Suzanne Shanahan appointed executive director of Center for Social Concerns at Notre Dame

Author: Cidni Sanders

Suzanne Shanahan

Suzanne Shanahan, director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University, has been appointed the Leo and Arlene Hawk Executive Director of the Center for Social Concerns at the University of Notre Dame, effective Oct. 1.

As the Nannerl O. Keohane Director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics, one of the country’s leading ethics centers, Shanahan currently leads the effort to help students and faculty understand the moral challenges of our time and create scholarly frameworks, policies and practices to address them. During her time as director, the institute experienced significant increases in research grants, programming grants and philanthropy, as well as robust alumni participation in learning opportunities, advisory board participation and annual giving.

“Suzanne’s rich experience integrating research, education and community engagement into interdisciplinary projects and programs ideally positions her to take the helm of the Center for Social Concerns,” Marie Lynn Miranda, the Charles and Jill Fischer Provost at Notre Dame, said. “I am excited about her commitment and creativity related to harnessing student energy and insights, leveraging faculty expertise to drive meaningful research, and creating lasting impact from the South Bend-Elkhart region to our global gateways.”

Shanahan’s additional leadership roles at Duke include managing the research service-learning initiative DukeEngage, one of the largest fully funded civic engagement programs in the United States, and directing the Kenan Refugee Project, a six-country, community-based project on forced migration. She also serves as chair of Duke’s Ethics Education Council, a position she has held since 2016.

An associate research professor of sociology and a faculty affiliate in Middle Eastern studies at Duke, Shanahan previously was co-director and associate director of the Kenan Institute and an assistant professor of sociology. In addition, she ran the DukeEngage Dublin program for 11 years. Her research focuses on the dignity and moral boundaries of refugees — in the Middle East, East Africa and the United States — and on restorative narratives of child sex trafficking survivors.

By enacting human dignity, pursuing the common good and standing in solidarity with the marginalized, Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns advances pedagogies of engagement, leverages personal transformation for social change and transforms principles of Catholic social teaching into 21st-century leadership.

Established in 1983 following a merger of the Office of Volunteer Services and the Center for Experiential Learning, the center has grown to include a team of 35, with more than 1,000 students participating in its credit-bearing courses and two academic minors every year. Undergraduate and graduate students also engage in diverse lectures, workshops and trainings on topics ranging from active citizenship to labor rights and restorative justice as well as service learning, community-based research and other community-engaged courses in the local South Bend-Elkhart area, as well as through Notre Dame’s global gateways.

Shanahan is an award-winning educator who has participated in and led the creative development of a range of innovative, student-centered, high-impact interventions both inside and outside the curriculum at Duke. She received her bachelor’s degree in international studies from Johns Hopkins University and her master’s and doctoral degrees in sociology from Stanford University.

“It is my honor to join the Center for Social Concerns and the University of Notre Dame in working to create a more just, courageous and hopeful world,” Shanahan said. “The center represents a very special opportunity to work fully within the Catholic social tradition in a university community that fully embraces and celebrates that tradition. I am excited to collaborate with students, faculty, staff and community partners to  build on the center’s vibrant history and decades-long pursuit of human flourishing. It will be a distinctive privilege to work together to chart a path forward that celebrates and amplifies this tradition, this work and these commitments.”

Miranda expressed appreciation to the search committee for its efforts in identifying a candidate and to William Purcell, who has served as the center’s acting executive director since November 2019.

“I deeply appreciate the members of the search committee and their commitment to finding an exceptionally strong and deeply mission-aligned person to lead the center in this next chapter of service and learning,” she said. "I also want to thank Bill for his generous service as acting executive director of the center over the last year and a half. His wisdom and deep commitment to the mission of the center helped it flourish even as it faced the complex challenges of community-engaged learning during a global pandemic.”