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]