By Justin Smith
Yesterday, October 20, a diverse group of students packed into Regis to engage in a conversation about an important and timely issue: the Black Lives Matter movement. The night was organized by USA and the Diversity Committee and featured six speakers, some full-time professors at Canisius, some adjuncts, and some with no affiliation to Canisius. Almost all present were shockingly pleased with the turnout. Even President and former Griffin editor John J. Hurley was in attendance, saying that Canisius would be “failing” students if they didn’t provide this sort of racial education.
“We need to be having more constructive conversations on race,” said President Hurley.
The night was organized into four segments: opening statements, small group discussion, large group question and answer, and student testimonials. In the opening statement, group leaders, which included people such as Dr. Dierenfield, Dr. Robinson, Dr. Havis, Dr. Mosko, adjunct professor Price, and President of Peace Action New York State Jim Anderson. Each gave brief remarks about what they intended to discuss that night before the room broke off into small groups.
The small groups were meant to facilitate discussion, and worked to varying success depending on which leader ran the group. However, all groups did seem to produce constructive commentary.
After small group discussion ended, the larger group reconvened and the group leaders answered questioned submitted anonymously via paper at the beginning of the night. Questions addressed issues such as how students can have these sorts of conversations within their own families, how students can connect the national Black Lives Matter movement to the Buffalo area, and how students can support Black Lives Matter at Canisius itself. Professor Price made profound points about how Buffalo fits into the national conversation. India Cummings, for example, was a black female who died in an Erie County Holding Center under highly suspicious circumstances which point toward police brutality. Even if people haven’t heard of India Cummings, it does not make her death less important.
“The media and government can pay attention to what they want,” said Price, in response to one student claiming Buffalo had no “high profile” cases of racial injustice.
The leaders brought to light that there is racial inequality, police brutality, and police corruption in Buffalo. Even Mayor Byron Brown was called out for supporting zero tolerance policies.
At Canisius itself, there were some concrete steps of improvement discussed. For example, Dr. Dierenfield will be offering a Black Lives Matter Capstone, which is important at a time where many students are criticizing the Euro-centric Canisius curriculum. Dr. Dierenfield also talked about getting the Honors Program, for which he is director, more involved in community service by offering a cash reward. Sister Pat was given credit for her involvement in the Service Learning Program, and even President Hurley received praise for his contributions, monetary and otherwise, to the local community.
However, the most powerful moment came at the end of the night. The event started at eight o’clock and went to about 10:45, so it is understandable that about a third of the original room had left–President Hurley had left well before the end. However, those who left missed three student testimonials about their experience at Canisius. The students’ comments reflected many ideas, but all students were sure to comment on why Black Lives Matter was important to them. The students also all commented on how they, as students of color, face subtle forms of discrimination from their white peers, particularly the way in which white students erroneously think they compliment black students by telling them they are “different” than other black students; that they are somehow “better” because they act “whiter” than their black peers. The audience seemed to truly feel the weight of the words. Finally, Christina Estime, the chair of the Diversity Committee, broke down in tears as she delivered her testimonial, in which she talked about how she never had to think about her race until she came to Canisius.
“Before I came to Canisius I never felt like a black student,” said Estime.
The Enlight Night comes after multiple diversity events last week. An event concerning The Ignation View of Black Lives Matter, was troublingly scheduled for Tuesday October 11, when there were no classes and many people were off campus. However, the following day was “The Black-Jew Dialogues,” which is billed as a comedy tour about Diversity on Campus.
Yet, all is not good on the diversity front. The Griffin in the last issue tried to reach out to various club leaders associated with diverse clubs–Unity, LASAF, Afro-American Society, Global Horizons–and received no replies. Canisius seems to have a bi-polar approach to Diversity, sometimes having productive nights, such as last night, and sometimes seeming entirely unwilling to talk, as if the campus itself somehow stifles conversation.
Last year, Diversity Committee bought 150 “I Too Am Canisius” t-shirts and sold them all out for one dollar a piece. This shows that people on campus are passionate about diversity, to a point where they are willing to put their money where their mouths are. The question, then, is why has Canisius struggled to convert this enthusiasm into concrete results? Administration lately has been saying mostly all the right things, but where are the results? This Enlight Night was a positive step, but Canisius must stay serious about discussing diversity and get serious about implementing change. Dr. Dierenfield, as part of last night’s remarks, encouraged The Griffin to become champions of diversity on campus, and The Griffin fully intends to take up his recommendation.