Seek First to Understand

Bob Just

October 18, 2016

Growing up, religion was hardly a part of our family way. We spent our Sundays traveling to soccer tournaments, enjoying family barbecues, sledding down the slopes of our backyard, or finishing our homework assignments for the upcoming week. 

As a member of the queer community, I never thought I would find myself working at a religiously-affiliated university, let alone one that stems from Catholicism. Toward the end of my graduate studies at Western Illinois University, I stumbled upon Loyola University of Chicago during my job search process. Loyola University of Chicago is one of 28 Jesuit Universities in the United States that helped me see beyond the stigmas of religion and into the soul of it. To my surprise, I learned that Jesuit institutions hold many of the same values that I do. 

While each Jesuit institution is unique to its location, many share a common set of values: Cura Personalis (Care for the whole person), Men & Women for and with Others, Magis (“More”), Unity of the Heart and Mind, and Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (For the Greater Glory of God). While Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam initially struck me as a value I did not share, it became clearer to me in my job search process that I was hung up on a definition of god that was rooted in stereotypes, rather than my own understanding of faith. For me, I see God in most everything around me – from interactions with my colleagues to the simple breeze that rustles the leaves of the trees outside my windows. God is in the moment for me, it brings me peace and continued faith in the world around me. 

Sharing the ways in which the values resonate with me is not my priority in writing about my experience within a religiously affiliated institution. Rather, my priority is to share the importance of reexamining our beliefs and assumptions. In my first year as a Residence Life Coordinator at San Jose State University, my Senior Resident Advisor (SRA) shared an important insight that he gathered from his time as a SRA and as an RA. He told me that, “Once we stop assessing, we start assuming”.

For the past 3 years, that insight has traveled with me beyond my time at SJSU and continues to be with me now at an institution that I could have never imagined working for because of the assumptions I carried with me about religiously affiliated institutions. There is truth in those words; when we stop asking questions, gathering information, or seeking for further understanding, we begin forming our opinions and assumptions about the matter we are focused on.

I wonder, what would this world look like if each of us took a harder look at our assumptions and continued gathering more information before drawing our conclusions? Would people become frustrated by the amount of inquiry? Maybe.

As we say in Higher Education, there must be a “balance”. There are real truths to that. Too often though, I see myself and colleagues coming to conclusions without seeking additional input from others. Like, when I make an assumption that a colleague hasn’t fully assessed an issue!

Each of us can make this world a better place by engaging our vulnerability to set aside our assumptions by asking more questions and seeking greater clarity. As a new Student Affairs Professional, I believe it is my responsibility to gather the information and make sound decisions that carefully examine the issues from multiple vantage points.

I would like to invite aspiring, new, mid-level, and senior-level student affairs professionals to try practicing this belief for just a day. Try living a day without conclusions, and, most importantly, without judgment. You may be surprised by what you find!

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Bob Just is currently serving as the Assistant Director for Leadership Programs at the University of San Francisco.  Bob completed his master's degree in College Student Personnel (CSP) from Western Illinois University. As an alum of the NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program (NUFP), Bob began his involvement in NASPA from his experience as an undergraduate student, then as a member of the inaugural cohort of the Graduate Associate Program (GAP) - amongst other experiences, and now serves as a member of the Region VI Northern California Advisory Board as the NPGS KC representative.

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