This past weekend, I attended the Ignatian Family Teach In For Justice 2016. I was lucky enough to be one of the student leaders and I was lucky enough to represent my Jesuit College at this national conference for social justice. Last year when I attended, I was so excited. I even wore Canisius shirts all weekend because I wanted to show that I was proud of my school. And I intended to do the same: until the black doll incident. Following this I was right there with my fellow peers: outraged, shocked, horrified, even angry. I'm sure my fellow juniors, seniors and recent alum here remember when Canisius was all over the local Buffalo news channels for Federal Investigation over the mishandling of Title IX complaints. We were outraged for a couple days, it was in our school newspaper but then it kind of just went away, like nothing really happened. I can already start to see that same pattern forming: We were in the news for something awful, the students were outraged, we were in our school paper, administration put out an official statement that didn't say much and we all get busy and forget. Maybe we don't move on, but we forget enough that it for some God awful reason we don't let it seem like it bothers us.
I want to say to my school: Stay. Pissed. Hold Administration accountable, don't let them tell us that we're being over dramatic and the media is sensationalizing it.
I took that lesson with me to Washington D.C. this year, maybe I didn't feel like a Canisius Griff, but I was here representing Canisius College.
I definitely feel as though I got more out of the workshops this year than last year and a lot of that is myself not knowing where I fit into my school anymore; I fell into the over 3/4 of my student body that was white but I'm mixed so I'm still technically a minority. I had never felt unsafe on campus prior to the Election. But this image of my school as a safe space where diversity is welcomed and encouraged suddenly fell apart.
The first workshop really resonated with the concept of the art of forgetting: once something more interesting takes over we forget about something and no longer consider it important. This workshop focused on the Water Crisis in Flint Michigan. They still do not have safe and clean drinking water but very few of us still think about it. We are more focused on #NODAPL and Standing with Standing Rock (not to say that these issues aren't important because they are) because that is what the media has turned to. Environmental Justice is about every issue, not just the ones we're told to pay attention to.
The second workshop I attended was about standing in solidarity with the LGBT+ community on the local and national level. We are so lucky in the United States, in so many countries simply being gay is a crime punishable by execution or life in prison. Other countries it is not explicitly illegal but they do not have anything close to equal rights. We talked a little bit about what it actually means to be an ally. I really connected that to what I posted the day after the election, found here. A huge part of being an ally and standing in solidarity is recognizing your own privilege and how you can help others because of that privilege.
The final workshop I went to focused on the Jesuit Daniel Berrigan and the nonviolent resistant methods he used. The main takeaway from this was that if you want change you have to demand it: both in the government and at our local schools. That's what I want everyone who reads this to do: Demand. Change. Its more than simply supporting the hashtag "#justiceforblackcanisius" or "#notmypresident" but actually demanding that something be changed on a systemic level.
I took the lesson of demanding change with me that Monday when we went to Capitol Hill. I was lucky enough to meet with a staff member of Tom Reed's. We talked about this year's issues: Immigration and Criminal Justice Reform. Our group went in a little nervous, I mean we were making pretty big demands especially considering we were talking to someone who worked for a Congressman that openly endorsed Donald Trump. Asking for more friendly border policies and giving people who are here legally and illegally an accessible way to citizenship that isn't bogged down with paperwork, demilitarizing the borders, asking for more humane treatment of people in prison and methods like restorative justice didn't exactly align with the candidate that Reed endorsed. But we were pleasantly surprised with how open and welcoming his staff member was, we had a really positive conversation with him and he really listened to us.
Coming out of the trip, I still don't feel like a Canisius Griff, but I know I belong in the larger Jesuit Community.