Faces of Empathy

Erin Carollo looks up in profile


Cultural and political upheaval continues to roil our nation. Living in this environment of uncertainty and stress can quickly start to feel like the new normal. But so long as we find ways to see the world through the lens of others, we can look beyond ourselves and make a real difference to those who are most vulnerable and at risk.

Our efforts start with empathy.

That’s something USD President Jim Harris learned as a 17-year-old with a summer janitorial job.

“It was a humbling experience for me,” he recalls. “I learned firsthand what it was like to be ‘invisible’ as I scrubbed floors and toilets and watched people walk right by me and not even recognize my presence.” He admits that he wanted to strike back at those who treated him badly.

But instead, he took pride in his work, and respected that of others. “I pledged I would never become so self-absorbed with my own importance in life to not personally pay attention to others who might not have the same title, the same position, or the same good fortune as me.”

Motion gif of Ariela Canizal


Ariela Canizal knows about the power that can come with being different. Born and raised in East Los Angeles, she aspired to get a college education, even though others weren’t necessarily on board.

“Deep down, I wanted to know what else was out there,” she explains. “I knew I’d be treated differently because of the color of my skin. But my parents knew college was my way out.”

A first-generation college student, she earned a degree in communication arts from New York’s Marymount Manhattan College. Serving as a resident assistant led to residence director roles at three other universities for a decade post graduation. During those years, she witnessed students’ exploration of gender and sexual orientation. Her takeaway? A sense that everyone yearns to be accepted for who they are.

Her education continues today at USD, where Canizal is a graduate student in the Higher Education Leadership master’s program. She’s also a Rainbow Educators facilitator, which offers workshops and trainings that offer a welcoming space for what can be uncomfortable discussions.

“We need to be having these conversations,” she says. Rainbow Educators builds awareness around inclusion and visibility for the LGBT community. And in accordance with its mission statement, the group supports the principles of Catholic Social Thought.

“I always learn something,” she says. “Rainbow Educators is an opportunity to engage in dialogue and do some self-exploration. I’m not there for an agenda, I’m there to offer the space for people to engage, learn from each other and take whatever they want from it.” — Ryan T. Blystone

Watch Canizal’s video.

Motion gif of Vijay PatelTO FEEL AT HOME

His smile is quick, wide and genuine, as if his day just got better because you came along. It’s almost impossible to look at Vijay Patel’s cherubic face and upbeat, inviting gaze without cracking a smile yourself. Which makes his role on the board of the International Students Organization (ISO) — planning events and reaching out to other students from faraway lands — a seemingly perfect fit. Born and raised in Valsad, a small city on India’s west-central coast, Patel says he learned empathy from his mother, who always urged him to put himself in other people’s shoes.

“I can relate to the international students who come here because I had a rough time adjusting to USD,” says Patel, a sophomore majoring in business economics and finance. “It was a very different culture. It was my first time away from home. People helped me. And now when I see someone struggling, I want to help them.”

He helps in ways big and small: Planning weekly coffee hours, where every Thursday the ISO welcomes international and domestic students to mix and relax in its fourth-floor lounge in the Student Life Pavilion; organizing the annual Fashion Show and Expo, which this year attracted several hundred students and faculty; and by literally extending his hand to students who look lost or alone.

“When you’re feeling homesick or lonely, you might not want to interact with people,” Patel says. “But if I keep nudging, you’ll feel bad if you don’t go. And once you do go, you start feeling better.” Patel learned this firsthand.

“Being empathetic doesn’t take much effort, but it does make a huge impact,” he says. “It might not be that big of an act to you. But it really means a lot to the person you’re doing it for.” — Karen Gross

Read an expanded version of this story.

Watch a video of Vijay talking about how the ISO helps international students feel at home.

 USD Donor Scott MacDonald


He’s not an alumnus. His children went to other universities. In truth, there was no earthly reason for Scott MacDonald to want to help students pay their way through USD — except for his sincere desire to make a difference in the lives of young people.

The endowed scholarships he’s funded at other schools have proven to be life-changing for recipients. And now, thanks to his generosity, four first-year USD students will become MacDonald Community Scholars this fall.

“I believe that higher education in the United States should include a funding element for need-based students that empowers and allows them to go on and have an impact on others,” MacDonald explains.

While he was able to work part-time to pay his own way through college, he believes that option isn’t realistic for most students these days. His solution? To provide USD’s MacDonald Scholars with $5,000 per year to help with costs associated with their college career.

In exchange, they promise to volunteer 280 hours of community service annually and participate in the Karen and Tom Mulvaney Center for Community Awareness and Social Action’s leadership program. Each year, a new cohort will join the program.

“What we’ve seen with these scholars elsewhere is that, by the time they’re juniors, they’re spreading their wings, coming up with their own projects and their own ideas. As long as they have a mentor who can give them advice, they’re off and running,” says MacDonald.

