Defying Convention, Just Try It

A junior here at Colgate, I’m an English major and an econom­ics minor. My mother is African American with Jamaican heritage and my father is Jewish and white. I am also an active participant in Greek Life, but this article will have nothing to do with my Greek affiliation. I want to provide my own account of Colgate’s diversity and the social scene, which have had a profound impact in molding me into the man that I am today.

I am a man of integrity, but more specifically, I am blunt, forth­coming and genuine. I am also a very outgoing and sociable person with a solid sense of humor, and I’ve found in my relationships that people who know me either love me or hate me. Regardless of others’ opinions, I have no shame, and I always attempt to do what makes me and the people I love happy. The alleged lack of diversity that a portion of the Colgate community recognizes is something that I have never felt. I am not, however, a stranger to racism.

When I was in John Adams Elementary School in 4th grade, one random day, I was removed from class and taken to the guidance counselor’s office. This became a regularity for the duration of my 4th grade year, and 2nd grade year for my little brother. At that time, it came as no surprise to my brother and me that our parents were getting divorced, but what came as a surprise to me, even at such a young age, was my father’s response to the deterioration of my im­mediate family. I have not spoken to my father since I entered North Brunswick Township High School, roughly six years ago, because of the negative impression that he left upon my brother and myself when we spent time with him, post-divorce, in our youth. Instead of cherishing the finite time he had to spend with my little brother, Ross, and me, my father used this time to denigrate and slander my mother for being an African American woman with Jamaican heri­tage. My father put my little brother and me in a precarious situation because we had always had an excellent relationship with him until he and our mother separated.

The criticism of my mother, my role model, never ended in the brief time that my brother and I spent with our father. Since then, I have sought out ignorance so that I can eradicate it from any situa­tion where it may be present, but the only real occurrence of racism in my life that I have personally experienced came from my very own father. To this day, I have never forgiven my father for his inexpli­cable behavior, nor has my brother, and I have made the conscious decision in my life to speak out whenever I see ignorant or bigoted behavior that is worthy of criticism.

Now let’s talk about Colgate. I recognize that other members of the community have, but I don’t believe that I have experienced an ounce of racism during my two plus years at this university. Perhaps that can be attributed to the attitude and approach with which I conduct myself. I am an open-minded person, but similar to every­one else, I am surely guilty of forming judgmental first impressions of individuals I have met. More importantly though, despite my first impressions, I have taken the time to integrate myself in the Colgate community so that I can have a truly diversified Colgate experience and see beyond first impressions. I have participated in IM sports. I have worked as the Colgate Athletics Marketing Intern. I have writ­ten for The Colgate Maroon-News. I have gone to countless brown bags. I have been involved with Brothers. I have made a concerted effort to put myself out there so that I can accurately speak to Col­gate’s social dynamic. In short, I feel that I have successfully garnered a sense for what Colgate is about, and more importantly, the people that make Colgate the prestigious liberal arts university that I hope it will always be.

You must be asking yourself where this article is going at this point. Well, here it is: My issue with the storm of bigotry discussions that persist on this campus is that we are all studying at the same Colgate. Not all of us are maximizing the vast opportunities avail­able to each and every one of us to be seized at this institution, nor is everyone achieving the same level of satisfaction here at Colgate. My advice to anyone who feels awkward or uncomfortable or excluded for any number of reasons is to change your attitude and approach. By no means do you have to emulate my approach to experiencing the enriched and unparalleled Colgate experience that I have made for myself. On the other hand, if you are not having an enlighten­ing and invigorating experience here at Colgate, then as my favorite character on television, George Costanza, once did, just do the com­plete opposite of everything that you have done to this point in your Colgate career. George Costanza is a loser in Seinfeld, and he knows this, but in the episode, “The Opposite,” George takes all of his nor­mal instincts and does the complete opposite of what he would typi­cally do. As you can imagine, in this particular episode, George’s life is completely turned around. I will be the first person to confess that it is extremely difficult to ignore your first instinct. It is challenging, yes, but putting yourself out there in new and unknown situations will only make you stronger. As a great man once said, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” It doesn’t take a cloak, wand or a ridiculous hat to utilize these words in a positive way to help build camaraderie and initiate positive change here at Colgate.

My message in this article is, as the title says, to defy convention. Put yourself in complex and new situations. Eventually, you will be immensely rewarded for going against the grain. Make yourself un­comfortable, put yourself in awkward situations and please do not be afraid of the consequences. About a week ago, I saw a girl going to the library with an injured leg, but she was walking very gingerly. I saw her and said something along the lines of, “If I knew you, then I would pick you up and carry you to the library.”

Because of an earnest desire to help, packaged in a corny joke, I now acknowledge and talk to this girl that I met solely because I was fearless enough to look stupid while potentially creating an opportu­nity for myself to meet another person here at Colgate! Turns out, she is a pretty cool girl, and she was receptive to my initiative. Most stu­dents and professors are genuinely appreciative of the students who are willing to take calculated risks and put themselves out there. I bet that most Colgate students would recognize the unidentified quote above as that of the one and only Albus Dumbledore, and I will end this article with his words: “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.”

Contact Matthew Kurtz at [email protected].