Citizenship and Torchlight

Jeremy Garson

Enrolling in a class on citizenship this semester has taught me a considerable amount about a sense of belonging. Part of the challenge of citizenship is eliminating the exclusion that non-citizens experience. I have come to the conclusion that we cannot remedy large problems, like immigration, without learning to engage one another equally in the public sphere. An example of this public sphere is our local Colgate community.

Most recently, Colgate’s Torchlight ceremony has been the center of a heated debate. While it is difficult to put a finger on when it started, it is impossible to ignore that people feel marginalized, traumatized and victimized by the procession of torches. This is because hateful groups, such as the KKK and Nazis, have wielded this symbol for oppression. Whether this blazing emblem, also seen on the Statue of Liberty and Colgate’s crest, is linked to exclusion, our recent interactions with one another make me think twice about the process of achieving equitable solutions.

Konosioni released a video and petition calling for people to carry candles as a form of activism against the longstanding ceremony. The responses in Colgate University’s 2017 Facebook page became a spectacle of assaulting each other’s beliefs. I’m not just writing to pout about this. At the same time, I do not have a concrete proposal for how to ensure we as a community are sensitive to one another while expressing passionate beliefs. Here’s one thing I know: We all want the best for Colgate. Keeping this intention in mind is critical for dialogues.

When I look at my time here at Colgate, something that stands out is the unequivocal respect peers demonstrate in the classroom. Something inside me suggests there is nothing precluding this style of conversation from permeating our community. Confronting new ideas and inventing ceremonies that blend tradition into modernity is brilliant, but we all know these seamless transitions are extremely rare.

Acclimating to Colgate took time for most, if not all of us. Our lives before Colgate bleed into the fabric of this space. Our every action may unintentionally harm others. I understand why people want to carry torch. I understand why people will not carry a torch. I do not understand why students who’s identities are woven together by Colgate will mince words in unproductive environments known to generate more hate.

After reading through comments on an online platform, I was left wondering if people would say the same things in person. Would the intensity remain the same? I applaud Konosioni for shedding some light on an issue that is ironically dark right now; however, it is disheartening that some individuals were not involved in vocalizing their position before the movement began. The Class of 2017 and Colgate as a whole, is a resilient community capable of becoming stronger from division.