By Emily Smith
Assistant Opinion Editor
This article is part of The Griffin Goes Back, which is a series dedicated to considering Opinion (once called “Viewpoint”) articles from years past and interpreting the same subject now. Ultimately, the goal of this series is to consider the many ways in which either our campus or our culture has changed in the last several decades. We’re sure it’ll contain some interesting anachronisms. The original article titled, “President, administrators discuss completion of coeducation at Canisius” is from September 24, 1965 by Peter Laux.
Even if you haven’t seen The Newsroom, you might recognize the first scene involving one of the main characters, Will McAvoy, a gritty, hostile, brilliant news anchor, answering a question posed by a college student: “Why is America the greatest country in the world?” I personally haven’t watched anything past the first episode, but I can hear Will’s voice as he answers the question, “It’s not the greatest country in the world.” He goes on to explain that although it’s not the greatest anymore, it certainly used to be. He states that the first step to solving a problem is admitting that there is one. I believe that this same ideology can be applied to Canisius.
I’m not usually one for school spirit, but I have to make it clear how much I love Canisius. I see everyday how much we are a campus built on our Jesuit values: Men and Women With and For Others, AMDG, Magis, and others are displayed through our service trips, our spirit of giving, and our campus pride. I feel that being Jesuit-educated at Canisius is the best choice I have ever made, and I will continue to promote the school and the education that I love. However, I know that we are certainly not the best. Not even close.
This summer, I had the honor of attending the University Leaders Summit held by the Ignatian Solidarity Network (Ignatian Family Teach-In homies, where you at?) that brought together Jesuit schools from across the nation to discuss social justice issues. The conference, held for three days at John Carroll University, was filled to the brim with education, planning, and a whole lot of inter-university discussion.
One of the first exercises we participated in was one in which we sat in a half circle facing a wall filled with huge post-it notes. On each of the sheets of paper was written a name of a school that had representatives at the conference. We were then asked to go up, group by group, and tell the other 30 students and facilitators in the room about the social justice initiatives that our campus was taking on. The purpose, of course, was to give everyone ideas about projects that they could bring back to their schools.
At the sight of the huge blank sheets, my heart immediately started to pound. Alie Iwanenko (the second Canisius representative) and I exchanged nervous looks; what social justice initiatives had Canisius undertaken that were worthy of sharing with this group? What made us special? I watched as each school took their turn telling the rest of us about the amazing accomplishments and initiatives that were being implemented on their campuses. As each school’s paper got filled up, I realized just how far behind the curve Canisius was.
However, it didn’t used to be like that. As shown by the article, Canisius started to admit women full-time on campus in the Fall of 1965. Although this date seems late relative to the Women’s Rights Movement, we were actually one of the first Jesuit schools to offer full-time coeducation. In fact, we offered coeducation before four of the five oldest, best-established Jesuit universities (Georgetown, 1969; St. Louis University, 1966; Xavier, 1969; Fordham, 1974).
We were not only following the trends of the time, we were setting the precedent for other Jesuit universities. In admitting women in 1965, we told other all-male Jesuit campuses that we believed in the education of women, although church officials didn’t necessarily believe in the same thing. We were ahead of the curve and in-time with changing social values. We were enacting positive change in a real, obvious, concrete way.
After my initial read-through of the article, on one hand, I was filled with pride for Canisius’ willingness to digress from the norms of Jesuit universities of the time. On the other hand, of course, I was so frustrated that we won’t take this same approach now. From our aversion to gender-neutral bathrooms, to our unwillingness to accept undocumented students, to a countless number of other deficits, Canisius is way behind the social justice standards that have been set by other Jesuit universities. Not only are we following behind, but we’re dragging our feet, drawing further and further away from the pack.
I’m going to use my ultra-Jesuit language and present a call to action: we as a campus must realize that Canisius is not the greatest anymore. In the past, the social advancements that had been implemented on campus, including the admission of women over 50 years ago, made Canisius one of the greats. However, with each year that passes, we get further and further behind the social curve and our legacy of greatness fades.
There is good news, though: we can turn this around. Like Will McAvoy said, admitting that there is a problem is the first step to remedying it. However, we have to take small steps to make this a reality. While it’s unrealistic, for example, to propose a full diversity center on campus for next year, we could start by admitting that there is a need for one.
Canisius is not the greatest anymore. But it can be.