Changemakers of Niagara: Dr. David Reilly

By Christine Burke and Emily Parisi

NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y.- Niagara University has seen a lot of change in the past few years, and the next few years are sure to be no different. Many people on campus are the drivers and progressors of such change, but they often go unrecognized. NU professor, Chair of the International Studies department and president of NU’s faculty union, Dr. David Reilly is one of these leaders, dedicated to making the campus a better place for all.

Reilly began at Niagara in 2001, where he almost immediately was faced with the challenge of being an educator in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. The next year, he taught a terrorism class that studied terrorism in the real world and the effects of terrorist attacks, as well as how one terrorist attack may differ from another.

This active learning class experience inspired Reilly to take learning beyond the classroom. In 2008, Reilly took a group of students on a trip to Northern Ireland as part of a planned series of courses conflict areas in the world. After a second trip to Cyprus fell through due to expense, he and another group of students visited Cuba in May of 2016.

“That was what really got us thinking about the Cold War and the resistance to capitalism and to American imperialism,” Reilly said, mentioning that students studied a variety of related topics, including racism, language and culture. “But then it became so much more . . . it all fit together in a way that we could look at it in a much more holistic way than it was.”

“Just about everyone, from the comments that I got back, looked at it in an incredibly positive way,” Reilly added. “For me it was a life-changing experience. I think about my role as a teacher differently and I think about the world differently.”

Reilly is a huge proponent for students studying abroad and strongly encourages anyone who can to do so. “Any time you get out in the world and experience something different I think there’s a huge benefit,” he said. “What I really like about that kind of an approach is it’s doing it in a guided way that we can treat it as a sort of dynamic classroom. It takes a lot of work to do that, but I think the benefits are incredible.”

Reilly is also one of the professors working towards the establishment of two themed Varsity Village houses, along with Dr. Christopher Lee. Reilly, a big supporter of environmental rights, is in charge of what he calls the Earth House, a theme house dedicated to sustainability and understanding the relationships between humanity and the environment. The other house is intended to be a Social Justice house focused on community and societal interactions, with Lee as the advisor.

“The idea is really taking sort of a different approach to what we were trying to do in Cuba,” Reilly said. “Sort of thinking about how do we take lessons out of the classroom and then extend them into what you’re doing.”

The benefit to doing this is massive. “People who have Bachelor’s and Master’s and Ph. Ds have done a lot of awful things in the world,” Reilly said. “Having an education doesn’t do anything. What it is is what you do with it, and so I think I want to be more effective in thinking about how to transform the areas around us in a positive way and to contribute in a meaningful way through our education.”

Reilly is also the faculty advisor for the up-and-coming club NU Cares, a club focused on animal rights and sustainability, as well as a driving force behind the creation of the Fostering Racial and Social Justice Conference a few years ago.

“What I’ve always been interested in is getting people to think critically about the world around them,” Reilly said. “The other thing I would say is really rewarding is when I can bring together people who I really think can make a difference and actually connect them in ways so students who are really thinking about how to change the world with researchers or community members or activists, or whoever it is.”

“What I would love to see is that we continue to figure out ways to challenge the students and in doing so raise the profile of the university and to become a destination where students want to come specifically for that ability to change the world,” Reilly said. “If we develop over time a reputation for being a place where a student can come if they really want to learn how to change the world, that would be, to me, the greatest possible success.”

Know anyone who has fostered positive change on or around campus? Submit a student or faculty member as a Changemaker of Niagara by emailing the Wire at

Photo Courtesy: Dave Reilly and NU Cares

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