A Timely Suggestion

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 17 February 1978.  Ultimately, the goal of this series is to consider the many ways in which either our campus or our culture has changed in the last several decades.

by Elizabeth Sawka

Assistant Opinion Editor

Though women have been accepted at Canisius for over fifty years now, the transition from strictly male to a coed campus was not without pushback.  Women were first let into the college in 1966, but as is evident by the editorial from our February 17,1978 issue, it is clear that over a decade after the college went coed there was still resistance from advocates of tradition.  These advocates for tradition wanted to maintain a separation of genders for no other reason (that is clear to me) than because it had always been done that way.   A desire to separate gender is not to maintain equality—it is to continue to alienate a group that has been politically and socially oppressed in order to maintain the social stigma associated with the oppressed group.  

I initially learned about the “Di Gamma Five” (the space in “Di Gamma” has now fallen out of use) that are mentioned in the 1978 editorial at the 2016 Dr. I. Joan Lorch Award ceremony.  As a grateful student recipient of this award for 2016, I learned that it is is presented annually by the Women and Gender Studies Program to recognize individuals at our campus who have made significant contributions to Canisius women and who exemplify the pursuit of liberation and justice regarding sex, gender, and sexuality.  This award is named after the first recipient, Dr. I. Joan Lorch, who was professor emerita of biology and the driving force behind establishing the college’s Women and Gender Studies Program. This Community Award was given to five women that were student members of DiGamma during their undergraduate careers at Canisius.  These women were not invited to the annual alumni dinner, but went anyway.  As the editorial mentions, these women made history, but their intention was to be treated fairly.   This was not an enraged power play to force the college to change major policy. They were inducted into an honors society that celebrates hardworking and dedicated student leaders, and there was no logical reason given to  these women regarding why they could not attend the dinner except, as mentioned before, that it was not tradition.

I am a current member of the student chapter of DiGamma, and I attended the alumni dinner a few weeks ago.  There are fourteen members of the student chapter—four men and ten women. The current male student members of DiGamma were all unable to attend this year’s alumni dinner because of one studying abroad and three attending/leading a campus ministry Kairos retreat.  This means that less than forty years later, our campus honors society has gone from threatening women with expulsion for attending an event intended to foster relationships between students and alumni to only having female student members. I certainly do not mean to say that I’m glad the male student members of DiGamma were not able to attend the dinner. I consider all of them friends and I would have welcomed them at the dinner.  I do mean to point out the progress we have made.  If this had been 1977, no representatives from the student chapter of DiGamma would have been in attendance.  

I am approaching graduation at the close of this semester (which is something that myself and my fellow seniors are for the most part trying very hard not to think about) and I can’t say that I have ever felt ostracized because of my gender. After all, I have never been asked to refrain from attending an event for any reason.  There are lots of feminists that worked a long time before I ever knew I was going to come to Canisius to make sure our campus community moved away from a tradition of gender separation.  The DiGamma Five were fighting to be treated as equal members of the society, and thank God they did. These women, and other feminists before and after them changed policy that ultimately lead me to have the opportunity to attend this school and write for this paper.

I believe the next step for our campus to continue on being inclusive is to create tangible evidence that we welcome students that identify beyond the binary.  As I have previously mentioned in this paper, the annual conference for gender and sexuality alliances at Jesuit schools taught me that Canisius is the most progressive Jesuit school for LGBTQ+ students, but we should not get comfortable.  We have events that celebrate the entire gender spectrum, like Unity’s Gender Bender dance where students can dress in a way that expresses any gender in the spectrum (including their own if that’s what they want to do) and Sigma Tau Delta, the English honors society, co-sponsors with Unity to host the Gender and Sexuality Reading where students and faculty read poetry and prose by LGBTQ+ authors and/or discuss themes of gender, sexuality, and identity.  We have gender neutral bathrooms in the library, but we do not have a preferred name program.  The preferred name program would allow for students to list if they prefer to go by a name not on their birth certificate.  This would allow for transgender and agender/gender neutral students to have the name they want on their dorm door tag and their orientation name tag printed.  This program has been implemented at other colleges and universities, but I don’t think we should wait for other Jesuit schools to implement this program. We were the first Jesuit institution to bring Laverne Cox as a speaker, and we should continue to strive to be a campus leading history.

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