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Canisius College: Where Followews are Made? | News

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Canisius College: Where Followews are Made?
Canisius College:  Where Followews are Made?

On September 9th Canisius College’s Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations (ISHAR) hosted an event at the Montante Cultural Center, featuring Dr. James Ha, a primate researcher from the University of Washington National Primate Research Center.   This event was promoted as a symposium. A "symposium" is typically based upon the free exchange of varying viewpoints and differs greatly from a generic speaker event. As such, this symposium had the potential to cultivate and foster the free exchange of ideas on a very controversial subject matter-- that of the use of animals in research.  Such an exchange is vital on matters where morally reflective persons don't agree. Instead, this exchange was abruptly disrupted and the event was transformed into a brutal display of force and academic repression.

Weeks before this event, I was told that this "symposium" would be “open to the public” and that the event would “welcome all points of view.”  However, what I found was that my view and my question were not welcome:  my question to the speaker was denied and cut short.  And guest speaker Dr. James Ha was discouraged from responding to me, although he himself seemed open and willing to do so.   Instead of a free exchange of ideas, the moderator of the event, Canisius biology professor Dr. Michael Noonan, waved over campus police to my direction, at which point they violently and forcefully dragged me from the main room in Montante into the foyer area, where I was brutally slammed against a wall, handcuffed, and informed that I was under arrest for criminal trespassing.  I received several contusions, a sprained wrist and shoulder injury as a result of attending this "symposium."

Canisius College’s mission statement reads, “Canisius College, a Catholic and Jesuit university, offers outstanding…programs distinguished by transformative learning experiences that engage students in the classroom and beyond.”  There is no question that September 9th was an extremely “transformative learning experience.”  Many in attendance were shocked to learn that our First Amendment right to freedom of speech is by no means guaranteed, not even at a university, a place where ideas are supposed to be nurtured and openly discussed.

I doubt that the symposium brought about the kind of transformative learning experience that the writers had in mind when they wrote the mission statement.

The role of the University in society has always been to provide an atmosphere that encourages and nurtures the free exchange of ideas and critical examination of controversial subject matters.  In keeping with this sentiment, Article I of the Canisius College Student Handbook reads, “The College recognizes that the free exchange of ideas and expressions may produce conflict.  This exchange is an important element in the pursuit of knowledge.” 

The Canisius College Student Handbook also reads that, “All members of the community are entitled to and responsible for maintaining an environment of civility that is free from disparagement, intimidation, harassment and violence of any kind.”  It appears this statement would apply to campus police and professors as well.  Instead of open discussion and thoughtful debate, those in attendance at the symposium witnessed police power being invoked to silence passionate and principled dissent.

Furthermore, this basic concept of nurturing critical thought is in fact enhanced and magnified in the Jesuit tradition.  Members of the Canisius community are fortunate to be a part of an institution that has historically protected and fostered progressive thinking.  In fact, St. Peter Canisius became known for his zeal for education as an agent for change.  Father Daniel Berrigan, Jesuit priest and one of the country’s leading peace activists of the past half-century, is an exemplar of progressive activism, persistently exercising his First Amendment rights in the face of the most stifling forms of repression. 

I am in no way condemning the entire College for the brute injustices inflicted upon me by a few individuals.  There are still services, clubs and departments on this campus that value free thought in furtherance of our Jesuit tradition.  For instance, in my own experience, members of the Departments of Religious Studies and Theology, Philosophy and Sociology have expressed their support for the principle of free and open exchange of ideas-- even when such exchange leads to contention. As a Philosophy major, I experience everyday the openness and academic integrity demonstrated by the professors in my department, who are not afraid to be challenged by the expressed views of their students.  The Unity Club here on campus has also been courageous in supporting the ideal of moral dignity for all.

Father Tom Colgan of the Campus Ministry has also been instrumental in reassuring me of my value as an individual, as an activist and as a cherished member of the Canisius community.  Indeed, the fourth learning goal of the Canisius College Campus Ministry is social justice, and emphasizes the need to “ameliorate conditions of social injustice.” 

The conditions that allow for social injustice have always emerged as a result of society’s failure to recognize the rights of individuals or groups. When denial of such rights is tolerated or indeed encouraged, it is bound to fortify the bases for further repression and injustice.  That is why we, as a community, must speak out in solidarity against the events of September 9th.

If true activists had cowered in fear when confronted by police brutality and other form of oppression, we would not have Civil Rights, Womens' Suffrage, LGBTQ Rights, or Worker Rights, among many others. Far from being intimidated or silenced as a result of my experience last Friday, my resolve (and the resolve of many others) in pursuing social justice issues has been strengthened and revitalized. 

I call on the community to join with me and all people of good will to stand in solidarity against all forms of repression and speak out in defense of our Constititional Rights.


First they came for the Jews

and I did not speak out--

because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the communists

and I did not speak out--

because I was not a comunist.

Then they came for the trade unionists

and I did not speak out--

because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me--

and there was no one left to speak out for me.

~ Pastor Martin Niemoller, Berlin, 1939


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