Editor’s Column: Making Change Last

Before I’d even stepped foot into a Colgate classroom, I was a part of The Colgate Maroon-News. I joined during pre-orientation, and have since dedicated the past 3.5 years of my collegiate career to the oldest college weekly in America. It is an immense source of pride for me, and I consider the Maroon-News to be my highest priority at Colgate. Yes, my academic classes matter and there will be nothing on my diploma to reflect the time I’ve spent on Colgate’s newspaper – but I’ve skipped lectures, choosing instead to sequester myself in the Maroon-News office, working alongside the staff to publish a last-minute article about a protest that happened up the hill. My parents didn’t even bat an eye when I told them that I’d chosen an extracurricular over academics – they were glad I’d found something to be passionate about, but urged me to attend class from then on. 

I think this is a trend for so many of us at Colgate – we come here to study and pursue academic interests, but find our passions along the way. I’m so honored to join my co-editor-in-chief to lead the Maroon-News this year, our 150th anniversary, but am also left wondering about the impact I’ve made on campus. Will the things I’ve done here matter? Will it all be forgotten once I leave campus in May?

There are so many things that make me think Colgate has a bad case of memory loss. We don’t remember the student leaders who have sought to change our campus for better, and we don’t honor the pledges we’ve made over the years. 

When I was a first-year student, the Association of Critical Collegians (ACC) led a sit-in lasting over 100 hours outside of the Hurwitz Admission Center, protesting university policies and attitudes and urging a more inclusive campus. Following the protest, the university published a website titled “Colgate for All,” meant to keep students up-to-date on the measures taken to respond to student demands. The website hasn’t been updated since March 2015, and former President Jeffrey Herbst and other members of the administration who negotiated a deal with the ACC have since left Colgate. The students who led the protest have graduated. The Class of 2018 is the last class who remembers this protest, and we’ll all be gone in a matter of months. On the two year anniversary of the protest, students reflected on the lack of change that has occurred since Colgate for All was announced. Who makes sure change lasts once student leaders graduate? 

This is a pattern that was quickly repeated. In 2015, about 200 students formed a human chain around the Center for Women’s Studies followed by a speak-out, during which the protest’s organizers, members of Colgate Forward, shared a list of 11 demands to Colgate’s administration that sought to strengthen Colgate’s efforts to combat sexual assault on campus by adopting a survivor-centric approach in addition to the university’s pre-existing prevention programs. Some of their demands have been met, including the introduction of SANE nurses.  But the administrator who pledged to meet these demands, former Vice President and Dean of the College Suzy Nelson, has since vacated her post at Colgate, now serving in an administrative role at MIT. The women of Colgate Forward who organized the protest have since graduated. I will repeat the question that I think is so essential to this article: Who makes sure change lasts once the voices calling for change leave campus?

I was abroad last semester when the glue gun incident happened. I remember receiving panicked texts from friends, and getting an email from the official Colgate Alert system that there was an active shooter on campus. Many students asserted that this all happened because the suspected student was a black man – an unarmed black man. I wasn’t on campus, and I can’t speak to the conversations that took place in the days following. But of all the conversations had, and the tears shed – will they be remembered? Or will it all be forgotten, simply eroded by time?

This erosion is a revolving door that will never cease. The nature of the collegiate experience is that, at some point, it ends. But that doesn’t mean that the time students spend here attempting to create institutional change is wasted. How do we hold ourselves and others accountable for the change we’ve sought to create while inhabiting this space?

I was talking to my roommate about this very issue, and she reminded me that true leaders teach others how to lead. But the life-span of student memory is so brief, and the thousands of students across campus have various things occupying their time. Can we really ensure that an underclassman will keep the ball rolling? 

Ultimately, I’m pessimistic about long-term effects any of us can have unless we actively engage in the preservation of these movements in our memories. We must remind each other that we have promised to be better. We must teach our successors to strive to create a more inclusive community. If we fail to do that, then maybe we weren’t leaders after all. Leaders must teach others how to lead, because at some point, none of us will be here anymore.

Colgate has such a long history, and the Maroon-News has spent 150 years reporting on this complex, at times controversial, history. It is my hope that this record helps the future leaders who walk up this godforsaken hill to effectuate lasting change.

Contact Megan Leo at [email protected].