Global Solidarity Network launches first internet collaboration

By Christopher Blake
October 18, 2007

Jerome Zurek/Submitted Photo

About two years ago, Professor Jerome Zurek and a group of other Cabrini faculty visited Catholic Relief Services in Brazil. As Zurek saw the dedication and work of this organization, something hit him.

“I realized people need to know about the amazing work of CRS. Let’s use technology to travel via the internet. Students with similar interests are difficult to find. This proposal can bring them together,” Zurek said.

He wrote a proposal for a Global Solidarity Network. The proposal sought “to join college and university faculty, staff and students together, to work with CRS on educational, research and advocacy projects through the use of modern information and communications technology tools,” as stated in the pilot proposal paper.

There are 240 Catholic universities in the United States with 720,000 students and thousands of faculty yet no organization unites all the schools and people together. CRS is the main Catholic organization interested in international social justice but many Americans are unaware of CRS and its work.

“This organization could be the unofficial arm of CRS for American colleges and universities,” Zurek said.

Over a two-week period from Oct. 29 through Nov. 9, 400 students in 18 unique courses will study the topic of migration. The students represent four universities: Cabrini College, Villanova University, Seattle University and Santa Clara University.

“Although CRS and each Catholic college and university has its own distinct mission, each shares common concerns for social justice and peace and educating citizens for global responsibility,” the proposal said.

GSN will unite the four schools and their students in these courses with one another and with two CRS immigration experts through Internet discussion. Nine of the courses are taught at Cabrini by six faculty members.

“Technology now makes it possible to connect to and relate more directly with the poor and marginalized of the global society. The challenge now lies with us. There can be no peace in the global society without justice. This is a first step, a small one, but an important and hopeful one,” said Suzanne C. Toton of Villanova University.

This innovative style of teaching and learning will culminate in a live video conference on Nov. 8 and 9. CRS immigration expert Rick Jones will teach students from El Salvador. Students will listen and have the capability to interact with Jones once on Thursday and again on Friday.

“The individual efforts at each college and university may become more effective if situated in a forum or ‘community of practice’ where ideas, research and best practices are shared and developed and a collection of resources can be found,” said the pilot proposal paper.

GSN will enable Cabrini students to communicate with students from other higher education institutions and allow students to build a relationship not only with CRS but with those living in poverty.

“I hope to create a group of students that are like minded and can stay connected even after graduation. Kind of like a Facebook for social justice,” Zurek said.

“Cabrini could have kept this gem all to itself. But instead, together with CRS, they brought the proposal to the other partner institutions for their input and collaboration. A tremendous amount of time, for more than a year, has been invested in this, and we are deeply indebted to the leadership team of Cabrini and CRS,” Toton said.

Christopher Blake

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