Sandi Villarreal came to Sojourners in 2012 after starting her career in print newspaper reporting and veering quickly into digital media and online journalism. She comes to Washington, D.C., via stops in St. Louis, Chicago, and Minneapolis. Sandi holds a BA in Journalism and Political Science from Baylor University and an MS in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She has worked in both print and online journalism, publishing, digital marketing, and non-profit community development.
Sandi is most interested in writing about the intersection of faith, politics, and culture, especially as it relates to the role of women both in our pews on Sundays and in our society in general. She has earned awards both for her writing and as editor of Sojourners' online publication.
Sandi hails from San Antonio, Texas, is married to a Lutheran preacher from Arkansas, and is mom to two young kids. In her downtime, you can find her visiting local wineries, watching the San Antonio Spurs, and coordinating the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Solutions Journalism Network.
Posts By This Author
How Motherhood Helped Me Understand the Incarnation
For me, as a mother, the incarnation becomes tangible thus: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus” and [not listed in Gabriel’s announcement] he’ll be brutally killed in front of you. It becomes tangible when I again picture this mother at the foot of a cross where her son hangs. He is the savior of the world, carrying out God’s perfect plan through his death and resurrection, yes. … But he is her baby.
Baylor Maintains Silence as Students, Alumni Demand Transparency on Sexual Assaults
On Feb. 9, the day after more than 200 Baylor students, alumni, faculty, and staff gathered in front of university President Ken Starr’s campus residence for a candlelight vigil honoring the community’s sexual assault survivors, Starr released a statement on the school’s website saying, “We hear you loud and clear.”
Starr was not present for the vigil — according to an inquiry to the media communications office, he was in Washington, D.C., on university business.
His brief statement read: “You want us to continue to improve. And you want definitive, responsible actions after we receive the insights and recommendations from Pepper Hamilton. You have my word on both.”
Baylor Students, Alumni Call for Changes to School's Response to Sexual Assaults
A group of Baylor University students and alumni will gather for a candlelight vigil outside university President Ken Starr’s home on Feb. 8 in an effort to urge changes to how the school handles sexual assault.
The vigil is being organized by Stefanie Mundhenk, a recent graduate who described her own experience through the school’s Title IX process in her personal blog. Mundhenk’s account — coupled with a recent ESPN report accusing the school of mishandling cases of sexual assault by Baylor football players, and subsequent CBS Sports commentary calling on President Ken Starr to “stop stonewalling” about the rape cases — sparked outrage among Baylor alumni, many of whom responded in an open letter to the university administration over the weekend. Since the open letter was shared on Saturday, the list of signatories has risen from 50 to more than 1,300.
Dr. Larycia Hawkins on the 'Inquisition' at Wheaton and Why She Wants to Stay
Dr. Larycia Hawkins — the Wheaton College professor who recently was placed on administrative leave because of her Facebook comments showing solidarity with the Muslim community and saying Christians and Muslims worship the ‘same God’ — has been at the epicenter of much speculation over the future of both Christian liberal arts and the evangelical faith writ large. The administration maintains that her comments seemed to be inconsistent with the college’s Statement of Faith, and earlier this month provost Stan Jones delivered a recommendation to the president to initiate termination. A hearing before the Faculty Personnel Committee on Feb. 11 will result in a recommendation to the president and board of trustees on how to move forward.
Weekly Wrap 12.18.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week
As the lead editor behind the dubious byline “the Web Editors,” it is within my job description to read all the Internet. And this is how the Weekly Wrap was born. This week, I decided to show all my biased cards and give you, fair reader, a glimpse behind how I decide what’s worth your spare few minutes on Fridays. As a religion writer and journalist, I give special attention to mainstream outlets that actually get faith right; I get sucked in by clickbait on the regular; I have a few favorite go-to publications (can you spot ‘em?); I link to a piece or two from our own publication that I think are excellent and perhaps underappreciated; I usually find at least one thing from my home state of Texas; and I cry ugly tears at most things having to do with babies. There are all my secrets. And here is the Weekly Wrap. —Sandi
‘Maybe There’s Hope:’ Looking for God in 'The X-Files' Reboot
Series writers (which included Vince Gilligan of later Breaking Bad acclaim) were never exactly subtle with their nods to faith. While Mulder was an atheist, his constant journey to a truth larger than himself, and indeed, this world, mirror many a sojourner, albeit perhaps without the little green androgynous beings. And Scully’s faith as a child in the unquestionable Catholic Church, and then as a doctor in science above all, and then as a lover and a mother in a more tangible God, allowed for a deeper-than-average glimpse at the push-pull relationship between blind belief and pure, clinical reason.
Shelter in the Storm
AN IRAQ WAR VETERAN passes the offering plate after listening to a sermon on Christian persecution in the early church—tales of torture and execution. A 19-year-old student—home for the summer from college, where her first experience at a fraternity party turned violent—listens to her childhood pastor recite the story of David and Bathsheba and David’s subsequent path to redemption. A mother placates her two children with Cheerios and raisins as she struggles through the exhortations to spousal submission, hiding bruised arms under long sleeves in the middle of July.
