St. John’s University students participated in seven service immersions, known as Plunges, across the country during the 2019-20 academic year—in St. Louis, MO; Philadelphia, PA; Denver, CO; Los Angeles, CA; Macon, GA; Washington, DC; and El Paso, TX—through the University’s Campus Ministry.
Campus Ministry usually organizes 12 Plunges annually, across the United States and internationally. Each Plunge has a specific focus on social justice and the work of the Vincentian family. The last Plunge was in January to El Paso, and focused on the migration crisis at the border.
“While we were in El Paso, we had the opportunity to learn more about this issue from different perspectives, including from border patrol agents and individuals who are on the front lines advocating for migrants,” said Kristen R. LaBruna, a senior in the Honors Program who majors in biology with a chemistry minor in St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “We even had the opportunity to meet women who had the courage to leave their homeland and fight for a better life for their families.”
Students were asked at the conclusion of their experience what action they planned to take now that they have gained awareness of the issue. “I never thought I would have the opportunity to be educated firsthand on the crisis at the border,” said Leslie Balderas Reyes, a senior majoring in criminal justice in The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies. “Throughout this plunge, I met countless people, heard numerous stories—and felt every wave of emotion possible. Every experience I had, from talks with migrants to lectures about violence, will resonate in my mind and heart forever. I will now continue to educate others on the crisis at the border.”
The group also served in Ciudad Juárez, a Mexican city located just south of El Paso. For Leslie, St. John’s Vincentian mission became clear during Mass. “One of the first things we did after arriving in El Paso was attend Mass with the community in Juárez. During the Lord’s Prayer, the priest came down from the altar and stood in the middle of the church, joining everyone together through hand-holding. At that moment, I felt the connection, from the pews across from me, to the very far corner of the church—all the way to my fellow Vincentian students serving in St. Louis and Philadelphia on the other Plunges.”
She continued, “This has started to shape the way in which I would like to live my life. It is not what I have or can take, but rather what connection I can offer, especially during moments when I feel stuck in a system that has repeatedly failed so many.”
“‘Transformatively informative’ is the only way I can describe my experience during the El Paso Plunge,” said first-year legal studies major Joseph Wisidagama. “This trip has motivated me to think more deeply and analytically about the situation and inspires me to make a change the best way I can. It is not just enough to know about the politics—this plunge made me really understand the plight of these families.”