Community Forum, While at Times Contentious, Brings Bias Issues to the Forefront

In light of recent events on cam­pus that sparked a campus-wide dis­cussion on tolerance, diversity and polite discourse, the National Co­alition Building Institute (NCBI) facilitated a “Community Forum” on Tuesday, October 4 at the Col­gate Memorial Chapel to give a platform for students to voice their concerns. NCBI is an organization that aims to produce social change at places like Colgate – with a fo­cus on eliminating discrimination and divisiveness.

President Herbst requested the discussion in a campus-wide e-mail to students, hoping to promote an organized discourse on the issues that have plagued campus.

“Over the past two weeks, there have been wide-ranging discussions, most, but not all of them civil, around bias and other student life issues,” Herbst wrote. “I would like to extend these conversations to a wider audi­ence and put them into a broader con­text where diverse student opinions can be heard and processed.”

On the day of the event, stu­dents flooded Memorial Chapel ahead of the forum. Leaders of many student groups were present to provide their own perspectives on bias at Colgate.

Herbst preceded the forum with a speech designed to frame the discussion of discrimination in Colgate’s unique context.

“We are a particular type of com­munity – our bonds are especially tight. Incidents like these are espe­cially hurtful…I know that it is a sign of a healthy community that we do not try to put aside these incidents,” Herbst said of the discriminatory comments made on the Maroon- News website.

Members of NCBI then took over moderation of the forum and, after briefly explaining their principles, set the format of the discussion. Briefly, NCBI asked the students to talk to the student next to them about what needed to change on campus, filling the room with students discussing ideas. Students then stood at op­posing corners of the platform and were permitted to speak for three minutes until he or she was encouraged to finish up so the other student could begin.

The format became contentious at times, with several students be­coming visibly angry and address­ing their speeches at specific stu­dents, prompting responses from the crowd.

Senior Thomas Hedges saw the Greek System at Colgate as the ultimate source of discrimination at Colgate.

“We’ve had enough empty rhet­oric,” Hedges said. “Colgate’s fun­damental problem is mostly white students are admitted. Every stu­dent knows that the public face of fraternities and sororities is a lie… students are segregated because of the Greek system.”

Junior Katherine McChesney felt the com­ments made about the Greek system were un­fair, and hoped to refocus the debate toward the issues as she saw them.

“I’m a proud member of Gamma Phi Beta,” McChesney said. “I feel that I have been target­ed…the Greek system does not perpetuate racism. It’s so frustrating to hear these attacks on Greek life. I think we should get back to the question.”

After several back-to-back speeches debat­ing the Greek system at Colgate, discussion drifted toward a broader sense of what must be done to combat discrimination.

Senior Leeander Alexander felt that the issue of discrimination is part of a larger issue.

“We are failing to realize this is an intersection of identities. We never talk about our different identities outside of classes.”

Senior Maxwell Segan agreed that dis­crimination is regrettable, but Colgate must be careful not to restrict individual liberties.

“Limiting free speech…is a slippery slope,” Segan said.

When debate closed promptly at 6:30 p.m., the moderators encouraged them to keep voicing their opinions outside of official channels.

President Herbst closed the debate, reminding students of work yet to be done.

“This has been an enlightening and impor­tant conversation,” he said. “We must have many more and continue to act collectively.”

Contact Nathan Lynch at [email protected].