On Monday, February 13th, 2023, the Center for Ethics Education hosted a Zoom conversation on the topic of “Mutuality en el Barrio: Stories of LSA Family Health Services.” This was the first installment of the Center’s Spring 2023 Webinar Series. The invited speakers, Associate Professor of Spanish Carey Kasten, PhD, Professor of Theology Brenna Moore, PhD, and facilitator, Steven Swartzer, PhD, Associate Director of Academic Programs and Strategic Initiatives, engaged in a discussion on the cultural impacts of Little Sisters of the Assumption (LSA) Family Health Services, followed by a Q&A.
Dr. Carey Kasten
Carey Kasten is an Associate Professor of Spanish at Fordham, specializing in contemporary Spanish culture with a focus on how politics and the arts interact in the Spanish nation’s past and present, as well as exploring new ideas for future relations between the state and the national culture industry. Her current research focuses on early fascism and the avant-garde in Spain. She is the author of The Cultural Politics of Twentieth-Century Spanish Theater: Representing the Auto Sacramental (Bucknell UP, 2012), and numerous articles published in the Hispanic Review, Hecho Teatral, and the Bulletin of Spanish Studies. She received her B.A. from Skidmore College and Ph.D. from Columbia University.
Dr. Brenna Moore
Brenna Moore is a Professor of Theology at Fordham, specializing in the era of modern Christianity with the focus on Catholic and intellectual cultural history in Europe. She is interested in questions concerning women, gender and religion, mysticism, and spirituality, a movement in theology known as resourcement, while also engaging with various religious responses to the challenges of the twentieth century. She is most recently the author Kindred Spirits: Friendship and Resistance at the Edges of Modern Catholicism(University of Chicago Press, 2021), as well as numerous other publications regarding historical resistance and the religious imagination, and occasionally on contemporary conversations about religion and modernity. She also serves on the board of directors of Little Sisters of the Assumption (LSA) Family Health Services. She received her B.A. from the University of Colorado, and her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard Divinity School.
Dr. Carey Kasten and Dr. Brenna Moore are in the process of writing a book on the research the duo have conducted on the Little Sisters of the Assumption (LSA) Family Health Services. Founded in 1958 by six catholic sisters from France, LSA is a neighborhood-based non-profit that “seeks to address the physical, emotional, educational, and spiritual dimensions of family health, by helping families meet their most fundamental needs: food, clothing, healthcare, and a safe home.” The non-profit is committed to empowering and supporting vulnerable families as a means to provide the strength and wellness they need to move forward, improving the community of East Harlem as a whole. LSA primarily serves mothers, immigrant families, and any local residents in the East Harlem neighborhood. The organization prides itself on a culture of mutuality, where there is connection and genuine exchange between LSA and the community it serves.
This sense of mutuality traces back to LSA’s religious roots, conceived by Sister Margret Leonard of LSA who developed a three phase model under which mutuality would be implemented. First, they focus on the direct needs of the community: food, shelter, resources. Second, they focus on capacity and relationship building with the clients. The third step is community building, organizing, and leadership development.
The duo interviewed 19 mothers, all from Mexico, who had an average of about three children. All of these mothers participated in parenting programs at LSA, but were also involved in other capacities. Through the LSA programming, the mothers found solidarity in their community, and realized the importance of mutuality, building relationships and partnering with organizations, agencies, and neighborhood families. Dr. Moore found that rather than focusing on the catastrophic and dramatic events in our lives, we should take that more seriously that which quietly flourishes and works well in our society.
There was also a Q&A section in which the facilitator, Steven Swartzer, prompted questions from the audience to Dr. Kasten and Dr. Moore.
Q: Has your own work been influenced in any way by this idea of mutuality? Have you been encouraged to try to think about how either your teaching, your scholarship, or your work with LSA could be more directly influenced by that philosophy?
A: Dr. Kasten was influenced by the idea of mutuality in the way it impacted her idea of what it means to listen. She has been inspired to consider how active listening can transform lives. Dr. Moore has gained a deeper understanding of the human person as deeply relational, explaining that “There’s so little you can do alone.”
Q: Living close to East Harlem and volunteering for food delivery there, it’s really hard to see how a program that’s been in place for so long has been successful. Sometimes I wonder if providing limited assistance is impactful or if the city’s responsibility is to provide the major assistance that is really required.
A: LSA doesn’t replace services that the city provides, but works in partnership with the city. Its organizations like the NY Immigration Coalition, non-profits, and CDOs throughout the city that have a common agenda to work with the city. But also doing advocacy work to get legislation changed.
Q: Is there still a central focus on health in LSA?
A: Health is still a priority for LSA, but the ways in which we service healthcare have become more creative. Nutritional classes, motherhood groups, and mental health services are provided because LSA understands that they all contribute to wellness.
Q: How is trauma addressed within the organization?
A: Monica Sanchez leads the mental health department to address the trauma that many clients face. She prioritizes connecting with the clients, art therapy, strength and resilience of our clients who are really the masters of everything that happens.
Q: What have the authors found to be the greatest challenge in their research, other than the pandemic?
A: Dr. Moore explains that addressing the gaps in knowledge about East Harlem was one her biggest challenges. She also feared repeating the cycle of white people coming in and acting like they can tell the story for other people. She has been focused on mindfully telling the story in a holistic manner in order to respectfully reflect all the LSA has done.
Drs. Kasten’s and Moore’s research with LSA Family Health Services was partially funded by the Center for Ethics Education’s Ethics, Social Justice & Health Equity Summer Faculty Research Grant.
Dr. Steven Swartzer
Dr. Steven Swartzer is the Associate Director for Academic Programs and Strategic Initiatives in Fordham University’s Center for Ethics Education. In this role, he directs Fordham’s interdisciplinary master’s degree Program in Ethics and Society, and interdisciplinary undergraduate Bioethics minor. He is also the coach and advisor for Fordham’s Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl team. He earned a B.A. from the University of Minnesota in Philosophy and Political Science, and a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska in Philosophy.
Please visit the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education’s Events Page for upcoming events and webinars. For questions on the series, please email Dr. Steven Swartzer, Associate Director of Academic Programs, at firstname.lastname@example.org.