When I was taking part in the tiresome process of orientation at the start of this year, the faculty at Colgate highlighted the accepting atmosphere and the respect exuded by students towards one another on a daily basis. They went to great lengths to ensure us that we were entering into a place where we could truly be ourselves, able to embrace the uniqueness that is our identities. They made the Colgate social scene out to be a place of upmost respect and safety, stressing important issues such as consent and intelligent drinking. We were told what it meant to be an active bystander and encouraged to reach out to any who seem in danger. Over the past two months, however, I have come to realize that we students do not always live up to the ideal imprinted into our conception of Colgate in that first week. It was like an elephant in the room, one I was happy to ignore. That is, until I went with my brother to the performance of “This is Not a Play About Sex” (TINAPAS), and the elephant was forced into the center of attention. The content of the play showed me that this is a conversation that needs to happen, and ignoring it does nothing but exacerbate the problem. I am sorry, but we here at Colgate are not perfect, and it is time to accept responsibility for that in order to work towards something better.
For me, the most jarring scene of the play came when the cast portrayed a late-night trip on the cruiser. As one character endlessly harassed another, forcing himself into the individual’s personal space and using derogatory terms, the other people on the stage did absolutely nothing; they allowed the scene to play out, and though there was obvious disapproval, no action was taken. At the culmination of this scene, the character being submitted to derogatory harassment ran from the cruiser, and was followed instantly by their harasser. Once again, no other character made a move to help; no one acted according to the values stressed during the orientation we have all gone through one year or another. There was no applause following this scene, and rightfully so.
Another scene of the play that stood out to me was a speech given from the perspective of a transgender individual. The scene shed some light on the true nature of the “acceptance” here at Colgate when it comes to those whose identities may be unfamiliar to the majority of students. There are so many who preach acceptance, but avoid exposure to the real thing as much as possible, skirting away from conversation on the topic and keeping those who identify as transgender at arm’s length. During their speech, the character stressed that curiosity on the topic is better than fake acceptance paired with avoidance of the subject. As I watched this scene, I was brought back to orientation, where the university tried to facilitate the start of this conversation, encouraging us to share our identities with our peers. Where is that sense of openness and acceptance now that orientation has ended?
I believe that, coming into the Colgate community, there was an honest attempt made to give students the resources to be accepting, respectful and helpful to those in potential danger. Somewhere along the way, however, it became clear to me that we here in the Colgate community, myself included, do not actually personify those ideals in the way we should. Rather than admit this, however, we hide behind the image created during orientation, ignoring the elephant in the room. As not everyone was able to see TINAPAS, I wrote this article in an attempt to bring this difficult truth into the light and give way to a very important conversation. Let us accept our flaws, and work towards improving them, because I can guarantee nothing will get better on its own.