"I felt called to do something within higher education supporting students who were doing service, and learning that service continues to lead you into a path of justice."
Crystal Cardona, the coordinator of service and justice at Saint Martin's, graduated from the University with a degree in sociology and cultural anthropology in 2014. She went on to earn her master's degree in social justice from Loyola University in Chicago and has returned to Saint Martin's to "foster growth within our Benedictine values." She answered some questions about her Saint Martin's experience, her career, and what made her decide to return to the University.
Can you share a little bit about your current job and your responsibilities?
We’re incorporating service and justice together to foster growth within our Benedictine Values. This allows students to share experiences from outside the classroom. Service is a continuum that will lead to justice, and we are lucky that we have a great number of students who are involved in the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) as we are one of 57 schools who have chapters.
Students can understand justice within the Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic Relief Services will support students to focus on four main issues: migration, global climate change, human trafficking and global hunger. The students become advocates or allies; they are standing in solidarity for those issues and they’re working to incorporate more advocacy efforts on and off campus.
We continue to have the Community Kitchen, which has been a long-standing opportunity that is located in downtown Olympia. We volunteered for National Public Lands Day to go clean up a local park here in the area. We've partnered up with Our Common Home Farms twice, to help harvest green beans and strawberries. We've also gone to an art studio, Hummingbird Art Studio, run by the organization Kokua, which works with individuals who are living with disabilities. So that gives college students and individuals with disabilities a way to break out of their molds and experience different ways of having conversations. And in early fall, we helped the monks clean up their cemetery.
I also support faculty with service-learning opportunities.
How has your experience been in your job, and what made you decide to return to Saint Martin’s?
I think one of the reasons I came back was because I truly valued my experience within immersion trips. John Hopkins led an opportunity to learn about immigration issues and this trip had helped me learn more about myself. I had an "aha" moment when I participated in our immersion trip to Yakima. That helped me see a different perspective than in a classroom setting, and I truly valued that experience.
I felt called to do something within higher education supporting students who were doing service, and learning that service continues to lead you into a path of justice. I appreciate that Saint Martin’s added the justice part of this position. You're doing the work, then you're building that relationship with someone, but it never ends there. That's always the next part of motivating students: you engaged with someone who’s homeless, but what are you going to do about that?
What made you decide to attend Saint Martin’s originally?
My older sister and I went to a college fair at St. Mary's College in California over the summer, (I believe), and I was a junior so I wasn’t really looking at colleges. I entered my name at every college table to get more information, because I didn’t think I would get an answer from each school.
The following year I got a box in the fall from Saint Martin’s saying, "Please, apply to Saint Martin’s, here is a free application."
I applied and a couple months later, they called me saying, "You've been accepted to Saint Martin’s." When I came onto campus in July I was amazed. I enjoyed the nature of the campus, because it felt different from where I grow up. It felt more authentic. And I was really excited that it was Catholic too.
Homesickness was rough for me the first two months. I was used to doing everything with my older sister. But being here, I did my part to be involved and my involvement allowed me to meet some great people with whom I am still in touch. They want to take the time to be your friend and make sure that you feel welcomed in this community. So that made the difference, and I stayed for all four years.
How has your time at Saint Martin’s helped you in your career?
I had the chance to do an internship, for my major, at the Family Support Center, in downtown Olympia. Through that process I learned a little bit more about the shelter system and what kind of individuals would go to the shelter.
The first thing right after I graduated, I enrolled in Jesuit Volunteer Corps. I was placed in Phoenix, Arizona, at a single adult shelter, it was one of the biggest in the county. When I went to Phoenix my position was working in their resource center within the single-adult shelter, I supported adults who were looking for employment. I had that training from Ann Adams: helping people with interview skills, with resume building. My supervisor was amazed that I knew how to create a resume, that I knew what kind of questions were asked in an interview. By supporting individuals who were experiencing homelessness, I felt the Catholic Social Teaching was present in what I was doing as we are taught everyone should have the “Dignity of Work and [fair] Rights of Workers.”
My love for social justice came from the Yakima trip, and I never let that go. My love for social justice has always been a part of me, because my mom was a community organizer, so I saw social justice in practice but seeing it in the Yakima trip gave it a different perspective. So that led me to the path to Chicago to get my master's degree.
Who is the person who influenced you the most at Saint Martin’s?
Definitely Ann Adams and John Hopkins were two of the main people who helped guide me through my career. Within my classes though, Teresa Winstead and David Price were two of the professors who really stuck out, because I felt like they have passion about what they are teaching.
What advice would you give to a new student?
Get involved in whatever you feel passionate about. Don't let college just be classes—that’s not going to be the only experience that you're going to take away from college. I don't remember every single theory I learned in class, but I remember the experiences and the memories I built with the community and my friends.
What else would you like to add?
I valued the time that I took between going to grad school and leaving Saint Martin’s to go somewhere else. If you have the privilege to have a gap year, I would recommend doing a year of service. I did that with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and there are so many other programs that people can join, like the Peace Corps, there's AmeriCorps. So, it doesn't have to be religious, there are different ways to be in post-graduate service.
It doesn't have to be something that you commit to for your whole life. It can be something that you're able to step into, learn from and then hold that moment unique to yourself.