Ushering in a New Era of Campus Activism

Since the initial public outrage that was sparked by the discovery of racist graffiti in an Alumni Hall bathroom several weeks ago, a group of Colgate students have taken it upon themselves to make sure that the currently elevated awareness of the prevalence of racism and discrimination on campus does not fade until actual, tangible changes are made. The group calls itself the “Unity Coalition” and, along with running several recent solidarity events, including the Chapel Speak-Out and the pre-Thanksgiving Unity March, they have drawn up a Diversity Initiative Proposal which provides specific goals for increasing racial awareness on campus, as well as a timeline dictating deadlines by which the proposed reforms should be instated.

The coalition first presented its Diversity Initiative Proposal to the Faculty Affairs Committee, which then presented it to the entire Colgate faculty this past Monday. The initiatives this proposal presents include tour guide reform, mandatory preservation of the Harlem Renaissance Center (HRC), the addition of a multi-cultural sorority to campus, professional development reform, the implementation of a social justice symposium, changes to the required reading list for first year students, Core Curriculum reform and a demand that President Chopp make a statement concerning the current state of diversity on campus in the next issue of the Colgate Scene.

Over the past few weeks, the Unity Coalition has put long hours in to completing the Diversity Initiative Proposal. In the proposal, everything from general reform strategies, to specific ideas-such as an improved summer reading list, including Beloved by Toni Morrison, Emma by Jane Austen and Race Matters by Cornell West-are covered.

In terms of CORE reform, the proposal both explains why change is necessary, and details a vague syllabus for a new discrimination-conscious course. This syllabus basically outlines a class which would discuss issues ranging from racism to classism, heterosexism, religious intolerance and group dynamics. Assistant Professor of Educational Studies John Palmer noted that one way in which this plan could be improved would be to focus more on infusing diversity discussions into the curricula of all introductory courses, as opposed to just one. This way, students would learn, both “socially and academically,” across the curriculum.

One of the most controversial items in the proposal concerns the call for a new, multi-cultural sorority. Since the recent suspension of Kappa Alpha Theta, the need for a new sorority at Colgate has become more pressing than ever and the Unity Coalition is jumping at the opportunity. In attempting to choose a new sorority, if one is chosen at all, the University will favor Greek organizations which previously held charters at Colgate. As a result, the Unity Coalition is most seriously considering supporting Alpha Kappa Alpha: a historically black sorority which held a charter at the university in 1992.

Some opponents of this idea believe that establishing a historically black sorority would only add to the number of racially exclusionary systems on campus. However, in their report, the Unity Coalition clarified that, “Since all students have to go through a rush process, all of the sororities will get a chance to meet with the minority students. We believe that not only will minority students be attracted to the new sorority, after having more exposure to the other Greek houses, we feel that it will increase the minority membership of all organizations.” Additionally, a recent petition indicated that there is more than sufficient interest, from both white and minority students, to assume that such a sorority would survive and flourish on Colgate’s campus.

Another proposal that junior Javi Diaz is in the process of perfecting is tentatively labeled the “Colgate Creed.”

“What this entails is bringing together the community’s ideals on issues of diversity, tolerance and respect in a clear statement,” Diaz said, “and hopefully, with a lot of hard work, this will come into effect as school policy for the incoming class year.” Essentially, all incoming students would have to sign a pledge, in conjunction with the Academic Honor Pledge, promising that they would recognize the importance of diversity and exhibit tolerance and acceptance of every member of the Colgate community.

Recently, the Unity Coalition has been struggling to retain its autonomy and hold strong to its original mission while simultaneously cooperating with the administration, as the implementation of their plan relies on administrative support.

“A lot of people didn’t come to last Friday’s meeting because people weren’t sure whether it was a [Student Government Association] push or really something in favor of the coalition,” senior Mike Walden said about the group’s most recent, multi-organization meeting.

While most of the actions and demands put forth by the Unity Coalition respond to recent events, the group has faced some opposition.

“There hasn’t been much response yet from the administration,” senior Jamil Jude, another member of the Unity Coalition, said. “That is a big problem. … They are only sending that message here, not to the Colgate community outside of Hamilton (alumni, trustees, other interested parties). Not enough has been done to contact those parties. Even with the Diversity Initiative Proposal, if there is not enough effort to reach those who make decisions (trustees and alums) then no long-term change will happen.”

In addition to certain administrators, there are also students and professors on campus who have found fault with some of the actions the Unity Council has taken. For example, Associate Professor of Political Science Barry Shain is critical of the mass signing of the Birmingham Pledge which took place immediately following the community-wide Unity March held on campus on Saturday, November 15. This nation-wide pledge was initiated through a grassroots effort to spread racial tolerance and begins with the three statements: “I believe that every person has worth as an individual, I believe that every person is entitled to dignity and respect, regardless of race or color. I believe that every thought and every act of racial prejudice is harmful; if it is my thought or act, then it is harmful to me as well as to others.”

While, at first glance, most people would classify these statements as merely representative of modern-day morality, Shain argues that this pledge’s intent to designate a correct “belief”-something which is inherently religious or spiritual in nature-is completely inappropriate in an academic setting. It is important to note that this is not necessarily a criticism of the idea behind the pledge but, instead, it points out that the mission of the University is to educate rather than indoctrinate.

The Unity Coalition sets out to force the Colgate community to really think about their role in the current state of racial relations on campus and recognize the validity of these long-awaited reforms.

“It’s really about bringing students together in understanding,” Walden said. “Even if the University says yes to everything, it doesn’t matter unless the campus puts it into action.”