Alumni Council Column: Thinking Domestically

Deb Sobelman '08

On the eve of this year’s presidential election, I stood proudly behind a maroon banner representing Colgate at a college fair in an upscale suburban New Jersey town. Eager, anxious students and their parents flooded my table for two hours. They asked about future career prospects, club sports and – most notably – study abroad. It is a question that was likely being asked of many representatives that night, but I was not just being asked if study abroad existed. I was being asked in the context of bursting the Colgate bubble.

I have seen it time and time again from prospective students – that look of hesitance that comes over them when they are told the size of Hamilton, New York. “Is it claustrophobic?” some students ask. “Is there enough to do?” others inquire. But the chief concern is often about how, in a town the size of Hamilton, they will fulfill their valid yet somewhat idealistic need to become “citizens of the world” during their four years as college students. After spending many windy Saturdays as a student tour guide on the hill, and now as an alumni active in admissions volunteering, I have learned that this question can be quickly answered by singing the praises of Colgate’s robust study abroad program. The prospective student happily walks away from our table picturing themselves watching the world go by from a café in Paris or immersing themselves in Japanese culture in Kyoto.

And until now, I too believed this was a reasonable answer. I have always believed in Colgate’s balance of learning within and outside of the “bubble” we have all called home. But the week of the college fair, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. And he was elected in large part by Americans who are not well represented on our beloved hill or at that Paris café. Perhaps to truly expand beyond the bubble and understand the scope of influence in today’s world, Colgate students cannot be “limited” to learning in and about the cultures of the world.

Perhaps, in addition to the amazing international exposure Colgate provides, we need to start educating students more about Americans right here in our own country. Whether or not we agree with the views of every American, particularly when it comes to their support of our country’s president-elect, it is our responsibility to learn. Increased education about and exposure to rural America, uneducated America and working-class America would not only increase Colgate students’ ability to navigate an unfortunately fragmented country, but it may even breed the empathy needed to help bring it together.

The Alumni Council represents the 32,000 living Colgate alums and is comprised of 56 voting members across all eras, regions and demographics of the alumni body. They meet three times a year on campus to discuss issues with university administrators, staff, faculty, and undergraduates — voicing the views of fellow alumni in an advisory capacity while also promoting engagement between Colgate, current students and graduates.