Roelofs Holds Forum on CCLS

Kate Preziosi

Last Thursday’s Presidential Forum on the Colgate Campus Life Survey (CCLS) inspired an animated discussion among faculty, administrators and students about some of the report’s most significant findings. During the open mic dialogue that lasted three and a half hours, attendees addressed each other and the panel on Colgate’s racial climate and social culture, among other things.

Survey co-author and Associate Professor of Sociology Carolyn Hsu began by thanking the administration for commissioning the study, which has provided important data to help illustrate student satisfaction at Colgate.

“I’d like to put the controversy to rest,” Hsu said. “The administration not only commissioned this exhaustive survey, but they did not interfere in the questions that we asked, or in the data. Other schools never do this. When I told my colleagues about the project, their jaws hit the ground. What is important is that it tells big stories, and that’s what we need to focus on. Different groups of students are experiencing totally different Colgates.”

Vice President and Dean of College Charlotte Johnson said in her introduction that she was glad to see students “directly and honestly engaging with each other on some of the most challenging issues of our time.”

The Dean of College Division is looking to advance discussions about the CCLS by encouraging collaboration among students to improve the campus climate. The Division has set aside a coalition fund that will financially support student and faculty proposals. In an interview with The Maroon-News, Johnson said she wanted to offer this resource to give students an incentive to turn dialogue into action.

Before commencing the open mic discussion, Interim President Lyle Roelofs gave a brief comment on the survey findings from his perspective.

“Every serious flaw on our campus manifests itself in real distress and suffering,” Roelofs said. “These flaws have a corrosive effect on us as an educational enterprise and as a community. I think we’re finding that we may have a culture in which individuals are not taking responsibility for the community. Part of being in that community means taking responsibility for all actions.”

During the discussion, one black student addressed some Colgate community members’ perception that members of the black population on campus practice self-segregation by choosing to live in the Harlem Renaissance Center (HRC).

“It’s not fair to be accused of self-segregating when you want to feel comfortable where you sleep,” he said. “The fact is, our comfort zone has been compromised by being here and yours hasn’t. There are ways that this school promotes a negative racial climate that I’m not comfortable with.”

He raised Multi-Cultural Visit Days as an example, questioning why there is a separate program for this group of prospective students. 

Hsu repeatedly pointed out throughout this specific discussion that the CCLS data reflects that racial self-segregation is not a problem among the student body.

“[I am] troubled to find that there is a large group of students that feels that they don’t have a place here,” Johnson said to the Maroon-News.  “One of the things we try to do through the Dean of College initiatives and through our academic program is to help students find a way to connect to Colgate. I think it’s important that students remember not to be afraid of who they are. The data reflects that there are a lot more similarities across the student population than we initially believed. I would encourage students to keep searching.”

Professor of Anthropology and Africana and Latin American Studies Mary Moran was concerned that the University has not seen any progress in regard to student satisfaction with Greek Life.

“I’ve read this report before,” Moran said. “I read it in 1989, and in 1989 the faculty voted to abolish the Greek system. All we got was sophomore rush. I want to know why we continue to allow eighteen and nineteen-year-olds to pick and choose among themselves who is worthy and who isn’t. The institution needs to address these structures that promote exclusion before we can fix the other issues that have been raised tonight.”

Johnson also addressed these types of concerns in her interview. 

“There is a split in the community about this issue, and that debate will continue,” Johnson later said. “Why shouldn’t it? We’re in an academic setting. But it’s important to remember that the purpose of this survey is not to target any segment or group.”

Another student wanted to know about the contents of the seventy pages that were subsequently removed from the final version of the survey. Roelofs replied that the material either repeated the findings that are published, or was very similar to them. He added that the pages were replaced with the free response questions.

Senior and student co-author Abby Byrne spent last summer working with Hsu and Assistant Professor of Psychology Landon Reid on the portion of the report that was excluded. These pages detailed institutional histories of topics such as race and gender at Colgate that provided background for the survey findings.

“[Roelofs’] response to where the seventy missing pages are was deeply unsatisfactory for me,” Byrne said. “Personally, I was frustrated because I think those histories give a lot of context to the survey. I haven’t gotten a satisfactory explanation as to why they’ve been excluded.”

Despite these concerns, Byrne is pleased with the way the Forum was conducted, as is senior and student co-author Jamie Waller.

“To me [the Forum] mirrored the work that I did this summer in reading and analyzing the open-ended responses,” Waller said. “It was nice that these members of the community were willing to put their experiences in the open.”

Johnson echoed this feeling by saying that although she would like to have seen more students in attendance, it was good to have an exhaustive discussion.

“The way the students were interacting was positive,” Johnson said. “They challenged each other in addition to the faculty and staff. This was just the beginning of discussing these issues.”