Colgate and the Community

Colgate and the Community

Tom Mackey

Recently, the authors of this article surveyed 30 Hamilton community members on their perception of Colgate students. We perpetuate a system of assumptions not only about the way Hamiltonians live their lives, but also about what the community thinks of us. The issues addressed in the survey include the lack of safety in Hamilton that might result from students’ late night activities, the interaction with student groups trying to bring students and the community closer together and being judged by students.

All of those surveyed are adults. Six hold a faculty position at Colgate and nine are or have recently been parents of a child enrolled in the Hamilton Central School System. When asked the  question, “Do Colgate students make the community less safe?” 17 responded with “yes” or “somewhat”. 17 indicated that students restrict the spatial use of the town by children and teenagers growing up in Hamilton.

Still, only 12 individuals reported that they feel judged in their interactions with Colgate students. 11 out of the 23 of those who have had interactions with student groups feel that they have definitely developed long-lasting relationships with students and four responded that they have ‘somewhat’  long-lasting relationships. Furthermore, 25 said either ‘yes’  or ‘somewhat’ to the question “Do you consider Colgate Students to be contributing members of this community?”

However, it cannot be assumed that because a majority of those surveyed indicated that they have positive outlooks that students will not have awkward or disheartening interactions with Hamiltonians. In handing out this survey, we had mixed reactions. Stephanie  had a woman tell her to stop selling drugs as she handed the survey back. This is the same woman whose scribbled survey comments calling Colgate “a drug store.”

Interestingly, she also stated that Colgate students definitely are contributing members of this community. This kind of disparity between respect for is student contributions and a concern for the dangerous side of college life is repeatedly evidenced by the survey results. A majority perceived some student activities as dangerous for community members yet an even stronger majority is happy with what students give back to the community.

These judgments are incredibly complex and, in addition to a historically divided lineage between Colgate and the community, probably have foundations in numerous societal distinctions such as socio-economic status, race (depending on the student) and age.

However, it must be known that there are several people in the community who want to talk about these things. We received many comments along the lines of “these are good questions.”  Furthermore, many of our experiences of disrespect from community members were not included in this article because they were immediately dropped when our project was explained. Hostility turned to responsiveness. Hamiltonians can and may even want to have their assumptions challenged.

There is a perceived conflict of interests between Colgate students and citizens of Hamilton. Colgate students want to have a college experience whereas Hamilton community members want to pursue a career or raise a family. Yet, if the results of this survey indicate anything, it is that this way of looking at the conflict is a trap. Community members are open to replacing the assumptions surrounding the college experience. But are students?