Meet Joyana Jacoby Dvorak: A Woman of Mission

There are few people that I’ve met that seem to have an endless supply of joy to share. Like her name would suggest, Joyana is one of those people. I was lucky enough to meet her the beginning of my freshman year as the staff professional in my Discover Chicago class. From then on she has been an important member of my support system here at DePaul. Many tears have been shed curled up on the couch in her office! I have always admired her strength, warmth, and commitment to social justice and I am so happy to introduce her to all of you. Read on!

Could you explain what you do here at DePaul?

I serve in the division of Mission and Ministry, and I am an Associate Director for Student Engagement and Mission Integration. The heart of my role is inviting undergraduate DePaul students to engage with the legacy of our Vincentian story, and see how their story as students at DePaul in 2018 connects to this legacy that’s over 450 years old. It’s an incredible opportunity to bring wisdom from the past into the present to shape and form the Vincentian hearts of our students going forth to transform the world in whatever career they’re a part of. So part of that role is coordinating an initiative called Meet Me at the Mission: Vincentian Heritage Initiative, which is really an opportunity for students to ‘meet the mission’ in really concrete ways. That could be coming to an event with the Vincentian priests on campus, or Daughters of Charity, or DePaul Alumni that are living the mission. It could also mean an encounter during students’ leadership formation and development. So, if they have a key leadership role on campus, like an RA or Orientation Leader or CQM, within their leadership development is a layer of mission. So, giving them the tools to be able to share the mission with other students.

Why did you decide to work here? What drew you to this position?

I’ve been at DePaul for nine years - Barack Obama and I started on the same day! And I wish we were both in our current positions still! [Chuckles] I originally started at DePaul in our Vincentian Community Service Office working with our Winter and Spring Break Service Immersions, because I had a real passion for service learning, experiential learning, and the idea of immersing ourselves, especially in other realities that are different than our own.

And I have been in my current position for three years. I am continually inspired by the stories of St. Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac. In my job, I am telling their stories sometimes ten times a day and I don’t get tired of telling the story! These really real humans had a vision and got some people together to help them create this vision that another world is possible. That’s a vision that I hold very near and dear to my heart, especially because of my experiences accompanying those - my friends, really - living in poverty in different parts of the world. If I can be a part of furthering that mission and vision by accompanying students, then I can sleep at night!

I know you’ve done a few women-focused events through DePaul’s Office of Mission and Values. Why are these events important to you? And are you planning to do more?

Louise de Marillac was a badass! I don’t know if you can put that in print! [Giggles] Off the record - she was a badass! So, my experience, even in learning the Vincentian mission, we are called DePaul University… yet, Vincent de Paul would not be Vincent de Paul had it not been for this incredible woman, Louise de Marillac, who was behind the scenes doing all the work that needed to be done. When I came into this role - a very small example - we had Vincent de Paul pens and my first mission was to get Louise pens! [Chuckles] That was my mission!

I wanted to find ways to bring her story to the forefront, knowing that it’s one in history that has not been [in the forefront]. It’s been slow for history to catch up and peel back the layers of this incredible woman that she was and the contributions that she made. I had to figure out, how do we connect the dots of Louise’s story and who she was as a radical, revolutionary woman in 17th Century France to stories of women who are continuing this legacy today?

I was given a blank slate to take what I felt would be meaningful, impactful, relevant programming. And time and time again, what’s surfaced is programming around the voices of women gathering together. That absolutely fills the room.

So, three years ago we started the Louise de Marillac Lecture where we invited a community partner to come and share her story. This year, the lectures have been merged with this Women Power: Collaborative Resistance event. For these lectures, it is about hearing the stories of those women that are in the trenches, on the front-lines of social justice, working for social change, because that’s who Louise was. It was very intentional to have programming centered around women empowering women. We will absolutely continue to hold events like these. Especially if we look at the signs of the times right now, it’s non-negotiable: we need to be creating spaces for this to happen.

For me as a woman, I depend on my community of women to keep me grounded and supported and to keep moving forward in creating this other world that we know is possible. I know how powerful that is to gather together as women, and I hope that my students have those experiences too. We need each other! No matter what stages we are at in our journeys!

If I were to ask, “Who are you?,” what would you say?

I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a collaborator. I am a woman of faith, of spirit. I am a seeker of justice and peace. I am a community builder.

Who inspires you?

Of course, Louise de Marillac! [Chuckles]

Also, my students, absolutely! There are so many days that I leave this office in awe of who you all are becoming! And at the privilege that I have to walk with you in that becoming.

Also, one of my go-to’s is Dorothy Day. Especially when it comes to my vision of social justice; she is someone that I root myself in.

What are you scared of?

My response now is different than it would have been four years ago. Now, my fears are around something happening to my babies. That’s a shift, right? Because now I have this whole other role and responsibility in life. And part of that too is fear in how do I raise a white boy in our society today? Those are things that keep my up at night! So a lot of my fears now are rooted in that role as a mom. Separately, something that I am concerned with, in general, is that I’m not using my God-given gifts to the fullest.

What experiences in your life have been the most important or the most transformative?

My experiences in Latin America, especially that first experience in El Salvador in college, where I had the opportunity to walk with the Salvadorian people. They shared with me the realidad de la perspectiva de la pobreza - the Salvadoran reality from the perspective of the poor. That forever changed me. All of those women forever changed me. It solidified for me that I am on this fight for social change and social justice, and I need to use my power and privilege to accompany others in that. The follow-up to that was my experience in Mexico, and the women, again, who I accompanied in this sewing cooperative, along with the girls that I accompanied in a boarding school, very much shaped the Joyana who is today. I often say that I understood what it means to be a woman in the world because of my experience with the women in Mexico.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve gotten?

The wisdom that your best is going to look different at different moments, and that’s okay. My best yesterday and my best today might look different because maybe I’m sick, or maybe I have way more things on my plate than I had before. And being gentle with myself.

Don’t you just love her? There was so much more amazing wisdom from this interview that I wish I could have included. If you would like to have the opportunity to meet this delightful woman in person (and trust me, you do), she will be hosting another Women Power: Collaborative Resistance event on May 16th called Women’s Power: Dinner with the Daughters. It will be held from 5:30-7:00 p.m. and will include free dinner with the Daughters of Charity.

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