Reviving roots

Polish Student Association looks forward to rebuilding after period of public disinterest


There were only 10 people at the first general body meeting of the Polish Student Association (PolSA) this year. The e-board members are worried, but hope to engage more students as the semester continues.

“The times have changed now,” said Mike Rusin, a member of the PolSA e-board and a senior health and human services major. “People don’t take pride in their heritage anymore. My own cousin doesn’t care about Polish tradition, even though our family is Polish.”

Polish influence in Western New York, specifically the Greater Buffalo area, can be traced back to 1860, according to the Polish Genealogical Society of New York State. Between 1873 and 1922, Polish Americans established 34 church parishes in the Greater Buffalo and Western New York area. By 1940, there were 76,465 Western New Yorkers of Polish decent.

The PolSA has been functioning since 1907 making it one of the oldest clubs on campus.

“We have to make [PolSA] as strong as the Polish community in Buffalo,” said Richard Schavowski, a junior business major and the vice president of PolSA.

The club is eager to grow membership and build Polish pride in a community filled with Polish heritage. They hope to reach out to and find students and encourage them to get involved with their roots, said Tom Travers, a senior sociology major and treasurer of PSA.

The club hopes to engage students on campus by celebrating commonly Polish traditions such as Swieconka, the Polish Easter Sunday dinner, and Wigilia, the Christmas Eve dinner. At these events students have the opportunity to converse with a priest, according to Travers.

The PolSA plans to hold two off-campus events to celebrate Swieconka and Wigilia, according to Benjamin Zelinski, a junior psychology major and secretary of PolSA. Off-Campus events allow the club to serve authentic Polish food instead of being restricted to the UB authorized caterers.

Rusin thinks much of the community’s disinterest in Polish heritage is because Polish neighborhoods in Buffalo only publicly celebrate Swieconka and Dyngus Day.

Dyngus Day represents the end of Lent and Buffalo has the largest Dyngus Day celebration in the world – even larger than celebration in Poland, according to Dyngus Day’s website.

PolSA plans to hold events for other holidays to bring the Polish community together more often.

They are currently seeking permission form the university to hold a wine and vodka tasting event in the spring – the club said it last hosted one in 2004.

“Campus ministry got the permission to hold wine tasting on South Campus, so we’re very optimistic,” Rusin said.

Their events differ from other organization because Pani Danuta, the faculty adviser of PolSA, brings her Polish friends. Katie Ehlers, a senior speech pathology major and president of PolSA, the club has the support of people from the city.

“We can be inactive but can never die,” she said.

Ehlers hopes the club’s inclusiveness and diversity will attract more students to the club. She said the activities are open to people of all ethnicities and backgrounds. She said only two of the five e-board members are Polish.

Though club members are a little disappointed with the response of the student community on campus, they are exploring new ways to reach out to students – like flyers, pamphlets and social media.

“We’re a jovial community and put having fun over everything else,” Schavowski said. “There’s nothing to be intimidated of.”

PolSA will hold its Wigilia celebration December 13 and is confident that the event will reach more students and increase its on-campus presence.