The University of Dayton’s Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work Student Organization hosted a forum entitled “Christmas on Campus: Problematizing a UD Tradition” on Wednesday, Dec. 5, which allowed for a unique discussion filled with ideas and concerns about Christmas on Campus.
The event’s flyer suggested the forum would look at questions like “How might this annual celebration contradict the university’s social justice mission?” and “In what ways could it be improved?”
Senior psychology, sociology and women’s & gender studies triple major, Alec Smidt expressed that the forum was not an attack on anyone involved in the planning, organization, volunteering or participation of COC.
Senior sociology and Spanish double major, Erin Gahimer said some students were concerned about what exactly the forum was meant to accomplish and seemed to react negatively with the use of the word “problematizing.”
“We understand that problematizing–a sociological term–could be misconstrued,” Smidt said. “Our use of this term is not to describe Christmas on Campus as a problem in and of itself, but rather as a way of looking at the issues surrounding and unintended consequences that may result from the event vis-a-vis the question of charity versus justice or solidarity.”
Co-presidents Gahimer and Smidt explained that SASSO, which is student-lead and organized, is an extension of the sociology department that has recently been revived after about four years of inactivity.
“SASSO hosts monthly events that are meant to offer students a forum to discuss contemporary social problems and events both locally (on UD’s campus) and nationally.” Smidt said.
SASSO’s faculty adviser, sociology professor and a member of the forum panel, Leslie Picca, also stressed that the forum “isn’t trying to kill Santa.”
The forum considered questions that look at the broader effects of COC on the volunteers, the participants and the broader community beyond UD, according to Picca.
“There is a lot of good intent that goes into this program,” said Rachel Wagner, the associate director of Housing & Residence Life. “At the same time, as a Catholic institution we are called to examine the situation and not shy away from some of the difficult questions.”
Shawn Cassiman, a social work professor, spoke on the panel about some of these difficult questions by bringing up some of the larger issues that are not addressed by COC.
“Yes, children deserve a good Christmas. But [Christmas on Campus] doesn’t address why they are not having a good Christmas. It doesn’t take care of the rest of the year for them. In fact it obscures the rest of the issues for them,” Cassiman said.
Laura Leming, the chair of the sociology department, raised a question about the further religious implications of the event.
“I was walking through campus on the Christmas on Campus kick-off day and I was thinking: what would Jesus think about this?” Leming said.
Smidt and Gahimer said for the most part, reactions to the event were positive.
“I had several people approach me that were very interested and intrigued in looking at Christmas on Campus in such an academic light,” Gahimer said. “My role as co-president of SASSO is to facilitate this academic and critical conversation by getting the faculty involved and other students talking.”
Smidt said the forum allowed a panel made up of professors from the sociology, anthropology and history departments, along with a panelist from Residence Life to discuss in an academic light some of the bigger social implications of COC.
“Christmas on Campus has become an institution in and of itself. It’s a hallmark of UD,” Smidt said. “But we still need to read the signs of the times and every so often look at what we are doing and question if it is really something that lends itself to the Marianist charisms that define UD’s mission.”