The face of diversity: Can you see us?

By Jesse PR Prieto
News Editor

Last week, The Griffin left off with a question: why doesn’t the Canisius College community reflect the diverse population in the surrounding region? Canisius President and former Griffin editor John J. Hurley signed Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown’s city-wide Opportunity Pledge triggering a campus-wide discussion in regard to diversity across campus.

While the statistics are not mirrored, the issue of cultural isolation runs parallel between the city and College. A member of the Canisius undergraduate community stated under the condition of anonymity, “As a minority student, it is evident that there persists a sort of subtle yet awkwardly strong atmosphere of racial tension…”  

Canisius has a low level of minority representation. The notarized polling firm College Factual titled Canisius’ summary on diversity: “Diversity is Not This School’s Strong Point, But Hey – It Could Be Much Worse.” According to the organization, approximately 70 percent of the population self-identifies as “white” with another 13 percent “ethnically unknown,” leaving 17 percent of Canisius undergraduate students representing minority populations. To reiterate the last issue, Hurley stated that minority representation has nearly doubled since he started at Canisius in 1997 (moving from seven to eight percent to 17 percent now), noting that this is simply not good enough.

Population statistics only reflect a small aspect of the more subliminal problem – contemporary marginalization. Buffalo is called home by both established and new, flourishing immigrant communities, having come from all across the globe to start life over anew. However, it is not the presence of subcultures that makes a city diverse, but instead, whether or not these groups are comfortable intermingling.

Unfortunately, over the past decade the city school districts have devolved, returning to the same statistical state of segregation Buffalo experienced in the 1970s. Since public schools largely glean students from their immediate vicinity these statistics reflect the general population dispersion in the city.

The common understanding of what the word “diversity” means has been chipped away due to misuse, overuse, and a general ignorance overshadowed by tolerance. The community at large has lost a firm grasp on why it is important.

When asked to define diversity, Class of ‘16 classman Bernard Zellot described it as “representing America’s multicultural society.” Interestingly, his remarks run parallel to the College’s current rationale for the Cross-Disciplinary Diversity Attribute – a mandatory credit designed to “enable students to develop an understanding of the multicultural character of the United States by giving attention to the cultural differences within the United States in many areas of society” according to the College’s official website.

“No matter how diverse we make the College population, the main issue is awareness,” stated Moyla Halimy, President of Global Horizons in an email to The Griffin. “Students should be aware of the presence of different cultures and groups of students, and be respectful toward them. We should all celebrate each other’s differences and appreciate the diversity that we have or might have on campus.”

USA Executive Vice President Elias “Fenoose” Ayoub claimed that the problem lies in the perception that Canisius is a “homogeneous community.” The belief that there is a single culture forces those akin to other identities to hold back from sharing their culture – an all around loss for the Canisius community.

Paula Uruburok, USA Diversity Chair and President of UNITY Club, referred to President Hurley’s note on sensitivity recorded in last week’s article, when criticizing the early stages of the new You Can Canisius advertisement campaign. “It’s not targeting many diverse populations,” said Uruburok and continued to express disappointment that minority students who have contributed a great amount to the community have not yet been approached. “The You Can campaign is meant to be the stories of students and they are not taking the people who are making a difference into account.” Uruburok wants the College to showcase these individuals, saying that “we are [currently] invisible” and would offer a positive addition to the new face of Canisius that administration is trying to build.

Global Horizons is one of many student organizations working to incorporate more multiculturalism into the Canisius culture. Halimy’s particular niche is for international cultures, and has a reputation for giving visiting international students an opportunity to showcase their cultures and hosting much-anticipated Global Fest. “We have students from Ireland, Korea, France, Germany, Japan, Barcelona, China, Nigeria, Serbia and all over the world,” she explained after commenting on the willingness of Canisians to get to know exchange students.

The recently revived Society for Asian Students (SAS) hopes to become a hub for cultural exchange, despite the fact that the “Asian” demographic makes up only two percent of the current population. Club leadership is driven to foster an avenue for students to explore Asian culture as well as offer Asian students a “place on campus.”  

“Although Canisius does lack a bit in racial and ethnic diversity, I definitely think that the Canisius culture and Jesuit mission of social justice for all people respects different cultures and identities very well,” commented Bri Gibney ‘16, a leading member of the recently revived Society for Asian Students (SAS).

Gibney added that SAS also seeks to assist in bridging the cultural gap between visiting Asian students and the Canisius/Buffalo culture. “SAS seeks to support Asian students and Asian international students in overcoming any language or cultural barriers they face being here in the U.S. and seeks to promote Asian students as leaders. Many of our club members who are Asian international students or Asian students who know English as their second language expressed the desire to improve their language skills.”

While Halimy and Gibney hinted at the cultural gap between minorities and the majority by describing their efforts bridge the divide, President of Afro-American Society Joyce McBride ‘17 cut to the chase. McBride emphasised that the lack of minority presence on campus has hampered their ability to offer cultural exposure, which “do not seem to gain the support from others.”

In a separate communication, President of Latin American Students and Friends (LASAF) Heidy Rivera ‘17 unknowingly confirmed McBride’s comment. Stressing her positive experience at the College, Rivera explained that cultural respect is not the problem. From her perspective, “The problem lies in the lack of interest in creating and maintaining diversity.”

McBride has had great success in building up the structure and attendance of the Afro-American Society. However, she has been discouraged by the lack of support from other clubs. She eluded to the fact that cultural clubs such as hers are not being supported by “students other than the groups they represent” alluding to the fact that there simply isn’t a strong presence of “white” students supporting Afro-American Society club events.

Junior Senator Dilpreet Kaur ‘17 was asked to comment on diversity at Canisius and her words seemed to summarize the perspective that many students have.

“Being in a diverse community is knowing that you are not alone. Knowing that the people around you appreciate your being and presence in their lives. Making Canisius more diverse stems directly from the roots of the administration and our mission values. We pride ourselves in being men and women for and with others, yet we are lacking in our capabilities of being inclusive to fellow brothers and sisters of other colors and origins.”

The Griffin attempted to gather further student perspective by including majority members of the community, but was met by a widespread hesitation to comment. Does this not speak to the larger issue? If majority-members of the community feel they cannot discuss diversity, does that not make the dialogue on diversity segregated in and of itself?

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