The Immersion Program

In 1990, SI Principal Mario Prietto, SJ, asked the campus ministry staff to intensify its focus on issues of social justice. The campus ministry team responded with an innovative program in the summer of 1992 that sent students and teachers to El Salvador, Mexico and inner-city San Francisco for what would prove to be the first steps of the fledgling Immersion Program. The brainchild of Spanish teacher Susan Ackerman and campus minister Kathleen Purcell, the trips took students to live in community with the poor to expose them to the injustices that cause poverty. Ackerman, a native of Peru, argued that “our students need to accompany people who live in oppression so that we can allow them to teach us, to transform us, to open us to rethinking what are our priorities and responsibilities towards each other.”

Since that first summer, hundreds of SI students have spent the summer between their junior and senior years in places such as Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Appalachia, New Mexico, South-Central Los Angeles, Quebec and Northern Ireland. Fr. Prietto, who went to Guaymas, Mexico, that first year, saw the program as broadening SI’s response to issues of civil rights and social justice outside the city of San Francisco. “We needed to become aware of the world outside the U.S.,” said Fr. Prietto. “In past years, we had taught our students about the injustice that exists in our borders concerning women, immigrants, minorities, handicapped, homosexuals and the homeless. Thanks to the Immersion Program, we were able to show our students the substandard conditions that exist in the Third World and have given them the opportunity to learn and serve.”