Hurley meets with Afro American Society to tackle tough issues

Dylan Huston

Griffin Reporter

President and former Griffin Editor John J. Hurley met with the Afro American Society this past Wednesday, September 14.  The meeting was intended to readdress issues brought up in a previous meeting between the President and AAS last April.  Hosted publicly in the commuter lounge, President Hurley partook in a discourse with the AAS in which he explained the major points of a memo he had sent in response to the matters previously brought to his attention.

President Hurley explained that he wanted “to discuss student’s perception of the racial climate on campus.”  Hurley went on to summarize some of the commonly perceived racial hot-spots which are ever persistent on campuses across America.

“We saw on many college campuses across the United States a lot of protests over racial issues,” said President Hurley, adding that it’s difficult to point to “a single thing” that creates racial tension.

Hurley made connections to the racial tension which the Black Lives Matter movement addresses.  He credited the protests, such as the one in Ferguson, Missouri, as sparking the conversation about racial issues, however he noted that issues of racial tension go “far beyond issues of policing.”

President Hurley went even further by stating some catalysts of controversy across America.  Hurley brought up other institutions–perhaps a reference to Georgetown–which have tried to shake their history of slavery by changing names of buildings and removing statues.  The President also addressed faculty diversity, saying many schools have “overwhelmingly” white faculties and “students of color [do] not feel represented.”  However, Hurley pointed out that national issues of race stayed largely in the “backdrop” in favor of issues related specifically to Canisius.

AAS generally had a positive reaction to Hurley’s introduction, and welcomed Hurley’s transition into addressing grievances on Canisius’ own campus. Hurley talked about the previous meeting, which he viewed positively.

“I mostly listened,” said Hurley, adding, “It was a good discussion.  I didn’t say much that night.”

However, there were also new points brought up in this most recent meeting.  Although open to discussion, Hurley did express troubled feelings at the gravity of some of the issues brought forth.  What he felt worst about were the emotions that students described feeling on campus.

“Students [described] feelings of alienation, fear, intimidation on the Canisius campus,” said President Hurley.  He added that, “Students [remarked] that Canisius is essentially a white campus. That they felt alienated in this environment, sometimes fearful.”

Many students, Hurley said, expressed the wish to be accepted based on the content of their character, not their ethnicity. They even went so far as to delve into issues regarding the complacency of students in positions of authority, particularly those in the Undergraduate Students Association.

“[Afro] described some unhappiness at the white majority at Canisius being unwilling to really engage on issues relating to race on the campus,” said President Hurley.

Hurley also reiterated comments he made at last week’s Senate meeting, saying Canisius has a tendency to not take take racial diversity seriously enough.  He said that while Canisius generally “accepts” diversity, the campus does not “celebrate” it.

According to Hurley, these issues are not only in social settings, but in academic settings as well.  Specifically, the President brought up student concerns with the curriculum.

“People said that they did not feel that the curriculum here at Canisius represented the history and experience of people of color adequately,” said Hurley.  “Students describe, sometimes, the feeling of being the only black face in the room, and being asked to represent the views of all African Americans.”

Throughout the meeting, a copy of Hurley’s memo circulated throughout the room.  The Griffin was able obtain excerpts from President Hurley’s memo to the Afro American Society, referencing the tone of the April meeting.

“[Afro] voiced concerns about the budgeting process and felt that the AAS is not fairly treated when it comes to allocating student tax dollars for clubs.”  Hurley went on to add that, “[AAS] feels that operation and priorities of USA and SPB do not reflect a diverse institution.”

Hurley cited student concerns about a lack of collaboration with clubs such as Afro, and that this lack of collaboration leads to a lack of diversity at events.  Afro said the “blocks” placed on certain dates make scheduling difficult, and that these major events do not make attempts to attract black students, while AAS events tend not to attract white students.  The implication is that a lack of collaboration is leading to segregated campus events, and that that there is a widening gap between student government and the students represented, particularly students of color.

After President Hurley’s prepared remarks, he took some time to hear comments from student attendees.  Students were attentive and engaged in an active dialogue.

“This might not be an issue particularly regarding race,” one student in attendance said, “but with [the Faculty’s] attitude, if I go to an office, I feel like I’m a bother, like I’m not paying tuition, or it’s not their job to help me.”

The theme of administrative critique did not end there.  Another student also voiced concern about a similar issue.

“It seems like a lot of the faculty are out of touch,” said an unidentified student. “They make a lot of assumptions.”

Hurley appeared to show genuine concern regarding this comment, and his conviction to rectify the perceived problem.

“If there’s one thing we stress about the Canisius Brand,” said President Hurley, “it’s that personal attention.” Hurley added, “I’ll take that one and work on it.”

But administration wasn’t the only topic of concern students expressed.  Students showed concern not only with the treatment from administration, but also with treatment from other students

“You have a lovely faculty, and I’ve never had any problems with professors,” said another student present, “but I get this stereotype a lot where the color of my skin is the only way I got into this school. Because I’m an ‘athlete’. Which I’m not. I feel like professors should try to get to know me first before they say, ‘Oh, you have a game today.’ They simply judge that I’m an athlete.”

One attendee mentioned the importance of creating a more comprehensive view of minorities on campus.

“The word minority doesn’t just talk about black people,” said a student. “We’re talking about Hispanics, the Asian presence on campus. We’re talking about everything… This is good, but I think that the other minorities that aren’t represented as well are a big part of this conversation that we may be missing.”

President Hurley said he “would welcome” input, perhaps from a focus group.  He also said he would want “some student involvement” in looking at the financial aid situation and rectifying potential issues.  The President stated that he reached out to the Financial Aid office to get additional information on the financial aid situation.

“I wanted to get an idea of what the financial aid packages look like,” said Hurley, “[and] were they skewed with students of color getting less than what we’re giving the other students, and what we could do about that […] Whether we can find additional endowed scholarships of general academics for students of color. We have alumni willing to do that.”

Hurley shed insights on his long view of racial issues, saying how some of these tensions seem to never go away.

“I don’t mean to make light of this,” said Hurley, “but as I walked away from the meeting that night [in April], I thought, ‘this is really amazing,’ because the discussion has not progressed all that far from when I was a student in the ‘70s here at Canisius. These issues were here then and I thought that we would have solved these by now, but we obviously haven’t.”
Diversity is indeed an ongoing issue at Canisius.  Students clearly have concerns, and although the path forward may not be entirely clear yet, what is clear is that there is room for improvement.  The President’s willingness to listen to groups like AAS are a positive sign, but it is important that students demand concrete action as well.  Words are good, but administrative and academic reform, as well as money, will likely be necessary steps in whatever direction the School heads.

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