What about Ms. Canisius: A discussion

Elizabeth Sawka

Assistant Opinion Editor

Women have been at Canisius for 50 years, so it’s about time that we start eliminating all gender barriers.  Last weekend, the 2016 Mr. Canisius competition was the first ever to have a woman participate with Paula Uruburok representing Unity as Mr. First Lady.  Uruburok was interviewed (along with the other contestants) in our paper last week and she told The Griffin that she wanted to participate to send a message that “regardless of your gender or sexual identity, students can and should participate, as well as know they’re part of the Canisius family, and that they’re loved regardless of who they are.”  To my knowledge, there was no express rule that women could not perform in Mr. Canisius, but Uruburok broke down barriers that still existed for some Griffs. Perhaps the Mr. Canisius competition being traditionally male-only didn’t seem like it was oppressive to some Griffs, but I’m here to tell you that last weekend’s completion marks a truly significant change on our campus.

I did notice a few judges use male pronouns to describe the contestants.  I don’t think this was intentional, and I understand that there was one woman and six men on stage, but with Uruburok in the competition, there was a need for inclusive language. It’s really as simple as calling them “contestants” instead of “men.”  Any introductory sociology class will explain that sexism/racism/homophobia/transphobia is institutional and that one guy on Main St. catcalling you isn’t responsible for sexism. When your doctor fails to ask if you have sex with men, women, or both (they’re supposed to ask that to assess what sexually transmitted diseases you’re more at risk for, which would determine what tests you should have done), she is not responsible for homophobia if she assumes you’re exclusively having intercourse with the opposite sex.  

A male-only completion does not promote sexism per se, but it does reflect that we still have work to do on gender equality. 50 years of women at Canisius and this competition was a part of our campus that was exclusively for male Griffs. We didn’t need a Mrs./Ms. Canisius competition either—making Mr. Canisius open to Uruburok this year was what we needed. Next year the competition is going to be Canisius Royalty, and this transition to gender neutral language is what we need. There’s no need to separate genders, particularly because promoting that binary genders are the only ones that exist doesn’t end sexism, most obviously because it excludes those that identify beyond the binary. Separate but equal didn’t help in the 1950s and it doesn’t help us now.

This show was a piece of Canisius history, and we should be cognizant of that.  The day after Mr. Canisius, the Undergraduate Student Association’s Diversity Board held the first transgender vigil in Christ the King Chapel. On Wednesday, Diversity and Unity organized the first Pride March, which celebrated the diversity at Canisius. These were entirely separate events, but they give me hope. Uruburok participating in Mr. Canisius and Madelyn Reed organizing the first transgender vigil with Campus Ministry gives me hope that although our campus is not perfect—we don’t have a preferred name program, gender neutral housing, or an LGBTQ center—but students here are hosting events that celebrate communities beyond white, cisgender, and straight.  

It’s also noteworthy that with Laverne Cox visiting last January as the Welcome Week speaker and Kristen Worely, an Olympic transgender cyclist, on campus yesterday, our Jesuit campus has had two transgender women visit in the past two years. If you’ve scrolled through your Facebook news feed or seen the news at all in the past few weeks, then you know there’s something coined the “Bathroom Bill” that was passed in North Carolina which dictates that transgender individuals use bathrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate.  The bill also does not protect anyone who faces discrimination based on sexuality or gender.  This is the same rhetoric we’ve seen before with “whites only” stores that were protected by religious freedom laws that allowed them to be exclusionary and racist. It’s important to be cognizant that our campus is hosting events and breaking barriers in support of all genders and sexualities. This is real history happening right in front of our faces, because 50 years ago I wouldn’t have been writing for this paper, and despite the fact that rhetoric has not changed much when it comes to the argument against social change, our campus has changed and our students are on the right side of history.

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