Coming back from a semester abroad, it was comforting to return to a familiar campus and reconnect with friends I hadn’t seen in months. A lot has certainly changed in the past year – from the president to the absence of COOP chicken tenders to the various construction projects in progress – but I returned mostly to the same Colgate that I know and love. The quad is still the center of activity on weekdays, upperclassmen mostly live down the hill, slices still come plain only. But, as I reflect on what I love about Colgate, I realize how much is expected to change in the coming years.
While change is constant in the university’s quest to stay competitive, it is a reality that Colgate is planning to go through some major transitions in the near future, perhaps more significantly than at any other point in its history. Colgate’s master plan, already in progress, consists of a major restructuring of its social life through the creation of the residential commons system and massive construction projects that will move many upperclassmen up the hill.
Although I love the Colgate experience I have had, I recognize the need for change. Last year’s sit-in showed me, and hopefully others, that Colgate’s social scene is not as inclusive, welcoming and accepting of diversity as I had hoped. I found that I cannot be content with such an exclusive campus climate, and I applaud aspects of the master plan and other planned changes that work to create a “Colgate for All,” to quote the plan that resulted from the sit-in.
The residential commons system, while reminiscent of Hogwarts, has the potential to create inclusive spaces for its members and help first-years create connections with a diverse group of people whom they will live with at least through sophomore year. I also applaud the idea of the residential commons annex, granting all students access to the typically exclusive Broad Street community, partially addressing the plight of the first-year male. I see the merit of these ambitious plans, but when I think of the massive changes that are in store for Colgate, I have to ask: what’s the goal?
I hope that the administration, Board of Trustees and other decision-makers have crafted the master plan in a way that creates a more inclusive Colgate, but there is certainly more to the story. After all, the master plan and residential commons system was going to happen, in some form, regardless of last year’s sit-in.
Perhaps increased inclusivity is just a consequence of the master plan. Colgate has to compete with other elite academic institutions, many of which instituted residential plans resembling Colgate’s residential commons many years ago. Colgate has to constantly compete, attracting the best and brightest students, enticing them with new facilities and innovative housing plans. While other elite institutions have been able to promise an invigorating Hogwarts-style housing system for years, Colgate has continued to allow its students to live in apartments and townhouses nowhere near the center of campus – hardly living the liberal arts. Eventually, to stay competitive, Colgate had to change the way it thinks about its housing and social life. I hope that these plans are executed in a way that is best for Colgate and its current students, rather than in a way that helps Colgate climb college rankings most quickly.
Take, for example, the planned residential commons annexes on Broad Street. These spaces, in my opinion, are a great idea and will create inclusive spaces down the hill for all students. However, where will these houses be located? The first annex is located at 100 Broad Street, the former Creative Arts House that has been used for general housing for the last few years. Fair enough. But where will the next annexes be located? There are a finite number of non-Greek houses on Broad Street, and eventually an annex will have to replace a beloved theme house, such as the Bunche or Interfaith house. These theme houses have proven to be safe spaces for their residents and others on campus, and while the annexes will also be safe, inclusive spaces, they should not be created at others’ expense. In fact, Bunche House just hosted an open and inclusive party that, if Yik-Yak reactions are any indication, was wildly successful. Some plan must be created that does not compromise the aspects of Colgate that are already inclusive.
While a quick and swift rollout of the master plan will help Colgate quickly climb the college rankings, Colgate’s decision-makers must keep their eyes on the intangible, inclusive prize. The focus of the master plan needs to be a more inclusive Colgate that current students support, rather than a Colgate that appears more elite to college ranking agencies.