The Colgate Scene
January 2002

Letters
The Colgate Scene invites responsible letters, addressed to the editor, regarding any subject that may be considered of interest to the Colgate community. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.
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Painful

. . . I am very disappointed that Colgate has yet again made the pages of the New York Times, not for its academic excellence, but for its "treatment of students of color" on campus. If Colgate "takes seriously the larger charge of how to improve the circumstances of students of color in a rural residential college in this part of the world," then why are students of color taking such extreme measures, such as taking over the administration building, so they can have their voices heard? I thought that Colgate was concerned about diversity and looking to make institutional changes to ensure a safe environment for students of color. To hear about issues from office space in the cultural center to Barry Shain's comments about students of color taking "exotic courses" that do not "force them to grow emotionally and intellectually" is very disturbing. What is Colgate really doing to help acclimate and help students of color matriculate at Colgate?

As with many alumni of color, my memories of Colgate are painful and filled with remorse. As I see it, Colgate has not progressed much since I was there. Colgate received a grant under the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to address pluralism and unity. That grant was supposed to help address issues concerning diversity and creation of community. I had the opportunity to come back as panelist to discuss my experience at Colgate. Weren't the tears that came from our stories enough to let the Colgate faculty and staff know that Colgate needed to not only address issues that students of color face but also to implement institutional changes to make Colgate a better place for students of color? Weren't the messages from skits done by current students of color loud enough to let Colgate know how much they are struggling?

I have no doubt that I received the best education from Colgate, but must we students of color have such a painful experience to appreciate our time at Colgate?

Incendiary

. . . It would seem that Mr. Shain's intent is to be incendiary.

Perhaps he is attempting to use our beloved campus as a laboratory for some social experiment?

Perhaps he would like to polarize our community just to see what happens?

It would make an interesting thesis for a political science professor.

But perhaps I am giving him too much credit. Maybe he really is a neanderthal.

No conspiracy

. . . Professor Barry Shain's letter in the Nov. Scene communicates an almost paranoid sense of a conspiracy among faculty members to change Colgate so as to "redefine" or "eliminate" the proper expression of masculinity. He seems to think that college-age masculinity necessarily involves fraternities, alcohol consumption and "ambiguous heterosexual encounters." Having been part of the Colgate community for 44 years and having first taught at Colgate in 1962, I would like to be generous and to think that this distorted perspective can best be understood as a result of his having been here only about 12 years. This, however, is hard to argue, since most of my younger colleagues and students, male and female, so wonderfully illustrate the rich humanity that has developed as our culture has grown beyond the sexual stereotypes that he advocates.

In this recent letter as well as in the other writings to which his letter refers, Shain argues that the faculty betrays the trust of its students by surreptitiously trying "to transform the school they [the students] had chosen to attend." He identifies the central issue in this transformation with "the increased (non-traditional) feminization of Colgate and a corresponding decrease in (traditional) masculinity." Perhaps he does not know that only men had the right to vote within the faculty and trustees when this college carefully studied what was best for the college and chose a coeducational path. And long before there were more than one or two women empowered to vote on the faculty, men who were concerned about the college's future worked hard to implement policies that encouraged diversity on the faculty and student body. Once women gained a significant presence here, of course, they joined in the public process by which policies are researched and considered within the governance system, debated by the faculty and students, voted upon and recommended to the Board of Trustees.

It is a matter of public record, then, that the Colgate faculty on several occasions during the last 30 years or more has recommended that the college seriously revise or revoke the charters that allow Greek-letter societies to be recognized here. In my memory, such votes were occasioned by outrageous episodes, which hit the national press to our great embarrassment. There has been no conspiracy in all this; interested prospective students easily could know the repeatedly expressed concerns of the faculty. And I hope they know that my colleagues and I, when the trustees did not support our votes, have gone about our business of teaching without discriminating on the basis of sex or membership in Greek-letter organizations. Of course, we have continued to argue for what we think is best for the college. As a political scientist Shain surely knows that this is the way such institutions within a democratic society work.

Colgate has made profound changes in the past without the universal support of students, alumni and faculty. The first that I observed was when the college decided in the late '50s finally to provide residence halls for upperclassmen. Before that it was assumed that, after the first year, all Colgate men lived in fraternities, except for the few who chose independence or were rejected and called "turkeys." Such students lived in one section of a first-year dorm or rented rooms in houses in the village. Since then the trustees have followed recommendations from administrators and faculty to increase the size of the college and to develop more and more attractive options for residential living. The most obvious transformation of the college, one that was opposed by many students, alumni and some faculty, started with the decision to become coeducational. But another example of the way Colgate has transformed itself without universal approval can be seen in the various revisions of the core program. The trustees and faculty, indeed all members of the community, are obligated to pay attention to a changing world and to work toward policies that seem most likely to perpetuate Colgate's excellence into the future. Major transformations usually have been implemented on timetables that allow students who enter the college under one set of policies to graduate under them.

