Sit-in Leaders Talk Civil Disobedience

Annie McDonough, Maroon-News Staff

On Thursday, January 22, the Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education (COVE) hosted a Brown Bag focused on civil disobedience and coalition building in the wake of last fall’s “Can You Hear Us Now” demonstration at Colgate.

Thursday’s Brown Bag was led by seniors Kori Strother, Natasha Torres, Kristi Carey and Melissa Melendez, the students who started last September’s 100-hour-long sit-in at the Hurwitz Admission Center.

The four students spoke candidly to an audience of 65 students, faculty and staff about their personal lives and what led them to form a coalition against the discrimination many students face at Colgate.

“We’re going to talk about how the four of us came together, how we were broken before we came to Colgate and how Colgate broke us more,” Carey said.

The panelists shared personal stories that gave the audience insight into the vulnerabilities, strengths and characteristics that led the four students to naturally come together to lead the movement. A couple of the students had not met until last fall.

The Brown Bag was able to give the audience some insight into how coalitions and demonstrations like “Can You Hear Us Now” can be created to incite change in the future, though the students leading the talk agreed that their friendship happened effortlessly.

“Us finding each other truly comes down to fate and destiny,” Strother said.

Carey said the point of them sharing their stories of vulnerability and heartbreak at the talk was to give people a bigger, more personal perception of the students at the helm of a very public demonstration.

“We’re trying to humanize, personify, give voice to people who they call overly sensitive, too critical, mean,” Carey said.

The leaders of the sit-in were asked by COVE Program Coordinator Janet Liang to speak at the Brown Bag.

“The point was to tell a story that seemed to be missing from the discourse and words thrown around from last semester,” Carey said. “To offer a narrative that would be a bit more interesting.”

The speakers shared their opinions and insecurities that would have gone unheard at the time of the protest, when their position had to be strong.

“I was scared that people would question why I was leading this, that people would say, ‘Who the hell are you?’” Torres said.

While the hundreds of students participating in the demonstration were sharing their own stories and getting to know each other at the sit-in, these four students were often away from the action, in negotiations with President Herbst and the administration.

“I was worried about getting kicked out of school,” Strother said.

The leaders talked about their unique perspective on the demonstration, as they watched the movement grow from the four of them to a large portion of the student body. Carey said part of that transformation included the realization that their original desires had turned into what the larger movement demanded of the administration.

“We all were crying because we knew we were settling,” Strother said of the administration’s 21-point roadmap that ended the demonstration. “We knew it still wasn’t going to solve everyone’s problems.”

The speakers all agreed, despite how naturally they came together, that leading hundreds of students in a demonstration of civil disobedience was not something they would have imagined doing at Colgate.

“When it comes to coalition building, it wasn’t about talking about big ideas,” Melendez said. “We formed a coalition of resistance by talking about our lives and becoming friends.”