The graceful and intricate strokes of a written Mandarin character and the subtle tonalities of the spoken language have both befuddled and captivated students of the Chinese language for as long as it has existed. Clarissa Polk, a senior and Chinese and Political Science double-major, has dedicated much of her college career to the study of the Mandarin language and all its complexities.
“I love [Chinese] so much that it’s kind of therapeutic,” Polk said. “The level of focus it takes is a challenge, but by studying it, I’ve learned how to approach many other aspects of my life.”
Outside the Chinese classroom, Polk finds serious applications for the kind of care and attentiveness that the language demands – like holding a seat on the University Student Conduct Board. Along with the other members on the board, Polk hears the cases of students who have violated university rules.
“I think that people tend to misunderstand the conduct board,” Polk said. “People think that we make decisions arbitrarily, but really so much time and thought are put into each decision and into the Student Handbook.”
Polk comes to Colgate from St. Louis, Missouri, and brings with her a bit of the culture that she picked up in her city. Back in St. Louis, Polk grew up attending a Southern Baptist Church. In this church, she was raised on many gospel hymns that she would later bring to Colgate when she served for three years as president of the university gospel choir, Sojourners.
“A lot of the songs that we do with Sojourners come from Southern churches,” Polk said. “When we sing these songs, we have a lot of fun. I think when people see [this], they say ‘Oh, I want to have fun too.’ And that’s why Sojourners has grown so much as a group over the last few years.”
Faith holds an important place in Polk’s life, and Sojourners is just one way she expresses that faith. For Polk, faith is something of an exploration, which has led her to participate in many of Colgate’s religious groups. She has spent time with the Hindu Student Association, the Colgate Jewish Union and the Catholic Newman Society.
“I believe in exploring different religious cultures,” Polk said. “I think its kind of breathtaking how all these different religions have all these common goals and themes – and hopes for our world.”
In her last year here at Colgate, Polk is going to finish her studies and keep perfecting her Chinese. At the same time, she is going to make a little more time for something she feels she has neglected in the last four years.
“This year, I’m really going to appreciate just the beauty, the aesthetic beauty of Colgate. It takes your breath away.”