All students at Butler University are required to complete at least one course focused on themes of diversity, equality, and inclusivity. Since 2018, a year-long faculty fellowship program has been working to help ensure that this experience is more than just a box to check.

Butler recently established the Social Justice and Diversity (SJD) requirement as part of its core curriculum. These courses reaffirm the University’s founding principles by exposing students to critical scholarship on the root causes of marginalization and inequity, as well as an understanding of how to counter it. To make these classes even more meaningful, Butler’s Center for Faith and Vocation (CFV) collaborated with Career and Professional Success (CaPS), the SJD Requirement Director and committee, and the Office of the Provost to create the SJD Vocation Fellowship—a program designed to help Butler faculty infuse vocational reflection into SJD courses.

“At Butler, we see vocation as discovering a life of meaning, purpose, and contribution,” says CFV Director Daniel Meyers. “It’s the idea that you might know what you want to do, but you don’t know where you want to do it, or with whom, or in what way. The SJD curriculum is a beautiful place to explore contexts of how you want to make a difference.”

About five years ago, around the same time that Butler began developing SJD courses, the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE) introduced a grant to support college and university recipients in expanding vocational exploration across campus. Meyers and other University leaders—including CaPS Director Gary Beaulieu and former SJD Director Dr. Robin Turner—saw an opportunity to support SJD’s growth while including vocational elements right from the start. 

“We don’t need to force a connection between the NetVUE grant and the SJD,” says Courtney Mohler, Associate Theatre Professor and Faculty Director for the SJD Vocation Fellowship. “It’s a natural fit for students to be thinking critically about topics such as poverty, racism, homophobia, hunger, or social injustice, while also wondering how they fit into it all and how they can do something to help.”

The Fellowship program is open to Butler faculty and teaching staff who are developing SJD courses, adapting existing courses to integrate SJD principles, or already teaching SJD-designated classes. Through six two-hour sessions over the course of an academic year, participants learn about the value of integrating vocational practice into their teaching. After deepening their own understanding through readings, syllabus workshops, and personal reflection, faculty apply what they’ve learned to propose a new SJD course or add a vocational element to an existing course. Nearly 60 faculty have completed the program since its launch. 

“The SJD Vocation Fellowship creates a space for participants to gather across disciplines and learn from one another,” Meyers says. “It helps faculty think creatively about how to translate the content and ideas of a course in ways that help students see why they care. We now have a variety of SJD courses across Butler’s curriculum that challenge students to connect the subject matter to their own lives.”

Exploring Identity

As Dana Zenobi worked through the SJD Vocation Fellowship last year, the Assistant Professor of Music immediately began putting theory into practice.

“I was teaching a Vocal Pedagogy course at the time, and instead of beginning with the typical nuts and bolts of vocal acoustics, I designed a musical identity assignment for the first meeting,” Zenobi says. “I asked students to create musical narratives and introduce themselves by playing examples of singing from their own backgrounds. This opportunity exposed students to a broader range of styles, and they were immediately more invested in the process. It changed the feel of the course, creating a collaborative learning environment guided by the students’ experience.”

Zenobi takes this collaborative approach in all her teaching, and the SJD Vocation Fellowship helped her do so in a way that focuses more on encouraging students to explore their identities through the music and artists they study. She says the program also taught her to become a better vocational mentor.

“I have learned how to listen more deeply to my students as they figure out what their unique contributions to the field look like, and to be more intentional about valuing their musical and cultural identities,” she says. “The Fellowship acknowledges that each of us is a work in progress, and I try to embrace that process with my students.”

In partnership with Assistant Professor of Music Dr. Oliver Worthington, Zenobi has developed a new class that approaches all aspects of voice performance from an SJD lens. The course, which would feature musical artists who hold marginalized identities, is currently under review by the SJD Curriculum Committee.

“This new SJD course gives us the opportunity to shine a light on the ways artists of color and other artists who don’t fit the stereotypical ‘dead white guy’ profile have shaped and continue to shape this living, rich, complex, and beautiful art form,” Zenobi says.

Students will participate in weekly meetings modeled after the SJD Vocation Fellowship, with readings and reflection prompts that help build a conceptual foundation to inform their studies. 

“The prompts begin with broader concepts like critical race theory, anti-racism, and identity, then progress to music-specific topics like how modern companies can confront racial othering in operatic librettos, or how to approach diction for African American dialect in art songs,” Zenobi explains. “Toward the end of the semester, students will be asked to reflect on how what they’re learning is changing their approach to performing, programming, and student teaching. We hope students will find connections between the social justice themes we explore and their evolving sense of purpose.”

Building Awareness

Dr. Sarah Painitz knew she wanted to teach an SJD-designated course, but she wasn’t sure how to bring her ideas to life in the curriculum. That’s where the SJD Vocation Fellowship came in.

“I really liked that the Fellowship included hands-on work with the promise of having a complete syllabus drafted by the end,” says Painitz, Associate Professor and German Program Director. “I was also excited to collaborate with and get feedback from colleagues doing similar work.”

Meyers says the program helps faculty explore their own vocational stories—what roles do they serve at Butler and in their fields, and why did they pursue these paths? For Painitz, this approach created a sense of support and encouragement throughout the process, especially while discussing difficult topics. She says the Fellowship helped her become more sensitive toward diversity and inclusivity issues on campus, and she feels more aware of how students might perceive her in the classroom.

Painitz designed and proposed a new special topics German course called No Way Home: Displacement, Exile, and Homelessness. If approved, the class will focus on the experience of refugees in the context of 20th and 21st century Germany by examining their literary and artistic work. Students will reflect on the challenges encountered by those experiencing exile, displacement, or acculturation in a foreign country, and a final presentation will ask students to create connections between the course material and the world around them.

“My hope is that students gain a sensitivity toward and awareness of issues of inequality, oppression, and power as they affect our everyday lives,” Painitz says. “I think it is always important for students to make real-life connections with the material we cover in the classroom—perhaps more so with these issues than many others.”