Editor’s Column: An Invisible Reflection of Colgate’s Ignorance

Theo Asher, Colgate Sports Editor

I’ve been on the Maroon-News every single semester of college, and I’ve never written one of these. The entire time I’ve been involved with the newspaper, my sole focus has been sports. I was a staff writer for both sports sections as a first-year, a National Sports editor during my sophomore year and now I am the Colgate Sports editor. Yes, I know, an inspiring story of perseverance and overcoming obstacles.

I had a plan for this column. Being a three-year sports specialist for the Maroon-News, I was going to write about my experience exploring the world of sports media and how that has related to my individual experience as a Colgate student. But then the article would have just been an arrogant way of talking myself up to the rest of the school and validating myself as a kid who knows sports. In the process of recognizing this privilege, I was able to contrive a way to speak on something I am passionate about while remaining honest, humble and earnest.

Colgate’s privilege is on another level of ignorance. We’ve had enough social and political injustice occur on this campus in the past five years to realize that despite the wonderful strides of progressivism we make on a daily basis, there are destructive, intolerant biases in our midst. They manifest themselves in sinister, immaterial shapes that are almost always undetectable by common social consciousness. But most of you know this already.

One of the least-noticed and most sinister iterations of social injustice and intolerance on Colgate’s campus is that of the mentioning and treatment of individuals with special needs. Before I move on, I need to stress that this article is not meant to blame every Colgate student for their complacency, but to act as more of a plea to incorporate this issue into our lexicon of social justice.

I’ve been active in advocacy for individuals with developmental disabilities for almost a decade now. It started out with my Bar Mitzvah community service project to train and practice baseball with children with physical disabilities. I can safely say that this program, the Challenger Division, was integral in shaping the man I am today. I derive much of my character from the spirit and energy of the six years I participated in the program. Baseball is an immensely challenging yet beautiful sport, and becoming close with these people over those years gave me a perspective on life unique onto its own. The simple, transcendent joy that sports provide to humans of all ages brought out the beauty of these children’s spirits and minds, unlocking their vistas of happiness in worlds dominated by doubt, frustration and mistreatment. I learned more about positivity from these people than I ever have from any other Colgate student in my three years here.

The profound experience I have had with individuals with developmental disabilities brought me to join Colgate Buddies, a Center of Outreach, Volunteerism and Education (COVE) club. The purpose of the club parallels and expands upon my project back home. To promote inclusion, we organize biweekly events with institutions of secondary education for individuals with down syndrome and other disabilities. Our mission is to create inclusivity through the easiest mode we know as college studentshanging out, doing activities and, of course, eating food. The students I have met from Otsego Academy (Pathfinder Village) and Heritage Farm have continued to amaze me with their pure enjoyment of life and appreciation for kindness most Colgate students cannot comprehend.

Heritage Farm is particularly special in that many of the adults who live in and engage with the space work on Colgate’s campus. You can find them in Frank or the Coop, servicing the grounds; they are a few of the many unsung heroes who make sure our experience as liberal arts students is as clean and easy as possible. They are excellent at what they do, and, most importantly, they enjoy what they do.

I have spent a lot of time up the hill over the past three years. I have not once seen another able-bodied student like myself say as much as “thank you” to one of these people. We spill food and drinks all the time, and often it is one of these people who rushes to the scene to clean it up. This is one of the many underhanded, sinister ways that social injustice is perpetuated through this particular avenue of mistreatment.

Because most of us do not encounter non-able-bodied individuals in our daily lives, we feel no need to evaluate our biases. This is different for issues of race and gender on campus that confront students directly. Granted, these issues are enormously important to the cause of social justice on campus. However, I would argue that at the crux of affective politics of intolerance is the notion that acts can go unpunished, and discourses and treatment of individuals with special needs is one of the most incriminating examples.

This issue can be summarized by one word that I hear every single day on Colgate’s campus: retarded. I am not going to take this limited space to educate you on the malice of that word, because you already know it. I’m not going to educate you on why you should try to be friends with individuals with special needs and show up to my club, because you won’t.

So, take some time to reflect on your privilege as an able-bodied Colgate student. Consider the ways in which you perpetuate mistreatment of innocent, loving people with physical and mental disabilities with small, underhanded comments. The solution is not to treat people with disabilities like they are others for the sake of acknowledging them or being nice. The solution is to annex this issue into your lexicon of important social justice issues on campus, and maybe offer a positive comment of appreciation to the next person in Frank who cleans up your spilled chocolate milk.

Contact Theo Asher at [email protected].