The Future of Colgate Social Life: Revamped Cushman House Serves Dual Purpose

The Future of Colgate Social Life: Revamped Cushman House Serves Dual Purpose

Paul Kasabian

The Colgate campus is filled with numerous architectural structures that will make heads turn, for better or worse. One might say the Chapel’s golden dome, noticeable from every direction, is the cherry on top of Princeton Review’s “most beautiful campus.”

Cushman House, for instance, though only a small house on Broad Street, is attempting to stand as a symbol of the Broad Street community due to its self-governing and independent structure. As part of its mission, Cushman is also leading efforts to simultaneously attempt to change social life on campus by gathering Colgate community members with diverse backgrounds at the discussion table while bringing academically-minded students into a new residential setting.

The Cushman House, once just a general nesting place for upperclassmen, is now a residential community of juniors and seniors that are not only heavily involved with academics and extracurricular activities but also seek to improve Colgate’s social life. The goal is for the house to serve as an impetus for strong social change not only up the hill, but also down the hill, as houses with similar, student-led initiatives will soon appear near Cushman.

The Cushman House idea was the brainchild of senior Conor Tucker, the current President of Cushman House, as well as Brendan O’Connor ’09 and sophomore Josh Smeltzer.

“I was very dissatisfied my freshman year with the social options on campus, so I wanted to contribute a new type of social option, one that I felt was lacking,” Tucker said, “which is to reward those who spend time in extracurricular activities and a considerable amount of time with academics. I didn’t feel like [Colgate] paid a lot of attention to them; they granted a lot of lip service to them. They didn’t have a place to congregate and they didn’t have a goal they could try to obtain.”

Tucker went on to speak about conversations he had with first-years that thought about transferring.

“This is coming at a useful time for Colgate. Something about our culture is chasing away critical, intelligent first-years, and Cushman House was my attempt to fix it in my own sense, but it might also serve a greater purpose on campus.”

Last semester, Cushman held a Colgate Campus Life Survey (CCLS) Conversations Series, and this semester they teamed with VISION to produce a three-part discussion series that discussed the racial, sexual and social climates on campus.

The CCLS Conversation Series was Cushman’s attempt to bring the CCLS to the forefront of campus talk, and led Tucker to believe that student leadership at Colgate needs to change before changes are made in reaction to the CCLS.

“There was a distinct and notable student apathy and lack of student attention (towards the CCLS) so when Cushman was established there was a consensus that we wanted to talk about the CCLS and make that a bigger issue than it was,” Tucker said. “So we put together [a] two speaker series, advertised it and put together administration, faculty and SGA members to discuss the findings and figure out where to go next. That evolved into a weekly dinner series with leaders on campus that was effective for maybe two weeks, [after that] there were six or seven people really dedicated to it. That convinced me that before anything changes with the CCLS, what needs to change on campus is the leadership culture. People need to be willing to collaborate in order to get something done. A lot of Colgate students care too much about resumes, and not enough about why they’re doing what they’re doing…it wasn’t an issue of not having time, I don’t think, or resources; there is $10,000 sitting in Dean Johnson’s office for the CCLS; the leaders just weren’t willing to make it work.”

Cushman then merged an attempt to speak about CCLS issues with VISION in a three-part discussion series that brought up issues related to the sexual, social and racial climates on campus. Those meetings were more successful and well-attended, particularly the social climate meeting. Tucker noted that a lot of quality collaboration and discussion came out of those meetings between students, faculty and administration.

The key to Cushman’s ultimate success, and whether it can contribute to transforming Broad Street residential life as well as Colgate social life, was through the sustainability and leadership of future students. Tucker expressed confidence that the self-governing and sustaining model of Cushman will not only persist but spread to other communities, such as the Wellness House on 104 Broad Street and the future Multicultural House in the Class of 1934 House. Each of these housing options is part of Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson’s five-year plan for Colgate.

“Cushman being in the five-year plan means that we’re here to stay for the short term, and with the way ResLife is moving, we’re here to stay for the long term, especially with the enthusiasm were gaining from the students in it,” Tucker said. “There is already a spinoff group for the Multicultural House because they are using our model to put a program there, and ResLife is thinking of applying our model to the old Wellness House. The structure inspired change, so it won’t go anywhere. It’s going to go places.”

Tucker then spoke more regarding houses that may have the same student-run, independent structure.

“It is student-generated,” Tucker said. “The Wellness House came from an idea from students at the COVE; the Multicultural House was sophomore Alex Restrepo’s idea. It marks a change in attitude in ResLife where they’ll willing to put in long-term themed housing, not year by year, but what programs they can put in that have sustainability and longevity like the 1934 house, Wellness and Cushman that are able to concentrate resources in a social sense and give new social opportunities for upperclassmen through student-generated concepts.”

The Cushman House currently has a government structure, with a five-person executive board, constitution and an application and election process.

An issue arises as to whether a natural turnover of students will continue the enthusiasm, but Tucker contended that this will not be an issue.

“There are plenty of people currently in the house who are more than capable to take over my position,” Tucker said. “I’m not worried. There is not a lack of enthusiasm, and the juniors are very excited about it. We have a good pool of applications for this year, and although I don’t know who is going take it over, it’s going to be fine.”

The Cushman House also brought faculty and students together with monthly dinners.

“I learn more so much more at those events than I do in the classroom sometimes,” Tucker said.

Using these dinners as inspiration, Tucker also said that they were attempting to bring speakers to campus in the future.

Whether the large Colgate social life experiment turns out to be a long-term success will only be answered by time, but the small house near the gray Creative Arts House might turn out to be the impetus for serious, long-term change on campus.