Ignacio Volunteers turn mission into action


Courtesy of Jacob DeRusha

Senior Valeria Bermudez drives a tractor on the Ignacio Volunteers fall 2023 trip. The program will host another trip in early April.

Ava Acharya, Managing Editor for Digital

Loyola’s Ignacio Volunteers, through partnerships with nonprofits and the Jesuit Social Research Institute, have organized the New Orleans Urban Immersion program this semester to educate students about social inequality regarding mass incarceration.

Students are in a “unique position” to advance meaningful change by seeking education and reform, said the executive director of JSRI, Annie Phoenix. Mass incarceration and criminal justice are relevant issues for much of the American public, and “due to the legacy of racism and white supremacy, Black and Brown communities are disproportionately impacted and targeted,” Phoenix said.

By offering students service immersion opportunities, the Ignacio Volunteers program turns Loyola’s Jesuit mission into tangible action, according to the program’s page on the school website.

The University Minister for Social Justice and Immersions, Jacob DeRusha, said that through this program, students will learn about the contributing factors and historical inequality that have led to mass incarceration.

The program includes weekly meetings and a trip in early April, where students will work with nonprofits in the field, visit the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, LA, and visit the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, DeRusha said.

DeRusha said the weekly meetings will cover topics like the school-to-prison pipeline, the history of slavery, the 13th Amendment, and the socioeconomic impacts of Hurricane Katrina.

According to Phoenix, seeing these issues firsthand will encourage students to seek meaningful and lasting solutions.

“We have big problems to solve in order to transform this system and reduce harm to our communities. We need every person to be involved and working for change,” she said.

Campbell Bryan, a Loyola public relations sophomore, participated in a previous Ignacio Volunteers program focused on immigration reform.

“It was one of the best experiences I have ever had,” she said.

Bryan said the program expanded her understanding of the issues surrounding immigration and deportation, as well as her personal privileges.

“At the end of the program, they asked us, ‘how are you going to take this home with you?’” Bryan said.

Following the program, Bryan said she began researching her hometown’s immigration policies and found non-profits in the area she could work with to continue addressing these issues.

Bryan said she plans to continue participating in Loyola’s Ignacio Volunteers Program into the next semester. She said mass incarceration is a cause she cares about deeply.

“I feel like programs should be in place because prison is a continuous cycle,” she said.