Loretto at the UN welcomes students
March 2019 marked the 11th year that the Loretto Community has welcomed a delegation of high school students to the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York City. The CSW serves as the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women and girls.
Students from Nerinx Hall High School, St. Mary’s Academy and Loretto Academy attend regularly, increasing their critical thinking and civil discourse skills across lines of not only gender but also religion, race, age, class and political affiliation. In addition to students from our Loretto high schools in St. Louis, Denver and El Paso, at various times we’ve welcomed students from Kansas City Academy, Bishop Diego Garcia High School in Santa Barbara, Calif., and Regis Jesuit High School in Denver. These students and their teachers have been joined by Loretto Volunteers and Sisters and Associates of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Dubuque, Iowa, whom we also represent at the United Nations.
Together these (mostly) young leaders have joined the global discussion around issues ranging from women’s economic empowerment to maternal health care to ending human trafficking of women and girls and sexist hate speech. Students enjoyed attending official meetings and side events (located inside the UN headquarters complex) and parallel events (located at various sites near the UN such as at the Church Center across from the UN Secretariat building). In 2019, students were also able to meet and reflect with Loretto Community member Alice Kitchen from Kansas City, Mo., and learn about CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women — see www.citiesforcedaw.org).
The experience can be quite overwhelming, and involves everything from picking up grounds passes to locating sessions to navigating around New York. As United Nations CSW delegates representing the Loretto Community, students stepped up to the challenge, becoming even more convinced that there is much to do in the world, and that we each have a responsibility to engage. As someone relatively new to the UN Representative position, and because of my background in higher education, I noted that we could do even better at helping our youth learn to think in a much broader, more global way.
In 2019 we experimented with a pilot set of lesson plans focused on the founding and history of the United Nations, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the CSW itself. We used an online learning platform called Core Atlas, which was a good place to start, and will research several options to find the best possible fit for our teachers and schools.
After collecting feedback, we plan to create an improved set of materials to share with the next group of participants this fall as they prepare for their 2020 CSW visit. Our small Curriculum Committee, part of the Loretto at the UN Advisory Committee, will also be inviting several students and chaperones who already have had the immersion experience to work with us as advisers as we proceed.
It takes an incredible amount of work to prepare and to provide this significant immersion experience to more than 30 students, Loretto Volunteers, and teachers each year, but it’s an excellent opportunity for young leaders learning to make positive change.
“Loretto is making an important, positive difference in the world through our participation at the United Nations,” noted Loretto Community member Kathy Baldwin-Heitman CoL, former Head of School at Kansas City Academy. “I firmly believe the work we do at the United Nations is a clear expression of Loretto’s impact in the world, and it serves as an important means for providing significant, global and experiential learning for the Loretto Community and beyond.”
“I thought I knew what was going on — what the facts were — what the numbers were — but I came all the way across the country to find out how much I didn’t know.
Like the situation with children in detention centers and how they’re treated — having their shoes taken away, not being able to take showers — it’s against human rights. Yet there are so many different organizations, from all over the world, who are doing so many things to help.
My advice to those who come in the future?
Wear comfortable shoes! Be open — attend all the sessions you can. Take time to reflect, to think deeply about how the world is changing, and how what affects you in a small way can affect others in larger ways.”
Alejandra Limas, Loretto Academy class of 2019
If you would like to learn more about Loretto at the UN, please contact our Loretto Community NGO Representative at the United Nations, Beth Blissman, Ph.D., at [email protected]
Beth Blissman, Ph.D., currently serves as the Loretto Community’s NGO Representative to the United Nations. She has over 25 years of experience in higher education, with an emphasis in community engagement. Her passions include addressing both social and environmental justice challenges simultaneously through experiential education opportunities, multilateral diplomacy, biomimicry and permaculture design. Beth’s academic background is interdisciplinary, and includes a doctorate in Religion & Social Change, a Master of Arts in Theology & Pastoral Ministry, and a bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering (BAE).