The Immersion East Side (IES) program completed its 7th annual Student Immersion in May and will run its 2nd annual faculty/staff immersion in August. The IES program, run by Co-Directors and Associate Professors of Philosophy Dr. Devonya Havis and Dr. Melissa Mosko, focuses on developing what Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J called a “well-educated solidarity” with Buffalo’s East Side communities and seeks to cultivate a spirit of community between the college and community partners. Dr. Havis describes that one of the key goals of the immersion is to bear witness to Buffalo’s East Side communities by allowing them to tell their own narratives. As an academic endeavor, it is also important that we prepare ourselves for the uptake of those narratives by doing background reading on the history of the East Side, governmental policies affecting the area, and “race”. In addition, we emphasis that the East Side is also the community where the college resides. How best might we be a neighbor in the spirit of our Jesuit call to promote a faith that does justice? What does that look like when it does not issue from our assumptions about how we should intervene? Rather we think about the possibilities that may emerge with partnership.
The IES program, founded by Dr. Havis and Professor Emeritus Dr. Michael Gent, has evolved from offering a student immersion to adding an immersion for faculty and staff, as well as cultivating relationships and opportunities for collaboration on various projects in the community.

Student participants on the May Immersion visited a combination of social service agencies, community-based organizations, and public sector entities whose work intersects with IES’s themes: housing, criminal justice, education, community building, health care, and religion. Program highlights included visits to Catholic Charities to learn about the process and limitations of public assistance programs, HOME (Housing Opportunities Made Equal) and Family Promise of WNY to learn about causes of eviction and homelessness, Prisoners are People Too, where we learned about the carceral system and its systemic effects in individuals’ lives and communities at large, a tour of the Freedom Wall with one of the artists, Edreys Wajed, and attending church services at Bethel AME, an historically black church with a history of civic engagement on the East Side.

The faculty Immersion in August is condensed to three days. The abbreviated program will highlight the Freedom Wall for some history of the arts movement in Buffalo and its role in preserving the history of civil rights activism, observe the arraignment process at Buffalo City Court, meet with Community Police officers in the E-District, and discuss collaboration and research opportunities with the director of Partnership for the Public Good.

Dr. Mosko said “Each person who participates in the Immersion has their own goals – some to learn more about Buffalo’s history, some to learn more about the landscape of social services to become a more effective neighbor, some to learn how best to connect their studies or their students with community members who can deepen their academic experience. As directors, we hope to facilitate the individual goals that each participant brings to the Immersion. I hope to deepen Canisius’s connection with the East Side, to form partnerships with community members and organizations that enable us to leverage our institutional resources towards in service of their own projects and goals for their communities.”

Dr. Mosko reflected on her experiences,
My participation in the East Side Immersion actually spurred my interest in living on the East Side. My family helps run an urban farm on the East Side and we are invested in the rehabilitation of some historical buildings in the community as well. As an educator, and one who specialized in and teaches political philosophy, my experiences in the Immersion program have given me a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw on to illustrate the theories of injustice and justice that are embedded in our institutional and departmental learning goals and objectives. Most of our students still come from Erie County, and they all come with ideas about what constitutes the good life – and consequently ideas about what neighborhoods, jobs, and activities promote that life and which make it more difficult to achieve. I hope to help them analyze the historical meanings embedded in these ideas about particular communities and the people who constitute them, to challenge them to think beyond these assumptions, and perhaps even re-imagine their own ideas of the good life.

There are several ways for students, alumni, and parents to become involved with Immersion East Side. All are welcome to join fall events and discussions during the fall and spring that are sponsored by the Immersion East Side Program. Any community member working in the issues of housing, criminal justice, education, social services, or politics in the city of Buffalo are welcome to reach out to the Co-Directors to build new partnerships or to be an immersion site. Students are welcome to apply in the Spring of 2020 for next year’s student immersion. For more information, please contact Dr. Melissa Mosko at moskom@canisius.edu and Dr. Devonya Havis at havisd@canisius.edu.

If you would like to learn more about the Immersion East Side Program and upcoming events, please visit the IES website, Instagram and Facebook pages.

(L-R) [Unidentified], Matt Kochan, Lonnell Williams, Eita Nanda, Mark Villanueva, Shalonda Schickling, Nana Sylla, Alexis Apeku, Michael Gent, Lauren Derwin, Bruce Hakes
Artist Edreys Wajed, Mark Villanueva, Devonya Havis, Simone Havis-Walton, Shalonda Schickling, Nana Sylla
Lauren Derwin, Eita Nanda, Lu Firestone (Executive Director of Family Promise of WNY), Bruce Hakes, Mark Villanueva, Shalonda Schickling, Nana Sylla, Matt Kochan, Melissa Mosko