Solidarity Week sparks conversation over a variety of marginalized communities

wallBy Nathan Ress

News Editor

The week of Sunday, March 26 to Friday, March 31 has been a week dedicated to acceptance and social justice awareness. Aptly named “Solidarity Week,” the week long event was the culmination of months of planning and the cooperation of many campus groups and organizations, all striving to spread a message of kinship and cooperation among all peoples, especially those who are marginalized.

The event featured two 8 foot long wooden walls meant to symbolize the barriers between mainstream society and marginalized social groups. Though walls have been a current political symbol, these on-campus walls are meant to be taken as a larger symbol of segregation and separation between groups, from minority groups, to immigrant groups, LGBTQ+ groups, and any other group which students wish to show support for.

“It’s incredible to look at the wall and see the diversity present in students’ concerns,” said Maggie Treichler ‘17, Vice President of Peace Action Canisius, one of the many groups working in collaboration to make the week a possibility. Other groups include USA J.U.S.T.I.C.E. (Jesuit Undergraduate Students Together In Concerned Empowerment), Campus Ministry, USA Diversity Committee, Women and Gender Studies Club, and Unity.

“This event has been coming together for the entirety of the school year,” said Alie Iwanenko ‘17, President of Peace Action Canisius, an educational and advocacy group focused on pursuing student concerns. The group hopes to educate students on these issues, and allow them to pass this knowledge onto their peers, as well as show them how to get involved.

Solidarity Week was inspired when Iwanenko and other Canisius students attended the University Leaders Summit this past summer, which was sponsored by the Ignatian Solidarity Network. The summit brought Jesuit university students together and showed Iwanenko the variety of ways in which Canisius could emulate the activism of other campuses.

Since the conference, Solidarity Week has been the main project of Peace Action Canisius. “This semester we were a lot more collaborative,” said Iwanenko recognizing the group effort leading to the week long event. Iwanenko also worked closely with Rich Kennedy, Student Life’s Event Services Coordinator, who in turn worked with administration to make the event happen.

Solidarity Week, as its broad name suggests, is meant to give students the opportunity to have a voice on a variety of issues in a very visible way. The week featured film screenings on trade issues and the education of young women, as well as a refugee simulation activity and discussion, a conversation on racial justice, and tying the whole week together the decoration of the mock walls with student messages of support. All of these events followed the theme of education and kinship echoed by the entire event.

“We wanted to be as inclusive as possible with marginalized groups,” said Iwanenko.

Students presented the wall in the library throughout the week, allowing students to decorate it in whatever way they pleased, as well as giving them the opportunity to sign a letter to their local representative advocating for solidarity. Alexis Grebenok ‘18, Canisius J.U.S.T.I.C.E. Chair, was one of the students who worked these library sessions and was very impressed by the messages of the students.

“Everything has been very compassionate and supportive,” she said. She continued by saying that human advocacy and solidarity is “bigger than any wall.”

“We filled two walls with notes of love and compassion!” Grebenok continued. “To take a moment to show compassion for another individual is what Canisius is all about.” She went on to cite the core Canisius value of being men and women for and with others as a major driving force behind this support.

Iwanenko mirrored this positivity by praising the eighty plus students who signed letters to their respective representatives in the library throughout the week. “Maybe they felt more empowered by the fact that they were participating in activism,” she speculated. She sees the letters as a route to real change, and believes this is something that matters to most students.

Despite the huge show of physical support displayed on the wall, the turnout to some of the events such as the Sunday Vigil in the quad, and the Thursday decoration of the wall was nearly non-existent. This fact was the main hindrance in the week’s events, one which was made even more difficult by the poor weather throughout the week.

“Attendance was not as high as we were expecting,” said Iwanenko. She acknowledged that “The same students who are passionate about these things show up over and over,” while it is difficult to attract new members of the community to participate in things like this. Still, Iwanenko wants to encourage as many students as possible to get involved and make their voice heard. “If you are upset about marginalization issues, I think you need to show up and speak about these issues.”

Grebenok reflected this sentiment, saying, “I don’t think you can force people to care. You can only inspire them.”

Similarly, Treichler’s message to students who did not attend was one of a missed opportunity. The point of the week was to educate individuals, and Treichler concluded, “You can’t care about something you don’t know about.” She encouraged students to take more opportunities such as this in the future to expand their knowledge of world events and marginalization. She especially extended this message to people who may disagree with some or all of the messages of Solidarity Week.

Still, despite the lack of attendance, Iwanenko was positive about the progress created by the week. “I think it’s a great start,” she said. She knows that issues of marginalization are a conversation, and hopes that students will see this week’s events as the jumping off point it is meant to be.

The week’s events will conclude Friday, March 31 with a gathering in solidarity in the quad at 11:00 a.m. The event will be a reflection and conversation in which students can participate and see the final form of the decorated walls. The event will also feature Unity members gathering in solidarity for Transexual Day of Visibility.

“We are happy to be included,” said Madelyn Reed ‘18, President of Unity. She continued, “Solidarity is universal,” recognizing the week’s theme of inclusivity and kinship with all marginalized groups.

The 11:00 a.m. event is originally scheduled to take place in front of the St. Peter Canisius statue in the quad However, Iwanenko advises that if weather is permitting, the event will move to the inside of Christ the King Chapel. The chapel doors will be open, and a person will be directing students inside if this is the case.

Iwanenko has invited Canisius College President and Former Griffin Editor-in-Chief John J. Hurley to the event to say a few words regarding Solidarity from a Jesuit perspective.

“We hope that this week has impacted people,” Iwanenko said.

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