Taking a stand

By Elizabeth Sawka
Assistant Opinion Editor

This article was written as part of the “Griffin Goes Back” series in which a contemporary staff member examines the opinion/viewpoint taken in an older article. This one in particular responds to a signed editorial from 2 February and 16 February 2001 in which then Editor-in-Chief Katie Dettman came out as interested in both men and women, suggesting that Canisius was not a place that is welcoming to LGBTQ+ students. 

I joined Unity as a freshman because I was a proud straight ally, and I wanted to find a community of people that were equally passionate about engaging in discussion of pop culture portrayals of gender and sexuality minorities.  In my past four years, I have seen the club grow tremendously and that is entirely due to hard work and luck.  The Executive-Board functions as any other club, by which I mean that we schedule events that we think our general body members will be interested in, but each Thursday night when Unity has a general body meeting, I am blown away by the overwhelming number of students who venture up to our new meeting location in Old Main 314.  We have had consistently high attendance in the past two years, and that is something the executive board does not control.  We do our best to engage our members in discussions and plan events that we think they will be interested in, but the energy in our meetings comes from our members.   

Before Unity was a club on campus, former Editor-in-Chief Katie Dettman wrote two editorials that called for a recognition of LGBTQ students on campus by the creation of a gay-straight alliance.  Her purpose was to force our campus to realize that we were not truly creating an environment that embraced Jesuit ideals if we ignored a huge part of our own community by denying their need for a space.  Dettman clarified that she never experienced direct discrimination on campus, but the conversations she overheard from students (including close friends) were full of offensive language that clearly reflected that there was a belief our campus was full of exclusively straight students.

Associate Campus Minister Sarah Signorino was one of Unity’s student founders and to my understanding, Father Michael Tunney, SJ, among other faculty and staff collaborated with Signorino to bring Unity into being.  Unity was founded as an educational club (and according to our current constitution, we are still an educational club), which I think fits with Dettman’s hopes for the future of Canisius and its acknowledgement of gender and sexuality minorities.  Unity has never had its club status questioned in my time at Canisius, which is more than I think other students at Jesuit schools can say.  

Reflecting on Dettman’s editorial caused me to consider the campuses of the students I met when I attended the IgnatianQ conference at Georgetown University last year.  I met students who came to the conference as a Women and Gender Studies Club or as individuals because their college would not fund their trip let alone allow them to have a gender and sexuality alliance.  Though Canisius has made tremendous, concrete strides in the last 14 years, we must not forget that all Jesuit schools are not created equally.  As I mentioned in my piece from April 17, 2015 (“From Better to Best: Canisius’ LGBTQ Resources Struggle to Maintain Lead”), I met students at IgnatianQ who were unable to schedule meetings for their gender and sexuality alliances, let alone advertise for their events.  These are schools denying the existence of students that identify beyond straight and cisgender.

I’m very glad that since Dettman’s editorials Canisius has hosted several Gender Bender dances, two Gender and Sexuality Readings, and became the first Jesuit school to host Laverne Cox as a speaker.  I have previously written that Canisius should open a Diversity Center that would function as a resource for students identifying with gender and sexuality minorities, and this would be the ultimate way for our campus to show our authentic engagement with the Jesuit value of men and women with and for others.  In theory, students who do not identify with the binary can talk to Student Life about a housing assignment that makes them comfortable, but a new student would have to walk into Student Life without knowing the person coordinating housing decisions.  They would have to come out to a stranger and ask for a school to accommodate them in what I imagine is a very vulnerable moment.  A center devoted to serving as a resource for these students would guarantee them an advocate in Student Life.  I have every faith that Student Life would accommodate a student in this situation, but that is easy for me to say as a straight ally who is familiar with the Student Life Staff.  If we are to continue a tradition of advocating for and standing in solidarity with marginalized groups, we must ask ourselves why we have not followed suit of other Jesuit schools to open an LGBTQ Resource Center.  Georgetown University opened an LGBTQ Resource Center after hate crimes were committed on our campus, but does Canisius need to wait and create the center as a reactionary initiative? What is stopping us from creating the center now as a move to embrace all our students?

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Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this post, Elizabeth! My former classmate Julie Slentz-Wysocki ’01 pointed this post out to me. I am incredibly humbled and inspired by what Unity has accomplished in these last 15 years. Thank you for continuing the legacy! – Katie Dettman ’01, Eugene, OR

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