Canisius College: Where followers are made?
Published: Thursday, September 15, 2011
Updated: Thursday, September 15, 2011 23:09
The September 9th event at the Montante Cultural Center featured Dr. James Ha, a primate researcher from the University of Washington National Primate Research Center, and was promoted by Canisius' Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations (ISHAR) 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: 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 questions were not welcome: my questions to the speaker were 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, Dr. Michael Noonan, waved over campus security 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 bruises from 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."
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 been courageous in supporting the ideal of moral dignity for all.
Father Tom Colgan of the Campus Ministry has been instrumental in reassuring me of my value as an individual, as an activist and as a cherished member of the Canisius community. I would encourage anyone seeking counsel, friendship or guidance to acquaint yourself with this wonderful individual and the resources of the Campus Ministry. Indeed, the fourth learning goal of the Campus Ministry is social justice, and emphasizes the need to "ameliorate conditions of social injustice."
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list; a great many others on campus actively strive to realize the ideals and values of our community.