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The St. Lawrence Communities
(We didn't say "community" for a reason)
By Lisa M. Cania M’82

When we began discussing the theme of this issue, we all used the same word and we all conjured up different images.  What is a community?  Is there a St. Lawrence community? Or do we, in fact, have many communities under that scarlet and brown umbrella that shelters us? 

As happens among writers, the metaphors began to rain down.  Our community is a series of Venn diagrams, with smaller groups intersecting.  Our community is a collection of Russian nesting dolls, each larger one holding smaller ones within.  Our community…OK, we saw the point.  We speak of the St. Lawrence community as if it’s a single entity but it’s really many entities that combine to be larger than the sum of the parts…like those proverbial single raindrops that collect to form an entire ocean. And students, alumni, faculty and staff attest—it’s remarkably easy for one individual to move from one entity to another.  Maybe that’s the St. Lawrence magic.

To test our theory, I scanned a list of students who had been profiled on our Web site and selected Tiye Gordon ’09, a religious studies major from Knoxville, Tenn.  I met with Tiye on a wintry morning in February, over hot cocoa, and asked her to think about the various communities with which she felt a strong affiliation. From the small community of her two very best friends to the largest community of the 400-member junior class, Tiye appreciates what she learns in each one.

Meet Tiye Gordon, a St. Lawrence communities member.

Two of my very best friends
Devaun McFarland ’09 and Cornelia DeLee ’09, as my friends, keep me sane amongst all the madness. When I feel like I'm right and someone else is at fault, they make me see the broader picture and the other side of the story. They keep it real with me. If it weren't for their being in my life there is no telling what kind of leader I would be.

Religious studies major and McNair Scholar*
In my academic community, I am a religious studies major. I have a lot of respect for my advisor, Professor Greenwald, because he is extremely intelligent. That's a place I hope to be someday. My favorite professor in the department is Kathleen Self. She has really sparked in me a love for the study, methodology and theory of religion. I think our respect for one another grew during the summer while I was doing my research with McNair and she was my mentor. It was an amazing experience because we both learned something from each other. Because we are both from the South, we represent two different perspectives of Southern race relations.

My research project was on Southern lynching, The Ritualistic Behavior of Lynching as Southern Religion. One of my final arguments was that racism is institutionalized, and that many white Americans still have some racial stereotypes embedded in them through generational lessons learned from their parents. She started thinking about that, and realized that it had some truth to it. And I noticed, as we were going about the project, that not only was I learning from her how to be a better scholar of religion, but also her eyes were being opened to some of the social tensions that exist between African Americans and whites. I really enjoyed working with her and plan on working with her for my senior thesis that will expand upon my previous research, looking in the direction of Southern segregation and its association with Southern religion.

In the classroom
My favorite class is Civil Rights, with Mary Jane Smith, assistant professor of history.  She and I have had long conversations about racism in America and the state of today's African American community. I love that class because I like to see how the Black struggle is understood through the eyes of my white peers. I am very grateful for the class because it has encouraged me to find who I am as an African American woman living in a white American world. I love Malcolm X and I would say he is my hero. Matter of fact, if I could meet one person, he would definitely be that person. I love the topics in class, I love the readings, and it shows in my grade (that's always a plus).

I am taking a lot from this class because I want to do more for my people one day. And I feel like I am learning how to do that from Dr. King, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, James Baldwin, Malcolm X and others. This course has had such an impact on my life. And I am very grateful that Dr. Smith suggested that I take it.

Black Student Union
The Black Student Union, my heart and passion, is like my family. Being a part of the organization has bettered me in so many ways by teaching me how to deal with conflicts, how to manage such conflicts in a professional manner, and how to hone my leadership skills.
My history with BSU began my freshman year. I attended a couple of meetings, but it was never a real commitment. However, by my junior year, I got motivated to the point were I took on a leadership position, vice president. From there, I grew and a spark of ambition appeared.  Maybe it was always there, but it took my participation with BSU for it to blossom.

Class Council
After BSU, I got more ambitious and pursued the Class Council. I value my position as the president of the 2009 Class Council because I am an African American female who is representing not just a small minority (as I did with the Black Student Union) but all races, genders and backgrounds in my class. For me this says a lot. It proves that others who aren't necessarily Black look at me as a leader, too. It makes me feel like a Barack Obama (laughing). All in all, I hope I bring to this organization a sense of diversity and a new look. When I went to the first meeting, and everyone went around introducing themselves, when it was my turn and I announced that I was the president, you should have seen how many jaws dropped. That made me feel proud!

Women’s Basketball Team
I have been playing basketball for 11 years before stopping my freshman year of college. I didn't want to leave college and regret not ever playing, so I went out for the team. After making it, I faced a lot of challenges with getting actual playing time. There were many days that I wanted to quit, but I didn't. From this, I learned a valuable life lesson: When the going gets tough, don't quit (cliché, I know). I love to see people around me smiling and laughing; if I can make you smile or laugh, that makes my day, and I feel like I did that for some of the players on the team. But at the same time, when it was time to be serious and a player seemed down, I felt like I was a person who picked them up with encouraging words and motivation.

*The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Award Program is aimed at encouraging students in underrepresented groups to pursue doctoral studies and is one of the U.S. Department of Education Federal TRIO Programs.

Laurentian communities of which Lisa Cania considers herself a member are the University advancement staff, the administration, the Alumni Council, master’s degree holder and parents of alumni.  She’s also a former Teamster, but that’s not a Laurentian community.
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