Colgate Jewish Union Hosts Dialogue on Issues of Race and Identity


Students gather in ALANA to participate in a productive workshop.

Emily Mahan, Maroon-News Staff

On Wednesday, February 17, the Colgate Jewish Union (CJU) led a discussion in the Africana, Latin American, Asian American and Native American (ALANA) Cultural Center with educational consultants and speakers Pippi Kessler and Yehudah Webster. Both Kessler and Webster are members of the organization Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) located in Brooklyn, New York. The event was discussion-based and followed by a dinner reception, which focused on relating the issues discussed to the Jewish community.

The goal of the discussion was to engage the community in a dialogue on issues of race relations and to provide the necessary tools to navigate issues of identity. The decision to invite Kessler and Webster was motivated by the Fall 2014 sit-in, which raised issues of socioeconomic status, social privilege and racial discrimination on Colgate’s campus.

Webster elaborated on the purpose of the JFREJ in order to give her audience a better understanding of its mission.

“JFREJ organizes Jews within New York to leverage the community’s power to help marginalized communities,” Webster said.

“Ken Hardy’s Tasks” were used during the discussion to illustrate the varying roles and tasks of society members. These guidelines for discussions about race and social identity were created by Dr. Kenneth Hardy, a psychotherapist specializing in interpersonal dialogue.  Within the framework Hardy created, “tasks of the privileged” include resisting false notions of inequality and understanding the difference between intentions and consequences, while “tasks of the subjugated” include overcoming learned voicelessness and dealing with one’s own rage appropriately.

Webster informed the audience how these prescribed tasks would work to make her lecture more dynamic, comfortable and politically correct.

“For some folks, creating that space is easy, they don’t have to think about it; for others, it is something more intentional… It is not our job to try to speak for other folks in their identity, or their experience,” Webster said.

The discussion connected to Junot Diaz’s recent visit, controversy over the Torchlight ceremony and Kiese Laymon’s book How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, which the Class of 2019 was required to read.

Senior Samantha Hom expressed how the discourse about the sit-in and Torchlight related to Hardy’s tasks.

“Many people have said to me that Torchlight was not made with negative intentions, which I would tend to agree with. However, that does not reduce the harmful consequences of the ceremony, and in fact that comment deflects from the real issue at stake,” Hom said.

When asked what her experience with the workshop was like, first-year Abigail Salesky mentioned how her perspective changed as the workshop progressed.

“At first I was a little skeptical of the workshop. However as the workshop turned more into a discussion, I started to really feel like I was getting something out of the experience. I really liked the way that the discussion was formatted around Ken Hardy’s ‘Tasks of the Privileged’ and ‘Tasks of the Subjugated,’ as we discussed the issues with equating inequality and how to not frame other experiences. All in all, I felt as though these tasks gave a framework for how to better multi-racial settings as a whole, on Colgate’s campus and elsewhere,” Salesky said.

The discussion also invoked author and professor Carol Dweck’s “fixed versus growth mindset.” Kessler highlighted how the process of growth inevitably involves discomfort.

“If I was feeling discomfort,  that’s how I would know that I was [improving],” Kessler said.