The Controversy Surrounding Cutten: We’re Still Here

During my first semester at Colgate, I first heard the name “Cutten” in reference to the person rather than the residential hall. I was still naïve and ignorant, too blindsided by my love of Colgate to even consider the possibility that it could have a shameful past. In that moment, part of me still did not believe that Colgate allowed George Barton Cutten, a eugenic scientist and Nazi-sympathizer, to serve as the institution’s president from 1922 to1942. I did not want to believe that Colgate still memorializes Cutten’s name on a residential hall today.

I made it my goal to convince Colgate to change the name of Cutten Hall on that day; however, my need for this change grew upon being forced to live in Cutten Hall. Everyday, I walk by a bronze plaque that praises Cutten’s expansion of the school’s endowment, curriculum and population size. While nothing on that plaque is untrue, it fails to mention the other side of Cutten: the racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, white supremacist. There is no mention of Cutten’s implementation of some of the strongest admissions quotas in the country, permitting less than one percent of an incoming class to be Jewish or African American. Cutten actively worked against inclusionary policies and should no longer be honored on a campus that now claims to value diversity.

Through the efforts of the SGA and dedicated faculty members, the administration has committed to changing the name of Cutten Hall. While I have been a proponent of this change, I certainly cannot take credit for it. I never had to stage the protest against Cutten which I had been planning. Yet, I did get the opportunity to participate in a small protest against Cutten last month.

Some people have come up to me in recent weeks asking why I staged a protest against Cutten after the administration agreed to change the building’s name. Firstly, I did not stage this protest. I found out about it an hour before it was scheduled to start from my roommate and frantically changed out of pajamas in order to participate. The organizers of the protest were two members of the Illuminator, an art collective based out of New York City that projects words and images on buildings in order to fight against injustice, who were invited here by the Art and Art History and Film and Media Studies Departments.

Upon their arrival, they asked Colgate students where on campus it would be most impactful to shine the projections. Multiple people said Cutten Hall. The purpose of this protest was not to be anti-administration. Rather, this protest, in my opinion at least, strove to raise awareness about Colgate’s troubled past. I wanted to honor the Jewish and other minority students who did not have the privilege to feel welcomed and safe at Colgate like I do.

While the Illuminator and a handful of students were setting up in front of Cutten Hall, specifically Shepardson where I live, I was thinking about what words would be most meaningful to project. Ultimately, after careful deliberation, I decided to write and project a sign that said “We’re Still Here” with a Jewish star. As I saw this message sweeping over my bedroom window and the residential hall which has caused me so much discomfort, I had tears in my eyes. Cutten failed to prevent Jews from being a part of the Colgate community.

The following projections broadened the narrative to include Cutten’s persecution of other minorities and shed light on Colgate’s continuing struggle with diversity: “I’m Cutten Racism Out” and “Colgate racism is REAL.” Two more phrases were projected, but, given their profane and graphic nature, I will not mention them here. I will admit to writing one of them (to the dismay of my parents), and if you are interested in seeing it, please visit my Facebook page.

This protest was one of the most meaningful experiences I have had at Colgate thus far. Everyone was cheering, knowing that Cutten would have been appalled to see these words on a building associated with his name. Even after his name is officially removed from the residential hall, I hope the anti-Cutten movement will continue. If we solely remove his name without further conversation, then we will be whitewashing history. It will be as if Cutten never existed and never fostered a campus of discrimination. So I urge you to say Cutten’s name and to educate yourself on Cutten’s policies while at Colgate… because we are still here and we are not going anywhere.