Community Summit Celebration

Diane Kahng

Mid-50 degree weather, cerulean blue skies, Friday, hardly anyone was inside doing schoolwork. Except those doing “the work” Dean Jaime Nolan described.

On Friday, March 27, nearly 100 members of the Colgate community convened for Colgate’s first Community Summit. The Summit was, in part, a celebration of more than 40 years of opportunity programs at Colgate developed by the Office of Undergraduate Studies. The focus of the Summit was to consider what it really takes to create an inclusive community that fosters growth and belonging for all individuals. The crowd that gathered in the Cunniff Commons of the Robert H.N. Ho Science Center was comprised of students, alumni, faculty and staff, including President of the University and Professor of Philosophy and Religion Rebecca Chopp, Provost and Dean of the Faculty Lyle Roelofs and members of the Board of Trustees.

Associate Dean for Diversity and Director of the Office of Undergradute Studies Jaime Nolan described this effort as “the complex work of diversity.”

“It’s ‘the work’ of time especially in a globalized market economy where we are learning how interconnected we are,” Nolan said.

She further stressed the need for authenticity in building a community.

“Leadership offers up vulnerability; that’s where possibility lives,” Nolan said.

At the Summit, Vice President and Dean of Diversity and Associate Professor of Africana and Latin American Studies Keenan Grenell asked participants to “strategically think, think and think some more,” and Vice President and Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson spoke on the importance of belonging and ownership at Colgate and beyond.

“We need to make sure that all students find a point of connection at Colgate that leads to maximum engagement and a full exploration of all the academic opportunites that Colgate affords,” Johnson said.

President Chopp echoed Johnson’s sentiments.

“[There is a need to] build a substantive community, humanity’s greatest treasure. Being part of a substantive community means belonging to something bigger and participating in a vision for the future. Liberal arts leaders are particularly important in expanding substantive communities in America,” Chopp said at the conclusion of the Summit.

For the next two days, community members were engaged in breakout sessions on both racial and sexual fronts and panel discussions for underrepresented students from public and academic communities such as the Office of Alumni Affairs, the African, Latin, Asian and Native American (ALANA) Cultural Center and the Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education (COVE). This was followed by the Unity Coalition’s presentation on the Student Diversity Initiative Proposal and other social venues.

The breakout sessions asked students to work in groups based on the Black/African, Asian, Latino, multiracial, international, Native American/Indigenous, and white heritages. The members were asked to respond to questions such as “What do you never again want people to say, think or do towards your group?” and “What do you want people to know about your group?” Groups also developed plans to create a more inclusive community.

The discussion that followed the breakout session was marked by optimism and fellowship. Among the solutions, the Black/African heritage group suggested that a change is needed in terms of who is admitted to Colgate.

“We need to change the Colgate DNA, change the places we recruit,” the group said. “We admit the same person over and over.”

Other groups expressed further confusion and frustration. Junior Mindy Wong served as the Asian group representative.

“I’m the only Asian student here,” Wong said. “It’s very upsetting to me.”

“Every generation will have this struggle. We must change how we attack these problems,” the Hispanic/Latino group representative said.

The gender discussion, Sister to Sister, focused on resolving the constraints and challenges women at Colgate often face, especially in light of the alleged “hook-up” culture that permeates much of Colgate life. According to Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Marilyn Rugg, the beauty of the gathering was the mix of students, faculty, alumni and staff. The alumni told students the hook-up culture did not permeate the rest of the world, that they should take pride in their gender, abilities, capabilities and looks.

“They told students, ‘Find strength in your fellow female students, because those bonds will last beyond Colgate,”” Rugg said. “I didn’t plan on staying, but I ended up staying the whole day, it was so wonderful. I hope this Summit extends beyond the 40 year celebration; this should be an annual event.”

The gender dialogue was continued in Brother to Brother.

“Brother to Brother was a once-in-my-lifetime opportunity, a joyous one,” Sean Hallahan ’73 said. “I ran here with brothers; I played football with brothers; but I’d never experienced a sacred space to be with brothers and speak. I’m so proud Colgate is creating this. We spoke openly, less fearfully, about being men and confronting various myths associated with being a man.”

Senior Jordan Scott agreed with Hallahan’s sentiments.

“We also touched upon how the way our interaction with men could help us shape other young people’s lives,” Scott said, “From Mr. Hallahan’s age range to helping young men in my age range, to someone like myself helping a younger boy in my community. I think it’s safe to say that though we all had different experiences, we agreed that it takes a village and somehow we, as men, should become apart of another village to continue the cycle of strong young men.”

Assistant Director for Student Life and Academic LGBTQ Initiatives Emily Blake described the session as “a good start to the conversations.” The intimate group discussed racism within the community and explored whether there was need for an LGBTQ community. While some felt this need, others preferred to be on their own. She also noted that the LGBTQ group would like to unify with the gender group in the future. By allowing this cohesion, individuals would not be forced to choose between identities and further strengthen cross-communications and community.

Later that afternoon, the Unity Coalition presented the Student Diversity Initiative Proposal. This 20-page document outlines the changes and timeline that the Coalition believes are needed to create a more integrated campus and community, as well as the Coalition’s aims to build on the strengths that already exist. These changes included the preservation of the Harlem Renaissance Center (HRC), tour guides that better explain ALANA and the HRC and a multicultural sorority. To date, the administration has met some of these changes, yet not according to the original deadline set forth by the proposal.

“The proposal has been ‘welcomed’ by administration, but they are not ready for total change,” Unity Coalition leader senior Jamil Jude said. “They worry about fundraising, about Colgate going bankrupt. What about Colgate being morally bankrupt?”

This statement revitalized the energy in the room, and alumni seemed very supportive of the Unity Coalition’s goals.

“Colgate is not in a bad place,” Johnson said. “We are our own harshest critic. And we are getting there.”

Nolan also remarked that the Summit is the first step of a process. At the end of Saturday, Jude gave a satisfied sigh after a hard day’s work. He was upbeat in talking about the Summit’s social events that evening, the cocktail hour at Donovan’s Pub and the Imani Ball in the Hall Of Presidents.

“We have to keep in mind,” Jude said, “This is a celebration, after all.”