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Lulu Santana: How Campus Ministry Facilitates Belonging

Lulu Santana is the Director of Campus Ministry. She started as a graduate program Resident Minister living on the seventh floor of Swig Residence Hall in 1996 and has primarily worked in Campus Ministry ever since. She is transitioning out of the role at the end of the year, so make sure to stop by Campus Ministry and thank her for her many years of service!


In this episode, we talk about what she learned from her time as a Resident Minster in Swig, what changes she has noticed in the past 20 years, how Campus Ministry engages students of different religious traditions, and her volunteer work in San Jose jails.

Selected Interview Highlights

Gavin Cosgrave: How did you end up working for Campus Ministry?


Lulu Santana: In my second year as a graduate student studying pastoral ministries at Santa Clara, I lived in Swig as a Resident Minister on the seventh floor. I was also working part time at a parish. When I was looking for full-time jobs, someone suggested that I should apply for campus ministry. That wasn’t the plan, but I gave it a shot and I realized that the highlight of my days was being with students in their highs and lows and everywhere in between. The class of 2000 of Santa Clara student helped me decide to stay here for a while.


GC: What did you learn from living on the seventh floor of Swig?


LS: I remember being very nervous about meeting students and wondering what they would think of me. My room was on the end of the hall by a water fountain, and I realized that if I kept my door open, students would make their way over to get water. It was a reason to get students to talk to me.


I remember Halloween, which was a time when a lot of people were exploring what they would do socially and how to connect safely. Some students who had come to off-campus parties, and I remember the way that students looked out for each other. There were great conversations about life, family, being homesick, faith. I realized that this was a time when students were asking questions about life.


GC: What changes have you noticed in the past 20 years at Santa Clara?


LS: I think the cell phone has changed a lot of things. Back then, people would gather in lounges to watch TV, so it was a little easier to gather. People weren’t looking down texting or wearing earbuds. My own habits have changed as well.


One thing that hasn’t changed is that students have a hunger for deep conversation, a hunger to be heard and be listened to and connect with people.


GC: Campus Ministry’s three values are “belonging, believing and becoming.” Why is belonging the first one?


LS: People have a desire to connect. I know from talking to first-year students that the first few days are nerve wracking, asking, “Am I going to eat alone?” or “Will I have people to socialize with on the weekend?” It can become an isolating experience. We hope to foster opportunities where people can feel a sense of belonging in a community and a faith, whatever that faith may be.


GC: How do you think about running programs that cater to both Catholic and non-Catholic students? How does that play in with students who had religions involvement in the past but now don’t want any part of it?


LS: The growing trend among college students across the country is students who identify as “none.” Many had some form of religious upbringing and decided that’s not a priority for them or there has been conflict and tension.


We’ve adapted some of our programs to allow students of different beliefs to reflect on questions of meaning and purpose. Our interfaith dinner discussions, there may be people representing different faiths, but there are also people who have had a particular religious tradition but have a lot of questions. There’s a sense of comfort in hearing other people from other faith traditions wrestle with questions.


GC: I read that you volunteer in the county jails. How did you get started with that and what do you enjoy about it?


LS: About 8 years ago, I got an email from the coordinator of detention ministries for the Catholic Diocese of San Jose who was looking for college student singers in a service at Juvenile Hall.


It reawakened a curiosity to be a volunteer in a detention city. Years ago, I used to go to the Dolores Mission in East LA on the immersion trip. That was something that really spoke to me but I knew I couldn’t make a commitment at that time. When I met the coordinator, I told him that I had always wanted to do something like that.


I volunteer at the county jail with men awaiting sentencing, and it’s been a life-changing experience. It’s given me another window into humanity, and where we’re broken. It’s a whiplash being on campus and thinking of the opportunities our students have here, then visiting men the same age in jail, and thinking, “How can we create a better world where there’s more opportunity?”


It’s also been an eye-opening look into our criminal justice system. I’ve learned how long it takes for someone to go to trial or await sentencing, and the punitive nature of our sentencing. The same thing that has been so rewarding about my time at Santa Clara has also been rewarding there: to acknowledge the dignity of people who are inmates and officers and the complexity of our system.


I’ve worked with some men who wanted to be baptized, and it’s been something that I’ve been able to do that has been transformative. Even in a stark room that is used for a barber shop and playing cards and classes, there’s an incredible sacredness that transcends those circumstances.


It’s added to what I do at Santa Clara in terms of not taking things for granted and recognizing how one decision can change the trajectory of one’s life. No one’s invisible, but there’s certainly a reality when I go into a jail that there are more men of color here, and the ache of that as well. Personally, it’s been extremely meaningful work.

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