The Christian story is littered with trauma—from slavery (the Israelites in Egypt) to sexual assault and abuse (Dinah, Tamar, Bathsheba) to the trauma of war (see: much of the Old Testament) to, of course, the crucifixion of Jesus and martyrdom of his disciples.
There is possibly no better resource for understanding the implications of and need for healing from trauma than faith communities pointing to the cross and Jesus’ answer to violence. Both the need and the opportunity are great. But perhaps too often Christians proclaim the message of Easter—victory and restoration—while skipping past the violence and trauma of Good Friday. Some theologies explain away that violence as a necessary component of ultimate salvation—but let’s get to the salvation part, okay?—leaving survivors of trauma who fill our Sunday pews without a touchstone for healing within the very communities that purport to be safe spaces.
How We Talk About Life — and Death
It’s not often words escape us. But in the aftermath of the now viral recording(s) raising concerns over whether Planned Parenthood seeks profit from aborted fetal tissue — and the crassness with which its representative discusses how to accomplish it without “crushing” the tissue/organs — that’s where we were left: with no words. We confess to being at a complete loss of what to say in the face of humanity’s brokenness.
Beyond the ethical questions of how an organization receives payment for tissue sales or the debates around the potential benefits of the patients’ donations of fetal tissue, the videos are an in-your-face reminder of our culture’s blatant disrespect for life.
That disregard is not unique in our society, of course. Journalism: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Medicine: “There’s nothing more to be done. She’s a vegetable.” Justice system: “He’s gonna fry.” War: “Light ‘em up.” Uncomfortable questions about life and death and ethics are best papered over with emotionless cliché, obviously.
As a society and as individuals, when we fail to recognize the imago dei in others, we trend further away from our uniquely human capacity to empathize and closer to isolated, analytical, and almost robotic assessments of value.
When Parenting Meets #FeedFear
As a journalist, editor, media professional, and all-around digital addict, I believe the ever-present “newsfeed of fear” engenders a very real threat to our personal well-being. But is it possible that it also harbors startling implications for our behavior and even our relationships?
Reflecting on Gareth Higgins’ words on “availability heuristic” (“A Newsfeed of Fear,” Sojourners, May 2015) — basically, that our fear of bad things happening is based on how many examples of those bad things we can easily bring to mind — the first thought that entered my head was my constant command to my 1.5-year-old, “Hold Mommy’s hand!”
Of course, we live in the middle of Washington, D.C., on a high-traffic street with no front yard to speak of; any time we leave the house, I have to go on high alert lest my newly running toddler dart off the sidewalk. But when I dug a little deeper to explore in what other circumstances my danger-Will-Robinson-danger alarm has gone off, I was forced to admit that it can occur basically any time she’s in my care.
When I became a parent, it inexplicably became frightening that my house didn’t have a mudroom — or anything save a single slab of lockable wooden door separating our warm and cozy home from the terror that existed beyond it. Suddenly, a 5-degree rise or drop in my kid’s nursery — indicated by her video monitor, which also plays soothing lullaby music — became cause to purchase a window AC unit and an electric heater despite our house’s central air and heat. I contemplated buying the mattress pad that sounds an alarm if it detects baby has stopped breathing (because SIDS), but opted against it since I was already checking on her every five minutes anyway.
First, let me say, I think all of these are good and normal (right?) reactions to first-time parenthood, and I have since calmed the hell down. But they can also be artificially generated behavioral responses to the digital world we live in, enhanced by mommy blogs and parenting books warning us of the dangers of crib bumpers (27 accidental deaths/year) and window blind cords (about 7 deaths in 2014). And don’t even get me started on #PregnancyFeedFear — somewhere around 6 months in, you give up and just eat the dang sushi and deli meat.
Breeding 'Like Rabbits,' Sex by Rhythm Method, and Other Natural Family Planning Myths
In discussing birth control and population issues when visiting the Philippines recently, Pope Francis said the Catholic Church promoted “responsible parenthood” that didn’t require good Catholics to be “like rabbits.” The frank imagery prompted a flurry of playfully creative headlines that ranged from mocking to woeful. And the byproduct of such reaction stories? The continued misinformation on what Catholics currently practice and what the Catholic Church actually teaches when it comes to family planning.
The pope’s remarks referenced Catholic teaching that prohibits artificial birth control. Family size, according to the Church, should be regulated by abstinence or a form of Natural Family Planning, sometimes characterized simply as trying really hard not to have sex when you’re “not supposed to,” which often fails and results in a ton of kids. Proponents of NFP say the method(s), and its practitioners, are too often misunderstood.
NFP for pregnancy prevention involves charting a woman’s cycles by testing for various biological markers — like basal temperature or cervical mucous — in order to assess fertile days and abstain from sex during that time. According to the World Health Organization, fertility awareness methods like NFP are 95-97 percent effective when used correctly and consistently (75 percent with typical use), and individual NFP models claim higher effectiveness.
Practicing NFP can certainly be complicated, especially when taking into account marriage and family dynamics that aren’t always conducive to the attention it requires.
But while it may be more difficult than, say, popping a daily pill or using an IUD, modern technology — like tracking apps and temperature-monitoting gadgets — is simplifying the process and coinciding with a resurgence in popularity. NFP practitioners say they appreciate the choice it offers — whether the motivation is following Church teaching or simply avoiding synthetic hormones.