Students Share Voices and Thoughts on Race in MLK Week Panel

Karenna Warden, Assistant Sports Editor

With panelists seated shoulder-to-shoulder in a tight semicircle of chairs near the edge of the stage, even before conversation began, it was clear that the afternoon event was to be one of closeness and vulnerability. Behind the semicircle was a projector screen, which displayed panelists and audience members joining the discussion on Zoom. It was Wednesday, Jan. 26, and all were gathered for the panel discussion titled “A Reflection on Race at Colgate University,” a component of the Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Week programs hosted by Colgate’s ALANA Cultural Center and led by professors Mark Stern and John Palmer of the education department, who were joined by five student panelists.

Introductions, following opening remarks from the two professors, revealed a student panel of great ethnic, geographic and economic diversity. This arrangement was intentional, as explained by Stern. 

“When we think about a panel that is going to be called ‘Reflections on Race at Colgate,’ the expectation is that the students or the people involved will most likely be people of color, and that fails to recognize the foundational and fundamental ways that whiteness is a race.” 

The group then delved into conversation. Palmer asked questions to the students seated beside him, opening the floor for each one to share personal anecdotes, experiences and broad views on race and discrimination at Colgate and in other spheres. 

“We saw our role as facilitating a space for student voices to be audible around these kinds of questions,” said Stern.

The group began by discussing race consciousness and their individual personal experiences with the concept. Two of the student panelists credited their participation in Palmer’s sophomore residential seminar (SRS), titled “Race, White Supremacy and Education.” 

Other panelists, like first-year Nia-Patrice Lewis, expressed that as a person of color, she was forced into this consciousness. Lewis, hailing from London, England, was recommended to join the panel by a classmate. 

As the panelists also discussed casual racism at Colgate, Lewis explained that she has previously felt pushed into the position of “co-professor” in the classroom, and asked to speak on behalf of an entire community.

Other student panelists shared experiences of casual racism from varied walks of campus, from observing disproportionate aggressive crowd behavior towards a Black basketball player at a recent varsity game to hearing peers use offensive or outdated racial language in the classroom.

The panel ended with audience questions and closing words from both Stern and Palmer. Frankness characterized the panel, especially in these final moments. All panelists spoke bluntly about issues in the intersection between academia and race at Colgate and in general. Sophomore Annabelle Adelizzi, a member of the audience, took note of this candidness. 

“Everyone was very honest about what they see here [at Colgate] without condemning it or judging it harshly, but saying it and putting it out in the space so that we know it’s there and can hopefully work towards making things better.” 

Adelizzi took Palmer’s SRS class and was a classmate of various students on the panel. She came to the event both eager to support her classmates and listen to student reflections on race in the medium of a panel. 

“Sometimes at Colgate, there’s a divide between what happens in the classroom and what happens outside the classroom … the panel kind of brought those academic topics out of the classroom and into real life.”

Lewis hopes that the anecdotes and words she shared on the panel leave the audience and the larger Colgate community with lessons they can take with them moving forward.

“For my peers that are [people of color] (POC), I feel as if my main goal for them is to acquire the vocabulary that they need to articulate their experiences, getting these words in this medium will make a lot more people feel comfortable and explain the things they go through.”

Lewis hopes that this panel brings out in students an increased motivation to participate in discourse on campus. 

“You can put a number of people in a room and tell them to discuss racism, and if nobody wants to, you won’t get an authentic answer, you won’t get anything that’s any form of change. I really hope that this is an insightful thing so people can engage more with one another moving forward.”