When Cecilia González-Andrieu stands before her theology classes, she is inspired by the faces looking back at her. “I am deeply involved in social justice work because I want all of my students to have the same chance of flourishing in their lives. I don’t want to live in a world where anyone is left behind,” she says.
González-Andrieu feels a personal connection to her students who are facing their own barriers to success. She is a Cuban refugee who came to Loyola Marymount University first as an undergraduate student double majoring in film/television and Spanish. She then earned her master’s in theology at LMU before continuing on to the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley for her Ph.D. Now as an associate professor of theological studies, González-Andrieu uses her expertise as a Catholic and Latina theologian to intentionally and purposefully tackle important political, social, and racial issues facing our world today.
“In all of my classes we are trying to truthfully understand Christ and his radical requirements of love, which are best exemplified by his life and an inconvenience in our modern lives most of the time,” she says.
Undergraduate and graduate students in González-Andrieu’s classes are using Christology as a guide for examining and addressing complex problems such as immigration, racism, the prison system, and gender inequality. In gaining an understanding of the social, economic, and political implications of Jesus’ life and teachings students develop language that empowers them to articulate views they are passionate about in their hearts. Creating a safe environment where students feel comfortable cogently critiquing areas where they feel the Christian tradition has fallen short in being faithful to this concept of radical love is also important to González-Andrieu. “My role as an educator and theologian is to remind and create opportunities for people to live in real, active companionship with Jesus. We do this by encouraging reflection, dialogue, and action,” she says.
For González-Andrieu this means extending her support for students, specifically undocumented students, beyond the classroom. She often joins them at protests and is active on campus committees. She is a member of the LMU Undocumented Student Advisory Committee and has served as an academic advisor for Social Justice Scholars, Resilience, and for the Student Coalition for Social Justice. “It is important for me to walk with them wherever they are on their journey,” she says.
After the action to rescind DACA, González-Andrieu and the LMU community have rallied behind undocumented students whose hard work has paved the way for them to attend college. As part of a statement issued by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities to Congress, President Timothy Law Snyder, Ph.D. commented, “Dreamers on our campus have been and are exemplary scholars and leaders. Thanks to DACA, these students and alumni have pursued opportunities in business, education, tech, and nonprofit sectors. They contribute actively to our communities and they strengthen our economy. They represent what is best about America and they are essential for our future.” González-Andrieu echoes this sentiment, pointing out that access to higher education is vital to a more just society. “The more we are able to see, encounter, question; the better we are able to make our way through issues that threaten humanity. This requires providing access to education for those who have historically been shut out,” she says. “I work directly with undocumented students and am continually impressed by their courage and what they have overcome to be here.”
González-Andrieu is actively trying to engage a broader audience outside of LMU and Southern California through her advocacy work. As a contributing writer to America magazine and a member of the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Board of Directors, she is committed to enlivening Catholic social teaching in culturally relevant ways. In fact, her next project is a biography on renowned artist John August Swanson, which will use his experience of growing up in 20th century Los Angeles to explore themes of Catholicism, Latino culture, and bicultural identity.
Looking into the future, González-Andrieu is both hopeful and pragmatic. “We need to think about how we can help one person at a time through mentorship and scholarship. We need to build up our resources so that regardless of what happens politically we can ensure our students complete their education and have a future. We need to be aware of the communities near us, but that we cannot see,” she says. “Sometimes we look at the world and our problems seem overwhelming, but we need to remember that God is being revealed in these situations.”