As the semester kicked into high-gear, Mabel Dart Colegrove Common’s 1619 Project Wellness Discussion Group started meeting again with a second group of students on Oct. 12. Although this semester’s group is following a similar structure to last semester’s, last semester’s facilitators, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Africana and Latin American Studies April Baptiste, and Senior Lecturer in Writing and Rhetoric and Coordinator of Second Language Writing Suzanne Spring, have selected new student facilitators to take their place. This semester, Intergroup Dialogue (IGD) Interns, junior Hilary Almanza and senior Pomelo Wu will be leading the discussion group. While Baptiste and Spring played major roles in bringing the discussion group to students, both Baptiste and Spring credit Colgate Hello for bringing the project to campus through a 1619 club offered to Colgate staff and faculty.
Assistant Director of Sustainability and Program Coordinator for Environmental Studies Pamela Gramlich is heavily involved in Colgate Hello. The group is one of Colgate’s three employee resource programs that focus on “bringing together individuals from all corners of the institution to create personal and professional connections and conversations,” as stated on their website.
According to Gramlich, Colgate Hello searched for innovative ways to connect Colgate faculty and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. In alignment with the university’s initiative of recognizing and condemning racism at Colgate, Colgate Hello understood it had a very important role to play.
“We considered our role in helping employees learn more about our racist history as a country, how these systems inform the world that we work in today and how we can work on using this [Colgate Hello] platform to ignite change on our campus,” Gramlich said.
With these goals at the forefront of Colgate Hello’s mission, Gramlich and her colleagues developed a 1619 Podcast Club for staff and faculty over the summer.
Although Colgate Hello’s Podcast Club was the basis for the 1619 Project Wellness Discussion Group for students, it was conducted through a different structure. Similar to the discussion group for students, Colgate Hello’s 1619 club members participated in deeply personal conversations which were prompted by a set of discussion questions. The club for faculty and staff also met in small groups. Unlike the student discussion group, however, participants could select their own groups.
“Some departments registered as a team to go through this course together. You could also register individually and be paired randomly with people across campus,” Gramlich noted.
Another key difference between Colgate Hello’s club versus the group for students is that the club’s dialogues were self-facilitated, with faculty and staff participating in “self-facilitated dialogue each week after listening to an episode of the podcast,” according to Gramlich.
In response to positive feedback from faculty and staff participants, Gramlich proposed the idea of a 1619 podcast discussion group for students to Colgate’s Inter-group Dialogue (IGD) Counsel.
“It was really important to consider how we could have a continued impact through this program,” Gramlich said.
Initially, Gramlich and her colleague Lesley Chapman, who serves as Virtual Resources Curator in the Department of Art and Art History, intended the 1619 Podcast Discussion Group to replace the Fall 2020 semester’s IGD Brown Bags. After discussing the boundless possibilities of a half-semester 1619 Project discussion group with Professor Baptiste, however, their initial plans were amended.
“[Baptiste] brought it to Mabel Dart Colegrove Commons,” Gramlich excitedly remarked. “She and Professor Spring adapted it to student needs.”
According to student participants of the Podcast Discussion Group, Baptiste’s and Spring’s adaptation of Colgate Hello’s 1619 podcast club was influential. According to first-year students Thomas Butler and Sofi Gaitian Wolfe, the discussion group enabled students to apply what they learned from the podcast to their real lives.
Gaitan Wolfe also added that the group encouraged students to recognize the power dynamics that have in the past and in the present defined American society, sharing that her favorite part of the discussion group was the freedom students had to ask questions about these power dynamics.
“I remember we got kind of sidetracked with questions about cultural appropriation. I thought it was really interesting how people were asking broad and open questions about what you would consider cultural appropriation, how we should deal with it, how it can be seen in the future — and it just kind of became a conversation,”she remarked.
Speaking with Butler, he explained how the podcast and discussion group gave him insight into truths of American history that he had not learned in his high school history courses.
“I was really surprised by how many things in this podcast that I had never heard before or learned about. Especially in the first episode of the podcast with Abraham Lincoln and how everyone thinks of him as the great emancipator, but the real reason that he gave the Emancipation Proclamation was more of a war measure more than because he thought it was morally the right thing to do,” Butler said.
Although learning surprising facts about the contexts of American history is often shocking and unsettling, a central purpose of this discussion group is to guide students through their reactions and understandings of these rattling realities.
Gaitan Wolfe noted that she is thankful for this discussion group, not only because it continued her education about these often surprising realities, but because it has also been “humbling.”
“I have so much to learn,” she reflected. “And because this is a predominately white school, I guess we can mildly forget about these facts — or at least not keep them at the forefront of our minds … it [the podcast group] was a nice reminder.”