by Princess Jones, '18
A lot can change in 10 years.
A decade ago, the Apple iPhone was just a year old. The Phillies made their first World Series appearance in 15 years, and “the wall” had just been introduced to Facebook. The collapse of the housing bubble and chaos in the financial market plunged the United States into the Great Recession, with the job market losing 8.4 million jobs from 2008-2009.
It was into this world that Trevecca launched the J.V. Morsch Center for Social Justice. Born out of a desire to practice justice in an unjust world, the Center will celebrate its tenth anniversary during the 2018-2019 academic year.
And while many things have changed in the last decade, the J.V. Morsch Center for Social Justice’s commitment to educating students to become servant leaders who make a difference in the world hasn’t.
THE BEGINNINGS OF CHANGE
That desire to change the world—one student at a time—has shaped the Center since its very inception. It’s both the fuel that ignites the passion to serve and the focus that shapes the Center’s curriculum.
That biblically based major exposes students to a wide-ranging curriculum that includes business, social and behavioral sciences, as well as theology and ministry. The curriculum is built to foster an awareness of and desire to serve the oppressed and marginalized.
Jamie Casler, director of the J.V. Morsch Center for Social Justice, has seen that goal grow and develop over the past 10 years.
“As I reflect on the growth of the Center over the years, I can clearly see where God’s hand has been at work in the development of the Center,” Casler says.
The Center started with one sta member and three students. Today, it’s grown to include more than 75 people, all involved in various aspects of the Center’s work, ranging from faculty to students and iWork participants.
The Center’s current success shouldn’t be defined only by its numerical growth, Casler says. It’s also found in the variety of ways the Center’s leadership helps students put what they’ve learned into practice.
“The initial vision for the Center was to establish a major in social justice studies,” Casler says. “And today we have exceeded expectations through the creation of applied learning programs such as the Trevecca Urban Farm, the Neighborhood Empowerment Program, the Micah Mandate magazine and the Salvation Army Social Justice Research Center.”
But for Casler, the most important measure for success is the work Trevecca’s social justice majors continue to accomplish after graduation.
ONE STUDENT AT A TIME
Lucas Reed graduated from Trevecca in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in social justice. What he learned at Trevecca, Reed says, helped him develop the tools and mindset to start Game On Ministries, a ministry dedicated to introducing young men to the love of Jesus, and later, Rippl, a nonprofit that partners with Soles4Souls.
“One of the biggest takeaways I got at Trevecca was having a better understanding of how we can really help people,” Reed says. “I’m a big believer that giving has to be two-way giving—unless it’s a crisis situation—that creates dynamics that build empowerment. Creating that viewpoint helped me to see the world in a different way.”
A transfer student, Reed says his two-and-a-half years at Trevecca also helped to mature him. At the same time, the interdisciplinary focus of the major helped him learn the practical skills he would need to
run a nonprofit.
“A lot of the professors took the time to pour into me, not even just the knowledge standpoint from class, but also speaking wisdom. That helped prepare me,” Reed says. “ The time in the classroom with people like Jamie Casler and Dr. Iris Gordon taught me the business side of things.”
Casler isn’t surprised to see Trevecca’s social justice students succeed. He says graduates of the program have had great success in applying what they’ve learned to real-world issues.
“I often receive calls from local nonprofits in late spring asking for social justice graduates to apply for various openings. When I ask the employer what makes a social justice major the ideal candidate, they often respond that the diverse learning experiences gained throughout the social justice major equip students to fulfill a variety of roles in the nonprofit setting.”
AN UNCHANGING FOCUS
When the Center began its work a decade ago, it was an extension of the University’s mission to serve the neighborhoods that surround the campus and the greater Nashville community. Over the past 10 years, though, Casler says the Center has helped the campus community refine and expand that mission.
“ The social justice program challenged the Trevecca community to thinking deeply about why we engage in acts of service as a means to advance God’s kingdom on ‘earth as it is in Heaven,’” Casler says. “The Center also expanded the community service opportunities for students and clubs with a focus on community impact. Center staff have been able to provide guidance to student groups to maximize their impact in the community over the years.”
Casler estimates that the Center has hosted more than 50 events designed to help community members incorporate biblical social justice principles into every part of their lives. Through the Center’s work—which includes the Trevecca Urban Farm, the Neighborhood Empowerment Program, The Salvation Army Social Justice Research Center and Trevecca student service projects— Casler says the Center has been able to identify and work to meet needs in the Nashville community.
As the Center’s director, Casler is proud of that work, but his dreams for the future of the Center don’t end there.
“The future of the [Center] looks rich as we are seeing significant growth in the social justice major this past year, with a goal of 100 students by 2025,” Casler says. “We dream of one day having a building on Murfreesboro Road where social justice students and community participants will work together to identify pressing needs and then work toward a redemptive solution.”
The University recently received an AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) grant that will help the Center expand its work in the community. The grant provides for four VISTA members who will work on projects focused on community gardening and health issues as well as identifying and evaluating Trevecca’s service efforts in the neighborhoods closest to campus as well as the city itself.
“As a staff, we continue to seek God’s leading and direction as we continue to grow the important work of the Center,” Casler says.
Princess Jones is a 2018 graduate of Trevecca. She’ll spend the next semester living and working in New York City through an innovative journalism internship opportunity offered through the University.