By Janelle Harb
On the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 9, in the wake of the election of Donald Trump and the corollary hanging of a black baby doll in the Frisch Hall elevator, President of Griff TV and Opinion Editor of The Griffin, Alexis Book ’17, organized a mass event on Facebook for later that evening advertised as a “Peaceful Protest in the Quad.” With news of the event spreading via social media, word of mouth, and handwritten posters scattered around campus, it quickly caught the attention of many undergraduates and College administrators.
Originally, the peaceful protest outside of Christ the King Chapel was only intended as a response to the election of Donald Trump less than twenty-four hours before. However, it quickly and naturally morphed into a show of solidarity against all of the most recents acts of hatred both politically and on our own Canisius grounds. In estimation, an excess of 300 people were in attendance, including undergraduates, student leaders, professors, and administrative officials. Significantly, Canisius President and former Griffin Editor John J. Hurley was in attendance, as well as Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Connie Pileri, and Director of the Counseling Center Eileen Niland, among others.
“Never in a million years did I think that I would start a protest on campus, never would I think that I’d have to,” said Book regarding the event. “For months, I’ve heard the sentiments of my fellow students who have clearly been disappointed by the school’s lack of action regarding race relations and diversity on campus.”
Book explained that she felt physically ill following the results of election night, and upon seeing the photograph of the hanging baby, she knew she had to take a stand.
“I created the facebook event,” said Book. “It started off with about 20 invites and a few text messages to some of my friends. By the time I got back from classes and my internship, I saw that the event had blossomed into including over 300 students and faculty – hell, there were even students from other colleges in attendance – it was incredible.”
Book started off the event by stating that this would be a peaceful protest where people would be able to speak freely and address the crowd in order to share their stories and spark discussion. She even heeded the crowd to be respectful of differing opinions and of any Trump supporters that may approach the microphone. Soon after she finished, several students stood behind the microphone carrying a banner proclaiming #JusticeforBlackCanisius and stayed for the duration of the approximately two-hour event.
The frigidness of the outside air did not dissuade anyone from leaving the event early, as all were enraptured by the stories of those who spoke. A majority of the students who addressed the crowd were either black, Hispanic, or of the LGBTQ+ community.
When Rhys Watson ‘18, a Hispanic student, reached the microphone, he detailed his experiences as a server at a country club at which President Hurley is a member. He explained that he spoke to Hurley directly and recounted his conversation.
“Just like it’s my job to serve you, it’s your job to serve everybody here [at Canisius].” Watson concluded, “The reality of it is that this College is a business. Nobody actually cares about us; they only care because we pay for everything that’s here.”
Recently, the College has been struggling with accusations of apathy in both the student body and administration–although the turnout to events such as the Black Lives Matter Enlight Night and the event at the Grupp Fireside Lounge earlier that day imply otherwise. One of the most telling parts of the night was when USA President, Elias Ayoub ’17, said his piece in regards to the Frisch Hall incident and administration.
“You can smoke weed twice in the residence halls and be suspended, but you can string a baby in the elevator and nothing [happens],” he said. “I’m not saying administration doesn’t have our best interests at heart, but we came today with questions and we got nothing.
Ayoub said that Canisius’ attempts to offer prayers and kinds words were not enough, and that Canisius must take steps to start practicing the values they preach “from the top down.” He said that the event in Grupp did not satisfy him in these regards, and took issue with Public Safety Director H. Wil Johnson’s failure to clearly and boldly declare that the baby doll incident had malicious intent.
“This is the first time that Canisius has not felt stagnant and apathetic about something that’s going on in the world, so thank you,” concluded Ayoub as thunderous applause accompanied his departure from the microphone.
Amongst these other discussions was a black student’s desperate plea that he is not “scary” nor “dangerous” to anyone, nor is any other black student at Canisius. Several LGBTQ+ students, including Vice President of Unity, Emily Smith ‘18, expressed their genuine fear for what is to come in the future. They also mentioned the eight suicides of trans people already occurring on this day alone as a result of the election of President Elect Trump. Smith’s voice shook with fear, anger, and quiet confidence in summarizing how the community felt this evening: scared. While the protest was uniting against hatred, several Trump supporters attempted to crash the event and interrupt several students speaking, and were met with jeers and disgust from the crowd.
“It’s in these moments of extreme controversy and divisiveness where standing up for what’s right really matters,” said Book. “Canisius showed that they’re ready to take that step last night… I see this as being the catalyst for great change. The student body is sick of not being listened to and horrified at the amount of hate and bigotry that floods our country. It’s time for a change, and even though I never intended to start it, I’m so blessed to be a part of it.”
The solidarity that was shown on this night at this event promises momentum that we cannot afford to lose. This is a fight that has been waging since the introduction of race as a social construct. In many ways, the event feels historic, as it is reminiscent of the civil rights protests that college students have only been able to read about up until now. The Griffin encourages all of Canisius to stand together and fight for love and unity.
This most recent act of racism is a poignant reminder that now is not the time for apathy. If students avoid these issues, there’s no reason to think the situation will get better. If Canisius is to see improvement, people, from administration down to students, must start taking action.