Campus Collaborates on Refugee Banquet

Last weekend, about 230 students crowded into the Hall of Presidents to attend a banquet benefiting the Mohawk Valley Refugee Center in Utica and the American Civic Association in Binghamton. The Latin American Student Organization (LASO), the Korean American Student Organization (KASA), Kappa Kappa Gamma and the Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education (COVE) joined forces to sponsor the event.

Sophomores Octavia Chavez-Richmond and Kelly Boggiano kicked off the banquet by speaking about The Mohawk Valley Refugee Center and their involvement with it. Roberta Douglas founded the Center in 1979 to help refugees resettle and assimilate into American life and culture. According to Chavez-Richmond and Boggiano, the Center has provided “interpretation and translation services, cultural competence training” and many other forms of aid to the “10,000 refugees that have come to Utica in the past ten years.” The Refugee Tutoring group in which Chavez-Richmond and Boggiano participate also serves local refugees by traveling to Utica each week to tutor students at the local high school.

“There is a huge demand for tutors at the school,” said Boggiano. “Most of the kids have a certain level of competence in English but some don’t know it at all. The teachers get overwhelmed when trying to work with so many students, so we provide the one-on-one attention that the refugees really need.”

Chavez-Richmond and Boggiano’s speech was followed by performances from two of the Benefit’s sponsors, LASO and KASA. Senior Ofelia Martinez sang three songs, accompanied by junior Javier Diaz on guitar. Then KASA performed a skit about interracial relationships and the challenges they can present. In between parts of the skit guests were treated to a dinner of Caribbean and Korean food.

The keynote speaker of the banquet was William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Geography Ellen Kraly. Kraly has worked with the Refugee Center for many years and is a refugee and international migration scholar. She began her speech by commending the student groups for their joint effort in helping the Center and putting on the banquet.

“I’ve taught here since 1985 and I think this is probably the finest event I’ve ever attended,” Kraly said. “This really is a beautifully organized community you have built here. What a model of partnership. I feel privileged to be part of this event.”

She then spoke about how important immigration is to America and how it has shaped our country.

“Immigration is the history of our country and it will be the future history as well,” Kraly said. “The thousands of refugees who have come to Utica have had huge impacts on its schools, jobs and companies, and all have been positive. The city has become rich, vibrant and diverse.”

According to Kraly, by tutoring at and raising money for the Center through this banquet, Colgate students are “creating a beautiful, multi-cultural place in central New York, as well as taking part in creating the future immigration history in America.”

LASO was the student organization that first proposed the banquet and contacted the other three groups.

“We needed to find a cause and we thought it appropriate to aid the Utica Refugee Center since the school is so heavily affiliated with it, and we wanted to continue showing support,” senior Madelyn Santos said. “We finally decided that we needed to change things up a bit and work with groups that we had never worked with before. So we immediately thought of KASA, the Korean student group, Kappa, a sorority, and the COVE, the volunteering community service department. We knew we could count on them to focus our cause. We thought it would be amazing to be able to reach different crowds on campus.”

The fact that the banquet was sponsored by different groups allowed for students representing all aspects of Colgate’s campus to join together under one cause. The four organizations were very pleased with the banquet and were enthusiastic about continuing to work together and with even more groups on campus.

“The best way for cultural groups on campus to actually spread their missions about sharing their identities with the greater Colgate community is by working with other organizations on campus that are of completely different backgrounds or interests,” Santos said. “What we all need to realize is that to make Colgate feel like a tighter community we should work together and flirt with the social barriers that we have established in order to make them less rigid.”