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Geoff Gusoff '07

Pursuing spirituality and social justice, both at home and abroad

Geoff Gusoff '07 owns three movies. He does not have an iPod. On any given day, you might find him playing Nerf basketball with his roommates on a hoop they have hung in their room. He likes Ben Folds and is a fan of improvisational comedy.

Gusoff is also a Truman Scholar, a founding member of Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere and a prominent member of Interfaith House. A devout Catholic, Gusoff traveled to El Salvador his junior year to work with a Jesuit community service organization.

His time abroad combined his interest in religion with his dedication to community service.

"Being in El Salvador," Gusoff explained, "you are in the shadow of these incredible martyrs. I identify with a lot of the spirituality that I saw in El Salvador."

These martyrs, including Bishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, represent a movement within the Catholic faith to liberate parishioners socially and economically, not simply in a spiritual sense. This idea, often referred to as "Liberation Theology," makes up the heart of Gusoff's senior thesis in religious studies.

"We need to liberate people today, not simply in the hereafter," Gusoff said. "If you want to be a true Catholic, then social justice has to be a part of (your) spirituality."

While abroad, Gusoff received notification that he was a finalist for the prestigious Truman Scholarship, a national grant that awards funding to students interested in public service careers to continue a postgraduate education.

"I got this thing in the mail junior year, and I thought, 'I do a lot of public service, could I do this?'" Gusoff said. "I honestly never expected to go as far as I did."

One of Brown's four nominees for the scholarship, Gusoff was then selected as Rhode Island's only finalist. He was scheduled to interview for the scholarship in Boston while he was abroad and had little time to prepare for the meeting. Fortunately, Brown arranged a mock interview for him, which helped him feel more relaxed. Later, Gusoff discovered that he was one of the students selected for the scholarship and was awarded $30,000 for graduate school. Now, the only decision left for the Livingston, N.J., native is what to do with the money.

"I'm interested in ministry work and considering pursuing a theology degree," Gusoff said. He is also thinking about studying law and ethics to develop a "morally informed way of advocating for social justice."

But all that will have to wait. Next year, Gusoff plans to join the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, a faith-based community service organization, to work with underprivileged communities on the West Coast.

"I'll be in California or Arizona doing community organizing or public interest law," Gusoff said.

This year, though, he is just taking it easy. Well, sort of.

Apart from finishing his thesis in religious studies, Gusoff is also completing requirements for a second concentration in public policy and American institutions. His commitment to HOPE has continued since his first year at Brown. Most recently, Gusoff participated in a demonstration against the closing of the Welcome Arnold housing center in Cranston.

"This community (HOPE) has been a lot of fun," Gusoff said. "While we were occupying the Welcome Arnold center, we were playing Outburst Jr., and there was a debate over whether Sacagawea was an American and could be considered one of the 10 great Americans."

During his free time, Gusoff plays basketball in his room, watches one of his three movies or catches performances by IMPROVidence, an on-campus improvisational comedy troupe.

"I'm a big fan of IMPROVidence," Gusoff confessed. "I tried out junior year and made the call backs, but didn't make the final cut."

He laughed.

"I still go to the performances. Those people are so funny."

A smile formed on Gusoff's face. For a Truman Scholar with a career of exemplary community service at Brown, Gusoff regrets only a few things.

"There's always a lot of things you wish you had done, classes I wish I had taken, friends I'd made. But then you realize it's time to move on."

He smiled again.

"I'm definitely grateful."

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