Soaked in Conformity: Colgate’s Unnecessary Umbrella Stigma

Here’s a dreadful memory that I’m sure most students at Colgate University share.

You’re walking to class, and the morning drizzle turns into a torrential downpour. Suddenly your shoes are making all sorts of noises as you walk down the indoor hallway, and when you finally sit down, you realize that it’s going to take the entire 75-minute class before your pants are dry again.

It’s the type of situation that reminds us exactly why we despise the rain, but I think it’s time for a reminder that it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, the biggest roadblock towards embracing bad weather might just be ourselves: Colgate students love to hate umbrellas.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, where I probably experienced around five days of notable precipitation per year. I actually made my college decision in part because I wanted to experience a different climate — and, yes, that difference included average rainfall. In addition to the other weather gear I simply did not own (namely snow-friendly shoes, a real winter coat and gloves), I was convinced that I needed an umbrella. But now, looking back, packing my new umbrella into the FedEx box that I shipped to Colgate might make the short list of times I’ve actually touched the gadget.

It didn’t take me long to realize a couple of things once I got here. First, Google was correct. It rains a lot in Hamilton (in fact, my first day was marked by me running around in an August rainstorm while trying to find my orientation group). Second, despite the wet climate, you can never, ever, ever walk around in public with an umbrella.

My love of being out in the rain dissipated faster than a puddle on the ground hit by sunshine. Being one of only a few students walking to class on the first rainy day of classes was an unnecessarily humbling experience. Looking around, I quickly realized that many Colgate students would — for whatever reason — rather be unhappily soaked in rainwater than walk around with an umbrella over their heads.

Why the unnecessary umbrella stigma? Nobody knows.

Is it that they’re inconvenient? I don’t think so. Most umbrellas are foldable and store themselves neatly in a backpack or under a desk. I’d go as far as to say that walking around with an umbrella — no matter how annoying it is to carry — beats how uncomfortable it feels to be drenched with rainwater.

Are they just plain ugly? Sure, it can be awkward to walk around with a foldable tarp hovering above you, but there are ways to customize the look. Umbrellas, like all accessories, come in an endless variety of shapes, sizes and styles. Try a black one, or a red one, or — if you’re feeling adventurous — a clear one. The world of umbrellas is limitless: find one that you like and embrace it.

Maybe umbrellas are a sign of weakness. Real brave people, so it seems, face the pouring rain with zero protection, right? The question has even prompted debates in our country’s military, where service people were once barred from carrying the accessories because they somehow had an undermining quality. Obviously, walking around looking like you accidentally wore your clothes in the shower is a trustworthy representation of your toughness: why carry around a flimsy umbrella to change that?

Now let’s turn that argument around. Perhaps what’s actually “brave” is ignoring the conformity that grips Colgate. Do whatever you need to feel happy, comfortable and free from the judgment of others — in this case, use an umbrella. Looking around campus and seeing nobody else shielding themselves from the weather is enough to make anybody question their individual umbrella usage, especially when you’ve seen these same people walking around this tiny campus throughout the entire year. Still, wouldn’t we all be happier (and drier) if we gave umbrellas a chance?

Now halfway done with my time at Colgate, I’ve moved on from the constant thought of feeling out of place and always trying to fit in at this school. I am, unabashedly, an open supporter of umbrellas. I often spend rainy days thinking of that utopic paradise where, after students finally realize that they don’t need to run around getting wet, I can walk out into the academic quad and find a never-ending field of colorful umbrellas, decorating the landscape with rain-soaked nylon. Until then, if you see me heading up the hill next semester on a rainy day, catch me holding that once-dusty umbrella over my head, carefree and dry — as we all should be.