Modern society traditionally views college as a period of exploration, a time of unimpeded self-discovery for young adults unsure of their path in life, four years primarily dedicated to answering the question, “Who am I?”  Most young people drift into college uncertain of their direction, wavering on their opinions, and hoping to find at their university of choice the people and ideas that will solidify their identity.  The Edith Stein Project, an annual student-run conference, seeks to make that collegiate journey intentional rather than aimless.

This year’s theme, “Radiant Image: Cultivating Authentic Identity in the Modern World,” focuses on the importance of self-knowledge in living a sincere Christian life, especially during college.  On February 6 and 7, 30 speakers from across the country will present on a variety of topics, each addressing a unique aspect of the desire to understand ourselves as creatures of God in communion with one another.  While the prevailing culture of the world of higher education advocates a series of paths to self-discovery, our conference offers a different perspective, illustrating for attendees the ways in which Catholic teaching can guide young adults to an understanding of human identity as rooted in God.

The pursuit of self-knowledge—a pursuit that begins long before entering college and continues throughout one’s life—necessarily requires knowledge of God, in whose image we were created, male and female.  Our creation as men and women necessitates an understanding of the relationship between the sexes, and it is clear from Genesis that God meant that relationship to be both complementary and fruitful.

Rather than viewing men and women as cooperative images of the Creator, however, many facets of modern society divide the sexes by corrupting the power of image and sexuality.  Extolling a flawed notion of freedom, American culture encourages college students to “find themselves” in a series of selfish and harmful ways.

Most institutions of higher education provide no roadmaps and give little guidance about the character that young people should strive to develop.  While colleges provide a greater wealth of knowledge in areas of specialization, most fail to encourage the true pursuit of identity that enables young people to find their vocations.  Rather than emphasize moral rectitude, virtue, and objective values, college administrations wink at excessive drinking and casual hook-ups, enabling students to easily succumb to peer pressure.

Students tend to follow the crowd and let the current of popular opinion guide their choices and determine their identity, instead of conforming their actions to an ideal standard of who they wish to become.  The widespread “hookup culture” pressures young adults to seek momentary pleasure and acceptance in strings of fleeting sexual encounters.  The ready availability of pornography erodes the dignity of both men and women, causing its viewers to see their fellow men and women merely as a means of gratification.  Sexual assault proliferates on college campuses where people ignore the connections between intemperate alcohol consumption, meaningless hookups, and a lack of respect for sex.

Our generation will not find true happiness in the reckless pursuit of a twisted view of love; young people cannot “find themselves” in these harmful habits.  Instead, these places are where the youth of our generation are losing themselves.  The answers to the question of identity are obscured in the self-obsessed, overly sexualized world of the modern college campus.  Rather, it is a deeper understanding of the Catholic tradition that enlightens our view of who we are as created in God’s image.  Drawing others to the good as we are called to do requires authenticity, a virtue that cannot be achieved without our belief in divine filiation, or the conviction that we are sons and daughters of God.

College students are called to grow in virtue, despite the temptations presented to them by the outside world.  As Pope Saint John Paul II stated in Mulieris Dignitatem, “Being a person means striving towards self-realization, which can only be achieved ‘through a sincere gift of self’ … To say that man is created in the image and likeness of God means that man is called to exist ‘for’ others, to become a gift.”

Such a view necessitates a Christian understanding of love, or the view that to truly love another is to sacrifice for his or her good.  This conception of love is not espoused by the consequence-free mindset of detached hook-ups or found in the self-centered mentality of the porn user.  Understanding love as a sacrifice is not a value propagated at most American colleges, but it is a value that college students can seek to exemplify through lives of virtue, selflessness, and joy.  This conference will delve into several aspects of Church teaching centered around humans as made in God’s image and discuss ways in which students can promote these values on college campuses and beyond.

David O’Connor, Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame, will give the keynote address exploring the ancient tensions that underlie discussions of beauty and image.  Notre Dame alumnus and Irish Rover Editor-in-Chief Emeritus Michael Bradley will discuss the harmfulness of pornography and how it relates to the proper understanding of love.  Janet Easter of Verily Magazine will talk about the way in which the media pressures young women to conform to an impossible standard of beauty.  Maura Byrne, founder of Made In His Image, will discuss her personal experience with an eating disorder and offer testimony on how we must understand ourselves as valuable because of our Creation.  Submitted papers will address various aspects of sexuality, marriage, and the hookup culture, using Church teaching to combat the dangers of modern culture.

Our creation in God’s image was distorted by the Fall and it seems clear that Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey God is made manifest in our generation in myriad distortions of human sexuality.  Yet we are given a way back to the Father through His Son, who was fully God and fully man.  “Nothing was so necessary for raising our hope as to show us how deeply God loved us,” said St. Augustine in De Trinitate.  “And what could afford us a stronger proof of this than that the Son of God should become a partner with us of human nature?”

The Redemption restores,” said Pope Saint John Paul II, “in a sense, at its very root, the good that was essentially ‘diminished’ by sin and its heritage in human history.”

In order to become the best possible version of oneself, each person must re-understand his human identity through the image of Christ, who provides the ultimate guidance in His life and who redeems the whole human race by His death.  But there is more than one path on which we can follow Him.  We are called to work diligently to discern our vocation, or the life to which we are called as our way back to God.  Our path cannot be found in the hollow promises of the modern world, but through a commitment to virtue and a dedication to leading our peers to the truth of our salvation through a daily example of radiant joy.

We hope you will join us for this conference to learn more about how the Catholic Church can guide college students as they seek to shape their identities in accordance with our creation in God’s image.

Registration is free for all undergraduate students, faculty, and staff at ND, SMC and HCC. Register and find the full conference schedule at


Alexandra DeSanctis and Hailey Vrdolyak are juniors living in Pangborn Hall and co-chairs of the 2015 Edith Stein Project.  They’ve been roommates for two years and neither will admit they’re sick of the other.  Contact them at or