Apathy in student leaders

By Emily Smith

Assistant Opinion Editor

After publishing the Griffin Goes Back article, From ahead of the curve to behind the pack, I have had people come to me, rightfully asking for solutions to the problems that I stated in the article. They pointed out that I posed a lot of critiques but offered little to no advice as to how to remedy the ailments that plague Canisius. While I argued that Canisius can be as great as it used to be, I gave no solid evidence as to how I thought we could bridge the gap to becoming one of the greats once more. With this article, and some of the ones that will follow, I will aim to provide solid ideas as to how we can remedy the campus that we love.

Like any good student leader at Canisius knows, to be taken seriously, you have to maintain an air of neutrality and diplomacy. In the face of hatred, you must be calm; in the presence of conflict, you must not take sides. If you get angry, you immediately lose all credibility as someone who is respected on campus. If you are too militant (especially if you’re a woman), your opinions and goals are boiled down to rage-based fantasies, devoid of substance. You are supposed to be with and for others, based on our Jesuit values, but if you are with and for others too loudly, too overtly, too hastily, you are not with and for them in the right way. Your opinions must be stated in just the right fashion for them to be counted as valid.

Of course, Canisius is only a microcosm of this phenomenon; it’s apparent so much in the “real world” outside of the Canisius Bubble™. So much of established western society is built on neutrality, quiet words, ideas being passed up and watered down through the bureaucratic ladder. Especially in the business world, radical ideas are only accepted when they are presented strategically.

So, if so much of the world follows this model of neutrality, why does it matter so much that Canisius also follows it? To find your answer, you have to simply turn your head to any TV, newspaper, or social media platform to see the injustices that are happening all around. There is violence and unrest in every community, marginalized or not. Of course, this violence is far more severe against some communities than it is against others (looking at you, white people; we’re not oppressed, we have never, as a culture of people, been oppressed).

I’m not insinuating that this culture of neutrality is what drives and sustains all of the social, political, and economic problems of the world, but I do believe that these problems would be addressed and solutions would be found if people weren’t so afraid to talk about them. Neutrality is easy, but as is best said by social activist, Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

As I addressed in From ahead of the curve to behind the pack, and as have many others in Griffin articles or verbal remarks, Canisius certainly has its problems. While these problems don’t hit to the global standards of “bad,” they still warrant concern, and I’m know that I’m not the only person on campus who feels this way. So here’s the big question: why is nobody talking about them?

A facet of the culture of neutrality that plagues Canisius is the tendency to be apathetic towards problems that you see, even if you feel passionately towards them or their eradication. This apathy can be attributed in part to the phenomenon that I mentioned in the beginning of this article: nobody will take you seriously if you show any emotion towards the problems that you’re addressing.

If we take the cues from other Jesuit schools like us, we can see that others are making progress with big, loud displays of their opinions. Students at Loyola University Maryland have gotten national attention with their presentations in the Black Lives Matter Movement, John Carroll University and other schools have built Mock Walls to signify the horrible conditions on the US/Mexico border, students at St. Peter’s University have full gender-neutral bathrooms. All of these displays have come into being after students spoke up against the odds and told their communities what they wanted.

So, like any good believer in Ignatian spirituality would do, I offer you a call to action: Canisius, it’s time to get mad. I’m not saying that the Canisius community should take up a new group hobby of flipping tables and screaming at the top of our lungs from the top of Loyola, but it’s time to end our silence on the things that we care about. If you’re scared, talk to others and squash your worry in community. Huge ideas come from one person, and it’s time for Canisius to have some huge ideas.

Dr. Griffin is a column dedicated to featuring ideas about substantial, positive changes that could be made on the Canisius campus. The problems attempting to be remedied in this series could be issues addressed in other articles of The Griffin, or they could be problems seen around campus. If you have advice for the Canisius community, feel free to email Opinion Editor, Lexxie Book at booka@canisius.edu to be our Dr. Griffin for the week!

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