Immaculata students explore a variety of social justice issues
by Kara Hansen
Special to The Leaven
LEAVENWORTH — Every day in a Catholic school is devoted, at least in part, to learning about faith.
But students at Immaculata High School in Leavenworth got an especially intense dose with a social justice day for the entire school on March 4.
“I think this experience is important because it has the potential to impact people beyond the students at Immaculata,” said Felicia DePriest, a senior who helped coordinate and plan the event. “There are so many injustices in the world. Yet because we are not directly impacted by them, we often overlook them.”
Students had the opportunity to select the sessions they attended based on personal interest. The day’s topics included immigration rights, the death penalty, hunger, mission work, women’s advocacy, human trafficking, and the sanctity of marriage. Speakers included two people whose parents were Holocaust survivors.
Each student had time to attend four different sessions.
“The point of this event is to spread awareness about some of the injustices in the world,” said DePriest. “We don’t want people to walk away depressed.”
Rather, she said, “we want people to walk away realizing that there are injustices and that they can make a difference to fight and further prevent them. There is no truth to the idea that one person cannot make a difference alone. One action can bring about change. It can start a chain reaction.”
DePriest said she was hoping the day becomes an annual event. In addition to speakers, several local not-for-profit and social service agencies sponsored booths where students could obtain more information on the various topics.
Jude Huntz, director of the human rights office for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, addressed students on the church’s position on the death penalty.
“The fundamental question is: Can we keep the criminal away from society in a way that protects others?” said Huntz. “Can we do that in a way that will not allow him to harm anyone else?”
Huntz started by discussing capital punishment within a biblical framework. He then went on to lead a discussion about the rise in crime and prisons in the past 40 years in the United States, which is largely attributed to the rise in drug abuse.
“The crime rate has gone down in recent years, even though the death penalty is being used less and several states have abolished it,” said Huntz. “That would suggest the death penalty is not serving as a deterrent to crime.”
Students also discussed the cost of a death penalty case compared with imprisoning a criminal for life.
And Huntz pointed to the success of Turnaround, a prison rehabilitation program offered through Catholic Charities in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese. Although statistics show that an estimated 70-80 percent of prisoners wind up back in prison after their release, the Turnaround program’s rate of recidivism is an astonishing 8 percent.
“This is where the event has the potential to go beyond,” concluded DePriest. “If one student at Imac walks away with the determination to make a difference, they in turn can go out and impact others.
“They can help the less fortunate, they can inspire others to act, they can get family members in on the service. The possibilities — [and] thus the potential — are endless.”