Alumni Column: Eleven Years Later — What I Learned During My Time at Colgate

What would you see if you drew a map, river, or road representing your experiences from birth until now? What people, places, experiences, challenges and triumphs would stick out to you? What defining moments taught you about who you are, what you value and your life’s purpose?

While a Colgate student, I could not answer that question because I was still becoming and coming home to myself. Colgate exposed me to new ways of being, doing and thinking which became crucial as I navigated my life’s journey and an untraditional career path.

Colgate taught me to stand, unwavering and unafraid, in my truth, no matter the consequences. When I entered Colgate, I thought I knew who I was and who I hoped to become. I thought I was an LGBTQI+ ally, a feminist and a future Anderson Cooper or Oprah Winfrey protege. After some racist incidents occurred on campus during my first year, I stumbled into the Women’s Studies Center, seeking answers and community. That decision altered the trajectory of my time at Colgate.

Through the Women’s Studies Center, I discovered a love for Audre Lorde’s wisdom, met a robust community of organizers and emerged as an institutional organizer and student activist who pushed Colgate to revamp its sexual assault and harassment policies. Most of all, I came home to myself as a Black, Jewish, Queer, first-generation American woman. I stand tall in my intersectional identities and work to hold institutions and the people within them accountable.

Colgate taught me to think critically about systems and to be prepared to challenge the status quo. Courses like Western Traditions, Philosophy and Feminisms and the Sociology of Law taught me to adopt an intersectional, systems lens and think creatively about addressing systemic issues.

After graduating, I taught in Baltimore through Teach for America. My students yearned for lessons that mirrored their lived experiences, but I had a pre-set curriculum to teach. Colgate taught me to take risks, so I created a social justice-based curriculum for my English Language Learners that fulfilled that desire and helped them become fluent in English. That same creativity has proved helpful when I use storytelling and analytical reasoning to distill complex problems into plain English as a civil rights attorney.

Colgate’s classrooms, filled with intellectual debates, often pushed me to the brink of frustration and sometimes tears. These conversations — often tense discussions about the vestiges of white supremacy in the United States or the intersection between race and abortion access, for example — were challenging because they invoked my lived experience. Despite the challenges, those conversations significantly shaped the DEI work I engage in today. As a DEI facilitator and consultant, I push my clients to build bridges across lines of difference, to listen to understand (versus listening to reply) and to examine their unconscious biases and internalized superiority or inferiority.

The power of a liberal arts education lies in its versatility and the ability it gives students to adapt, and Colgate is no exception. My career path is untraditional because I’ve taught and worked as an organizer, a media arts educator and an attorney. As an attorney, I do not have the “traditional” pedigree viewed as a hallmark of my profession. I did not attend an ivy league law school or serve on my law school’s law review. I did, however, participate in my law school’s moot court and won a national moot court competition, intern at civil rights powerhouses like Lambda Legal and the Southern Poverty Law Center and participate in two civil rights clinics. Despite lacking the traditional pedigree, I work for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division as a Trial Attorney, which I joined through the Honors Program. Colgate taught me, through the versatility of its liberal arts education that success in life is all about how you frame your experiences and share your story.

So what does this have to do with you? Everything! Life is an experiment; play, iterate and take risks. This is your period for self-discovery, reflection and transformation. So cast your fears aside and say yes! Go on a study abroad trip. Grab a coffee with someone new. Attend your professor’s office hours. Share your unique perspective in class. Say yes to adventure. Before you know it, Colgate’s influence will mark your life map.