heart, especially during the mid-90s when I was a young man organizing with others, essentially against Prop. 187,” Rios said. “USD was a place where I found a good group of people that supported the work that we were doing back then. I think, in some ways, it pointed me toward a trajectory to continue advocating on behalf of migrants within a borderland or border framework.”

Rios touched on many points concerning actions taking place in recent months across the nation, including U.S.-Mexico border issues from California to Texas, questioning the presence of border patrol and other federal agencies in what Rios termed "municipal police activity," including in San Diego where agents were managing traffic at protests, having U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents marching at Black Lives Matters protests in Washington D.C., protecting monuments and using drones at BLM protest events. He also spent time on the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. Coincidentally, Rios pointed out his Oct. 22 talk was also the 25th National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and Criminalization of a Generation.

Previous series talks — available to be seen on the University Ministry YouTube channel (individual links are below) — had Dr. Constance Carroll, San Diego Community College District chancellor and current USD Board of Trustees member, open the series with her talk, “The American Catholic Church in the Shadow of Slavery.” Theology and Religious Studies Professor Dr. Karen Teel hosted two conversation events, one with Dr. Timone Davis of Loyola University of Chicago on “Hopeful to Hope-filled: Storytelling for Community Transformation,” and the second with Dr. C. Vanessa White of the Catholic Theological Union on the topic of “Embodied Spirituality: Resilience and Resistance in a Culture of White Privilege.” Bishop Mark Seitz from the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, spoke on “Night Will Be No More: Racism and Hope on the Border.” Dr. Tia Noelle Pratt, president and director of research at TNPratt and Associates, an inclusion and diversity consulting firm, spoke on “The Call is Coming from Inside the House: How Can the Catholic Church Become Anti-Racist.”

Dr. Jeffrey Burns, director of the CCTC, said: “What impressed me about the series were that our presenters are dedicated Catholics who are working in their fields to improve the Church and the world. The quiet dignity and authority of Dr. Constance Carroll is something I will long remember, not to mention her profound presentation. Bishop Mark Seitz is a bona fide prophet. But all of our presenters, while being highly critical of the way things are, expressed a hopefulness on a topic that could easily have spiraled into despair. Their witness gave me great hope for the Church and the world.”

Dr. Michael Lovette-Colyer, assistant vice president and director of University Ministry, often served as moderator and his impression of the series went deeper.

“I found it especially meaningful that the final speaker in the series, Pedro Rios, is a USD alumnus. With Dr. Constance Carroll, a USD trustee, beginning the series in early September, we were able to consider the implications of this most important issue for our campus community and in our particular context while also drawing on the wisdom shared by multiple nationally-recognized leaders on racism and racial justice. Each of the six speakers was incredibly impressive, challenging and inspiring.

“Overall, two lessons will stay with me,” Lovette-Colyer continued. “First, the imperative of listening carefully to and learning from people's stories in order to reverence their experience and respect their dignity. And, second, the need for White people to take up the work of addressing the systemic racism that leads to harm, suffering and even death for our neighbors who are Black, immigrants or other people of color.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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