#becauseofCJ: Reflection from Caitlin '13

Young alumni are sharing how they are succeeding after high school in our #becauseofCJ series. Through your gift to the Annual Fund, you make this happen. When you do, more Eagles can soar! Read Caitlin’s story below, and consider making your gift today.

Dear CJ Community,

Though I left the halls of CJ more than five years ago, I still reflect fondly upon my time as a CJ student. CJ helped me grow my love for academics and athletics, and showed me the true meaning of community. Today, because of CJ, I have fostered a passion for building social responsibility in our communities and using clinical research to do it.

In 2017, I finished my bachelor’s degree in psychology and accepted a year-long position as the research coordinator on a study of clinical symptoms among people living with HIV. This experience afforded me the opportunity to work face-to-face with underserved individuals in Center City Philadelphia, many of whom endure the burdens of social oppression, multiple chronic health diagnoses, and homelessness on a daily basis. In fact, the main reason this study was started was in response to the high levels of shame and stigma experienced by many people living with HIV. For some, the shame and fear of being mistreated by others is so debilitating that they have stopped going to pharmacies to pick up their HIV medication.

With adherence to daily medication, many people living with HIV can be “undetectable,” which means they carry a very low viral load, and thus, a very low risk of transmitting the virus to another person. It’s important to know that these people also have a better chance of living a long, full life. Yep, you read that correctly — long, full life. HIV is no longer a “death sentence.” Certainly not everything in 2019 is rainbows and butterflies, but this is great news!

However, while this type of life-saving care finally exists for people living with HIV and many of these individuals are even able to get their medicine for free, there is still a huge barrier for people getting their medication — shame as a result of society’s failure to recognize the humanity and intrinsic worth of each person living with HIV. Had I not been educated in issues related to human dignity and social justice at CJ, I would have been utterly unprepared to serve these individuals with compassion and understanding. The way we treat people, especially in our own ignorance, is often pervasive – so pervasive that it might impact an individual’s decision to take advantage of life-saving medical care. But a member of the CJ community would already know the importance of treating others with respect.

What a member of the CJ community might not know, however, is how to magically fix these types of social problems. Cue in clinical research. Not only did CJ show me the value of building pluralistic communities, but my experience as a student also inspired me to continue educating myself so I can better understand what it takes to build stronger and more compassionate communities and to seek empirically-based solutions that will allow us to better serve those who are underserved. Maybe I’m biased by my parents, both teachers at CJ (one in religion and one in science,) but science and the Marianist values related to social responsibility are not divergent.

I am a few (okay, five) years away from getting my doctorate in clinical psychology. I primarily study the social factors related to suicide and self-harm – another phenomenon intimately linked to shame and social isolation, and another perfect marriage of science and social responsibility.

Thank you to every CJ teacher, staff member, and administrator who shaped my CJ experience and worked to instill these values in me – you are more patient and inspiring than I could ever hope to be!

Caitlin O’Loughlin, Class of 2013

Posted July 31, 2019