Cicero’s E-mail Not Meant To Offend Students

Jake Seip '07

This past week, Colgate students of the college received an e-mail from Dean Adam Weinberg denouncing an e-mail that “tries to connect our students of color to last weekend’s incident at the Palace.” However, most students did not read that original e-mail nor do they have a sense of the original context in which the e-mail was distributed.

The original e-mail “Colgate of Tomorrow,” written by Jeff Cicero ’06, lampoons Colgate’s acquisition of Greek housing. It states that due to minority involvement in the Palace incident, Colgate has resolved to acquire the “corporeal vessels (bodies)” and bioelectric collectives (souls)” of minority students. The e-mail goes on to say “[Colgate] believe[s] that administratively controlled minorities provides the best platform to help students develop as independent critical thinkers and thoughtful, engaged citizens.”

Cicero’s language clearly parodies the legal rhetoric Colgate’s “new vision” for residential education. In good humor, the e-mail explores the frightening ease with which Colgate’s discriminatory policies against Greeks could be applied to other groups on campus. The e-mail makes reference to specific individuals and groups (Rodney Mason ’06 and the Brothers) to add authenticity. Also, it is signed by David Hale, treasurer of the University.

University President Rebecca Chopp and Dean Weinberg label Cicero’s e-mail overtly racist. In the most recent campus-wide e-mail, Dean Weinberg called it an “attack [on] students of color.” Chopp echoed Weinberg’s sentiments in a recent meeting with student leaders. But is Cicero’s satire really an attack on students of color? No. The e-mail does not target the minority population nor does it seriously suggest that students should be owned by the school. The idea that “the Administration is going to force all Colgate students of color to sell their bodies and souls to the university because of the Palace event,” as Dean Weinberg states it, is obviously absurd.

Fraternities, like minorities (and they overlap), are groups that have been stereotyped as ‘problematic.’ Occasionally, narrow-minded people suggest that policies should be enacted to keep these troublesome groups under control. One example of such narrow-mindedness immediately comes to mind: the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Japanese immigrants were deemed a threat to the welfare of the nation, forced to sell their houses, and herded into government residences. But policies like this are no longer in place today because they are racist and just flat out morally wrong.

Why are racist policies wrong? I feel tempted to say “well, because they’re racist.” But, at the heart, racism is wrong because it assumes that stereotypes adequately describe the individual. Racism allows people to make the assumption that a broad, varied and diverse group can be characterized by a single set of traits. Hence, racism obscures individual characteristics and reduces a person to his or her stereotype.

It is here where I hope you will see the clever satire of Cicero’s e-mail. Enacting sanctions against minority students as a whole would be absurd because the idea that institutions can rely on racial stereotypes to guide policy is absurd. And yet, Colgate does rely on stereotypes of Greek organizations to formulate policies that severely impinge upon the freedoms of fraternities and sororities. Moreover, Colgate’s policy fails to address Greek Life on an individual basis and assumes that a diverse group of fraternities can be characterized by a single set of traits. Cicero’s e-mail is not an attack on minority students; rather, it points out the close similarity in the ideologies underpinning racist policies and Colgate University’s treatment of fraternities and sororities.

I am particularly upset with the way Dean Weinberg and President Chopp have gone about addressing Jeff Cicero’s e-mail. One of the things that makes Colgate a special place is its tight-knit atmosphere and the mutual bond that all Colgate Students feel. But by demonizing Cicero’s e-mail through a campus wide distribution, the administration made people believe that a member of our community was “attacking” minority students as a whole. Furthermore, because most students had not read the original e-mail, the administration’s e-mail – which only further dramatizes the original – has played a significant role in making students of color feel threatened by another member of the student body. I personally know Jeff to be kind, fair, and extremely considerate; he is most certainly not racist.

Another problem with the Administration’s treatment of the incident is the way it has used Jeff’s e-mail to try to associate opposition of University ownership of Greek housing with racism. I’m drawn in particular to an excerpt from Dean Weinberg’s last e-mail: “I understand that some students disagree with acquisition and hold strong feelings about that decision. But that does not give them a right to attack students of color, especially the Brothers who are one of our strongest student organizations.” There are a few things wrong with this statement. First, it gives the impression that students who believe that Colgate does not have the right to coerce Greek organization into selling their houses are attacking students of color. Nobody is attacking students of color. Second, it implies that many students (plural) in the oppositional group are involved in the “attack” when in fact the e-mail is the voice of one individual.

The administration has taken an e-mail originally circulated among a small group of students, blown it out of proportion, and then used it to try to alienate Greeks and Greek supporters from the campus community. Dean Weinberg and President Chopp are too well-educated to have missed the satire in Cicero’s e-mail. That fact draws attention to their divisiveness in the matter. At the cost of campus unity, the administration has furthered its political ends by demonizing its opposition.

It is my hope that Colgate students will see through the administration’s attempt to divide the student body. Further, I hope that people around campus will give Cicero the benefit of the doubt and see him for the kind, considerate and concerned person he truly is as opposed to the hateful racist that the administration makes him out to be.