After the official arrival day for first-years to Colgate, it seemed that the next few days of orientation were meant to exhaust us so we would not have time to miss the family and friends we left behind. Many of the activities, such as the endless name games and ice-breakers we participated in with our Link groups, quickly lost the interest of us first-years, and most seemed ready for orientation to come to a close. In my opinion, however, there was one day that was an exception to the repetition of orientation. Tuesday, August 23, first-years were brought into the Colgate Memorial Chapel to hear personal stories of fellow students in an event titled “In Your Company.” This was followed by a meeting with our First-Year Seminar (FSEM) groups where we opened up to each other about our own stories and identities in an activity called Colgate Conversations.
I will be the first to admit that the stories told in the chapel that night gave me goosebumps. I was engrossed in the stories, and baffled that a school would let students get up on stage during a first-year orientation to share stories related to such stigmatized topics as depression, sexuality or race. My high-school had stayed away from those topics so vehemently that even when a student committed suicide during my senior year, the tragedy was quickly and quietly swept under the rug by the school administration. Life throughout high-school, in my town at least, had been dictated by societal norms; depressed students were hushed or herded into suffocating offices, and those of the LGBTQ community were often too ashamed to be honest about their identities. It was a surprising yet completely welcomed change to arrive at as accepting a
community as Colgate.
Not only did the stories that night address topics that have been stigmatized in our society, but they also addressed common struggles of students coming into a new environment, such as loneliness and the sense of being overwhelmingly lost in the world. The sense of community was palpable by the time all five stories had been shared, and this mindset travelled with us first-years to our conversations after.
When meeting with our FSEM classes, we were not only given the chance, but encouraged to share our own struggles of identity or fears coming into college. Instead of forcing each member to share their deepest secrets, they allowed us to write them out (if we chose) on notecards, which were then read aloud. As someone who claimed my notecard after it was read, I can attest to the uncontrollable nervousness that engulfed many of us as others saw deep into our souls. Rather than being judged or hushed for our stories, we were thanked for sharing and respected by our peers. The story I shared was deeply personal, and the nature of it was extremely stigmatized. I had tried to share this story with my speech class in senior year, but the teachers told me I had to refrain from doing so – the topic of sexual abuse was, in their opinion, too sensitive for my classmates. Being able to come to college and share that story, and feeling no shame as a result, was an indescribable feeling for me.
One of the things I noticed about Colgate as soon as I started looking at it as a school option was the diversity and acceptance exuded here. I must say, that by the third day of orientation, Colgate had blown my expectations straight out of the water. I am excited to watch a community continue to develop among my class, and to share that sense of community with the classes that follow mine.