“When you deal with young people and their enthusiasm — and the fact that they haven’t failed before — well, they tend to do amazing things.”

His hope is to inspire others to follow his lead. “This is a way to have a legacy that lasts forever. If you can endow a pay-it-forward scholarship, you’ll know that some student will be out there making life better in your name, forever.” — Julene Snyder

Read an expanded version of this story.

Watch a video of Scott MacDonald talking about the MacDonald Scholars.

Motion gif of Andrea Sloboda.TO PUT FAITH IN ACTION

For Andrea Sloboda ’17 (JD), reuniting a man from Mexico and his children isn’t just another case she’s working on, but rather part of the tapestry she’s weaving that brings together her faith and her chosen vocation.

The time she’s spent working with immigrants and their families at the school’s Immigration Clinic has been life-changing.

“I’m Catholic. My faith is really important to me,” Sloboda explains. “The church is very pro-immigrant. It all just came together.”

Sloboda’s goal for herself as an attorney is to truly understand and embody the idea of empathy. “I want to be an effective, inspirational, and empathetic attorney.” Having worked on a dozen cases over the past year, Sloboda is proud to say that the vast majority of her cases have ended with families being reunited.

She sees this accomplishment as a testament to the hardworking nature of the immigrant community in San Diego.

“Primarily, all immigrants really want is peace and security,” Sloboda says. “They are not coming here to take advantage of the U.S., but rather to seek refuge and work hard. They’re in our schools, attend our churches, are at our jobs, they are our neighbors. You may not know that some are undocumented, but they’re here, they’re among us.”

The School of Law’s unique ability to give students firsthand, tangible experience was a critical factor in deciding to come to USD. “What better place to attend law school than San Diego?” she asks. “We’re 20 minutes from the border. USD offers the perfect opportunity to engage with the immigrant community.” — Melissa Olesen

Motion gif of Jhonnatan Chincilla


The Iraq War still lingers in the memory of marine Jhonnatan Chinchilla ‘17, when mortar fire was a familiar sound and home was 6,000 miles away. While explosions and sandstorms were a constant reminder that he wasn’t in Brooklyn anymore, the cacophony wasn’t always unwelcome.

“If you hear them, that means you’re still alive,” he recalls. Then 19 years old, Chinchilla was responsible for providing mission-essential equipment for troops advancing into Iraq.

“We had to grow up really fast, that’s for sure,” he recalls. “I remember seeing teams leave. Not everyone would come back.”

Chinchilla is now an accountancy major at USD, preparing for the CPA exam and serving as an active member in campus organizations that educate community members on the student veteran experience.

“I want to inform everyone,” says Chinchilla. He’s a representative for the student veteran population in his contributions to the Military Ally program, a collaborative effort between USD and San Diego State University, that aims to provide insight and awareness of the unique cultural and social background of the military community.

“I can be a voice for them and serve as an example since I am a product of all that.”

As a Military Ally spokesperson, Chinchilla views his involvement as a way to give back and a way to make the next veteran’s experience even better.

“We want to improve life for those veterans who are still to come. I’m here for a purpose. Not only for my purpose,” he clarifies. “It would be a disservice for me not to help other student veterans transition and go to school.”

For this marine, his service may have taken on a completely different look, but the goal is ultimately the same: empowering through understanding. — Allyson Meyer ‘16

Read an expanded version of this article.

Watch a video of Jhonnatan talking about his journey.

Motion gif of Erin Carollo


The subject is serious and the stakes are high, but second-year Behavioral Science major Erin Carollo and her fellow Peer Educators — who regularly initiate difficult conversations about sexual violence — wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I think it’s so much easier to talk about consent with someone your own age,” says Carollo. “Being real with someone who’s in the same place as you can be a lot less scary.”

With support from USD’s Women’s Center and the Center for Health and Wellness Promotion, the group spent an entire semester developing presentations about healthy relationships, bystander intervention and ways to support those who’ve been subjected to sexual assault. They presented their work this spring. While the audience is broad, the purpose is specific: to raise awareness and start dialogue.

In many ways, she’s helped to spearhead an entirely new program on campus, since it was reimagined just last year, the same year that Carollo first got involved. The new approach is working: This year saw increased requests for community presentations, honest dialogue during workshops and enhanced campus awareness. These successes help to ensure that the program will continue to grow in years to come. As many as 10 new Peer Educators will join the program during 2017-2018.

While the purpose of the group is to teach their peers, the learning goes both ways.

“Being surrounded by people who care is so wonderful. We strive to lift our peers up, and they do the same for us,” Carollo says. “It’s the most meaningful extracurricular activity I’ve ever done.” — Taylor Milam

Watch Carollo’s video.

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