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Canisius Conversations Series Hosts Discussion on Otherness

By Julia Barth, Editor in Chief

The Bias Resource and Response Team held a “Canisius Conversations” event on Tuesday in Grupp Fireside Lounge to discuss the topics of celebrities and otherness through the lens of white nationalism.

The event, which saw a wide variety of students and faculty, started with attendees reflecting on posters that were presented with images depicting many instances of “otherness,” including the U.S.-Mexico border and Indigenous protests, among others. Participants were asked to write on a Post-It note how the images made them feel and how they saw “otherness” being depicted.

Fatima Rodriguez Johnson, the associate dean for diversity and inclusion and the person running the event, went around to each picture and read out some of the Post-It notes, encouraging attendees to think critically about the scenarios at hand.

After refreshments were served — which included a cheese platter, fruit, cookies and coffee — and people made their way to their groups, the event opened with a presentation from Dr. Shyam Sriram, an associate professor in the political science department, who defined and talked about white nationalism while showing the audience videos that demonstrate where white nationalism exists in the United States.

Sriram emphasized that his discussion would hopefully lead to more productive conversations about otherness on Canisius College’s campus. “We need to think about how otherness is constructed … and how we can fight it at Canisius,” he said.

When talking about celebrity influence, Sriram noted Donald Trump’s influential rise to power and the celebrity status that defined him before his presidency. He also showed clips of the former president speaking about white nationalist riots that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, as well as clips from the well-known white nationalist Richard Spencer.

Sriram also connected the topic of white nationalism with the mass shooting at a Tops Market in Buffalo last spring, which was motivated by racist ideologies like Replacement Theory — another concept Sriram discussed.

Small group discussions followed the presentation, and each table was invited to have a conversation about celebrity influence and otherness, moderated by faculty and staff volunteers who had a list of questions to ask. Topics ranged from celebrity influence over politics and society, cancel culture, racism in the country and how all of those topics tie into otherness.

After the conversations, each group was encouraged to share what they talked about with the participants as a whole, and with concluding remarks from Sriram as well as Rodriguez Johnson, the conversations wrapped up.

With more “Canisius Conversations” events on the horizon, Sriram made sure to note that we need to have these conversations on campus in order to gain new perspectives and grow in our knowledge. “We should not shy away from tough conversations,” he said. “When we don’t have those conversations, we don’t grow.”

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