Students Debate Racist Graffiti

On Tuesday night, members of the Colgate community gathered in the newly-renovated Donovan’s Pub to hear Colgate’s Debate Society present, “Should Colgate University Expel the Writers of the Racist Graffiti?”

Looking around the room, Provost and Dean of the Faculty Lyle Roelofs commented, “All the people here are ones who will be engaged in this issue and appreciate what others have to say.”

Last November, racist graffiti was found inside Alumni Hall following the Presidential election. The purpose of this debate was to reawaken the diversity dialogue on campus. The two opposing teams had three members each, mostly made up of first-years and sophomores.

On the proposition side, sophomore Austin Schwartz argued that the graffiti offender was a “present and future danger,” made clear by the graffiti’s permanent nature. Fellow debater sophomore Fatima Anwar built on Schwartz’s argument by reasoning that Colgate’s development as a community would be jeopardized by the presence of active racism. First-year Ryan Nelson closed his side’s argument by calling upon Colgate’s commitment to the community’s well-being as a whole.

“Colgate must take a firm stand against intolerance,” Nelson said. “Racist individuals had best know that they are not welcome here.”

Debaters who argued against expulsion stood their ground. In response to Schwartz, senior Jennifer Geffner argued that by expelling students, the administration was merely “sweeping the issue under the carpet.”

Debate Society President sophomore Andrew Eldredge echoed these statement.

“We’re going to allow these people to become better people, because this is what we do here at Colgate,” Eldredge said.

First-year Spencer Seconi summed up the opposition side.

“Colgate’s campus isn’t perfect. Therefore, it’s important that we deal with these issues up front,” Seconi said.

On the whole, the audience was respectful of others’ opinions. After the debate, audience members were allowed on stage to express their views on the subject. Topics included protecting the community versus protecting the individuals, including the offenders, and senior Stephen West shared his hometown experiences in North Carolina.

“I feel like this type of racism is normalizing,” West said. “Racism is already underground — expulsion wouldn’t sweep the issue under the carpet because it’s already there. I support expulsion because I think of my time in the south, and I know that we still have a lot of progress to get through to become an equal community.”

West was countered by classmate senior Erin Pierson. She explored the expulsion implications.

“Students with racist ideals come to Colgate already in this form. Expulsion — what does this say about Colgate?” Pierson said. “We may slip into totalitarianism.”

Sophomore Emily Shaw brought up the “Colgate bubble,” arguing that expulsion would only reinforce its existing parameters.

“A lot of people have been hurt by this incident, but a lot of good has come out of it,” Shaw said.

After the debate, Vice President and Dean of Diversity and Associate Professor of Africana and Latin American Studies Keenan Grenell shared how other schools had also experienced active racism immediately after the nation embraced President Barack Obama’s historic election.

“I felt as though a lot of the discussion had died down since the initial incident,” Grenell said. “But the heightened interest I’ve seen here tells me that the campus is still aware.” He further added that the discussion from this debate may play a role in future University policy.

Colgate’s Debate Society practices British Parliamentarian style debate. It is proudly ranked number three in the country and 16th in the world. This weekend, the Society was awarded “Debate Program of the Year” by the Society for More and Better Argumentation.

“I’m impressed with the quality of tonight’s debate,” Anwar said. “Our younger debaters are making us proud.”

When asked whether she was nervous, especially since this was a public event, Geffner replied, “Are you kidding? This is my favorite thing ever! It’s so much fun!”