Colgate Students Delve Into Diversity

Spending the last weekend of winter vacation in a foreign place with no television, no radio and shaky cell phone reception sounds like the makings of a pretty horrible time. Yet a group of Colgate students who did this very thing found it to be an enlightening, innovative and altogether magnificent experience. These students, along with several faculty members, participated in a diversity initiative called Skin Deep. Skin Deep is no weekend excursion. It is an intense workshop that takes members of the Colgate community and forces them to confront the issues of social oppression, identification and conformity. Over 26 students participated, each bringing a unique and personal perspective to the program. Many discussions explored the issue of diversity on the Colgate campus. “We discussed what our ‘ideal Colgate’ would be, the barriers that would prevent aspects of it from occurring, and how we could overcome those barriers,” first-year participant Elizabeth Bubriski said. “We talked a lot about the problem of racism here, and how often so many people believe that it’s not an issue, when really there are so many things daily that they do themselves that contribute to this problem.” The students involved felt a sense of security and trust when they discussed these sometimes painfully sensitive issues. “People truly opened up and let us all into their hearts and their past,” sophomore Amanda Pedraja said. “A lot of times looking at someone’s exterior you automatically assume so much about them, but this retreat taught me that there are so many different levels to people. There were tears shed and laughs shared, but in the end, I know I learned something from each one of those people. Not something about them, but an individual lesson they each taught me, unknown to them.” Skin Deep was held at the Summer Hill Country Inn in Sherburne, a place uncannily ideal for the event. The Inn generates its own power supply, grows and prepares its own food and its decorum consists of only hand-made furnishings. Very few electronics are allowed. “It lends itself beautifully to the intention of Skin Deep,” Director of the ALANA Cultural Center Jaime Nolan said. The setting and the students involved created an atmosphere of inspiration and comfort. “It’s interesting,” Nolan said. “I would say last year we had more white students than this year. But, in terms of the diversity within diversity, it was extremely diverse. There was great representation from the African American community, the Latino community, the Asian community. There were some white students, and there were representatives of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community as well. So, in that sense, it was diverse.” The next goal for Skin Deep is to bring the program to campus. “I wish this program could be brought to the broader Colgate community, and I think we are all trying to do so in some way,” Pedraja said. “It’s a program that not only affects students of color but the Colgate community as a whole. The circle we created there won’t be broken, and the stories shared will only continue to be absorbed and incorporated into my life each day.”Nolan is optimistic about what Skin Deep can do for Colgate. “There is a force, there is that energy, that wants Colgate to be more reflective of the world,” she said, “and yet what we come up against is, well, Colgate has a history of privilege and a particular population being here. I think Colgate is a very fascinating place of contradiction. To me, those contradictions are where the opportunities are. It’s in that questioning of the contradiction that there is so much possibility.”