On Thursday, September 17, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele gave a lecture titled “Unity and Diversity: Common Ground in the 21st Century” in front of a near-capacity crowd in Memorial Chapel. The President’s Office, the Vice President and Dean of Diversity’s Office, the Center for Freedom & Western Civilization and the College Republicans jointly sponsored Steele’s lecture. The lecture was part of Colgate’s first Diversity Week, which was hosted by the Diversity Week Planning Committee and the International Blast Festival Committee and featured a series of informational events, lectures, ceremonies and workshops centered on the theme “Race and Culture in the 21st Century.”
Interim President Lyle Roelofs delivered a welcome statement before introducing senior Javier Diaz, who formally presented the Colgate Creed, a document that strives to act as an informal code of conduct for students. Diaz wrote the Colgate Creed in response to the racist graffiti found in Alumni Hall last November.
Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for Freedom and Western Civilization Robert Kraynak then introduced Steele to the audience.
Steele stressed that he was not participating in Diversity Week as the RNC Chairman, but rather as a person who wanted to share his life experiences. Although Steele holds a political position, his message was neither partisan nor political. Rather, he addressed issues that affect people of all political affiliations.
Michael Steele’s lecture addressed the subtleties and nuances of racism,” Brothers treasurer and junior Chris Dell’Amore said. “His personal and professional triumphs demonstrate that a person’s persistence can break down the barriers of racism.”
In his lecture, Steele discussed his rise to the position of Lieutenant Governor of Maryland as well as his experiences as a lawyer. He utilized history to demonstrate some of the ironies and contradictions that exist in American society, and to show that “racial lines” take on new appearances in contemporary society.
Building on these points and others, Steele proved his thesis that racism still exists in America. However, he said that racism today is more subtle than it has been in the past. He reflected on his own experiences with racism, which he described as more upfront and “in your face.”
One such incident Steele described occurred when he was looking for a job as a paralegal. Steele checked in at the office, and noticed the woman about to interview him walking down the hall. The woman walked excitedly in the shadows of the hall, but when she noticed that Steele was African-American, her tone changed and she told Steele that the job he was seeking had been taken.
Near the end of the lecture, Steele brought up points about the future of diversity. He stressed that the challenge for future generations will be to appreciate the diversity of the people sitting at a metaphorical “Table of the Brotherhood,” which will include people all of different backgrounds.