Welcome to ‘Gate: Selling Our Image



Kelsey Harbord

You see them walk across the quad. You watch as they capture the image of the chapel within the frame of a digital camera. You hear the enthusiastic student volunteer discuss the dining hall. She insists that Frank can actually be a nice place to eat. It’s just a group of high school kids with their moms and their dads. But they’re not exactly paying attention to their tour guide… they’re all looking at you.

You wonder if what you have decided to put on this morning is in accordance with the everyday Colgate dress code – at least where I’m from, men do not wear salmon colored pants. But whether or not you do adhere to the Vineyard Vines and Hunter boot mandates of fitting in, to these kids, you are the personality of this school. You are the embodiment of the social scene as these families make their way through campus.

Maybe you are an accurate representation of the norm, and maybe you know that for sure. But I guarantee that at least one sighting of a tour has forced you to consciously think about the way you present your experience and your feelings about your time thus far at this school.

Thing is, I never actually went on a tour. I never even visited the campus. It all seemed like too much of an effort to fly across the continent for a simple walkthrough of a day in the life of the ideal student. I felt that what was important I had already seen. I felt that if the school was going to present itself on the Internet in a certain way, then the school was going to present itself in person in the same exact manner.

What we see as visitors on the website or the real live quad is merely a presentation, nothing more. If a tour happens to intersect your path on the way to class, I would assume that all of us would make an effort to look as though we’re having a great and wonderful time.

Imagine the conscious effort that the admissions team puts into their presentation of this quarter-of-a-million-dollars-after-four-years institution that they are clearly just trying to sell. Then think about the pressure placed on us. We’re all supposed to help them sell this place. We’re supposed to look like we all love it here. I’m supposed to pretend like I don’t see the massive group of red and white umbrellas examining me and my attire, my countenance and my physical and mental health. I should not act as though I am in some way presenting myself despite the obvious fact that I am. I also cannot force myself to walk by such a group of people without acknowledging its presence. And as much as both the visitor and the student like to pretend that they aren’t secretly checking each other out, both of them know that they are.

Basically, the group walks by and you get one chance to show them what this school’s social setting is all about. For most of the hopefuls in the group, Colgate University is only one possible liberal arts education in a list of six to nine. What they see in that half hour walk around campus at any school will contribute one of the biggest decisions they will ever make.

But they don’t know that the Coop isn’t actually open 24 hours. They won’t remember the names of the dorms.

They won’t take anything from the experience that they haven’t already taken from the website, because either way the tour guide and administration are presenting the very same thing. But they will remember the students. And it is our duty to present to these groups what is expected of us as current Colgate scholars.

I just wish that as these impressionable young adults walked by I could tell them that the Stillman bathrooms are actually disgusting. I want to tell them that there is no such thing as a romantic relationship at Colgate and that some days Frank really does suck.

I want to tell them that the cruiser is never on time. I want to tell them that as I am walking from one pretty building to the next that not everything their tour guide says is the truth.

When we see the people looking around, judging the place, dissecting it and scrutinizing, as much as we try to act normal, the simple fact of the matter is that normal will always be an act when we know people are watching.

So instead I want to scream like a wild jungle animal and run through the quad wearing nothing but a straw hat and socks. I want to juggle grapefruits at the cruiser stop. Maybe next time I will. After all, nobody has ever actually told me not to.