By: Kevin McDonnell
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y.- Sporting a dark blue bandana and round Lennon-esque glasses, Matthew McKenzie on first glance seems like your typical laid-back college student. Known as Matt to his friends, his relaxed demeanor should not be mistaken for a lack of convictions. On a warm day, in the waning hours of the summer months Matt’s steady low voice shared with me his aspirations for the future and the role he still has yet to play at NU.
Matt is one of a handful of students from his background. In a university that is predominantly white, Matt finds himself one of the few African American males attending Niagara. However, Matt also finds himself in the ever-shrinking group of students that are Niagara Falls locals. Part of Matt’s innate charm is his authenticity, never shying away from his burgeoning activist roots. He doesn’t mince words when it comes to his overarching criticisms of the university. An officer in the Black Student Union, Matt is surely keeping the organization’s activist tradition alive by speaking truth to power as one of the view students on campus with that lived experience to draw from in conversations with faculty and administrators. This becomes especially important within our campus community as acts by white supremacists have been occurring more frequently within the nearby area in the last few years.
However, Matt’s activism does not stop solely with issues on race, but he is a fervent supporter and now president of NU Cares. The newly formed club as of last year seeks to educate students on the exploitation of animals in the meat industry and to promote animal rights and justice. The organization was instrumental in encouraging the university dining-hall to adopt Vegan options as part of their food offerings. This has given students yet another choice to choose from for those who do not eat meat for ethical or religious reasons. Matt’s love for the environment though is what has driven him towards a career in environmental law with the hopes that he can take his activist struggle to the courtroom in yet another way to further environmental justice.
In a university community that lacks diversity, Matt’s involvement in our campus community is paramount in ensuring that as students we are continually being mindful of the issues facing all members of our society. As well as creating a campus culture that succeeds when the most diverse set of viewpoints is represented. It becomes clear that Matt is not just a member of our community, but an essential part of what our university ought to be and his role in it will hopefully serve as a catalyst for the university to grow beyond what it is today and into the future.