Like Shain, I respect Colgate students, apparently more than a recent alumna who, in a letter to the Maroon-News, pictured the campus as completely "boring" except for Greek-letter societies. Her letter bewildered me. While on leave this fall, I have depended upon the Maroon-News for a sense of how things are going. This fall's student newspaper has manifested increasing excellence. Through it I have been impressed with how creative and intelligent our students are as they, e.g., have debated current issues, weighed the crisis we are facing, initiated experimental theater, pursued athletic disciplines, made music and art of all kinds and found new ways to serve others. Those who have studied Kierkegaard's ironic essay on "The Rotation of Crops" might help me point out to that alumna that anything will be boring eventually if you yourself remain passive, waiting for something out there to entertain you. Colgate's strength is its students and faculty who actively generate important and enjoyable pursuits, rather than simply reacting to stimuli.

It is unfortunate that Shain's approach thwarts honest dialogue about college policies by encouraging resentment of our wider culture, which during the past 40 years has deeply liberated both men and women from the sexual stereotypes that he calls "traditional." All around me I see men who pursue rigorous logical analysis and enjoy athletics, but also tenderly share in the care of children, write poetry, cook and deliberately choose to be sensitive to others. All around me I see women who compete vigorously in business, science, the law and athletics, but also enjoy friendships, conversations, clothes, babies, singing and dancing. The unfinished, but real, transformation of our culture's attitudes toward gender roles during my adulthood is all the evidence I need of our power to change the world in the direction of fuller justice. Commitment to such change, at Colgate as well as in the wider world, calls for human strength and courage. To the extent that traditional "manliness" and traditional "womanliness" contribute to that, I celebrate both, whether in men or women.

Congratulations

. . . Congratulations to professor Barry Shain on his thoughtfully reasoned letter on the value of masculinity in the November Scene.

Shain's classes are among the few that have had lasting resonance for my life, in the way he forced me to think and express myself clearly. Also, his ability to reach out to students and respond to our efforts to engage the faculty in real dialogue made him stand out as one of too-few members of the faculty willing to bridge the cultural gaps he talks about in his piece, and not simply dig more trench lines between the worldviews.

His letter has been making big waves among the Colgate people I'm still in touch with, especially those affiliated with Phi Tau. The fraternity has been having tough times these days, as a result of some self-inflicted fiscal wounds, but largely, I believe, as a result of the ongoing efforts by the faculty to strangle the Greek system -- and by the administration that wouldn't mind taking one of the nicer pieces of real estate near campus. Clearly the decision to go to sophomore rush was -- as intended -- a financial disaster for many houses (to say nothing of the sadly illogical argument that first-years are not mature enough to choose a fraternity but should be allowed to choose any number of socially self-selecting special interest houses).

But it's terriffic to see there are thoughtful people on campus nonetheless.

Traits

. . . I was with Professor Shain most of the way through his verbose complaint in the Nov. Scene. It does often seem that colleges want to extinguish all expressions of unofficial exuberance, and produce a generation of PC-driven Stepford Students.

Then I got to the part where he said the passengers on that airliner "chose to die as men." I do not denigrate the courage those people showed; I do, however, challenge the notions that one has to engage in physical violence to be a man, and that one has to be a man to engage in physical violence.

Physical strength, speed, agility and endurance are certainly admirable traits, but so are intellectual courage and strength of character. A man who can uphold his beliefs with reasoned argument, and who is willing to defend those beliefs without inflicting violence on his opponents, is no less a man because of it.

The capacity for physical action is not a trait exclusive to masculinity: many women have shown that they are also capable of such action. Many more could show this if the brass at the Pentagon did not suffer the same affliction as Shain: the notion that it somehow diminishes their own manhood to admit that women can perform these tasks as well.

There will always be physiological differences between men and women, and perhaps some behavioral differences will flow from these; however, I think the important dichotomy is not between masculinity and femininity, but between maturity and immaturity. The ability to learn, and to use what you learn constructively; to accept responsibility, and to accept help when needed; to know when and how to be serious, and when and how to cut loose: these are the traits of a real man, or a real woman.

A good read

. . . Whether you were a marine or not, if you want to feel proud, read Joe Owen '48's book Colder Than Hell about the fighting in the Korean War. It is extremely difficult to imagine what Joe's company endured for us.

Our heartfelt thanks, Joe.

A firm hand

. . . In the Nov. Scene I saw a photo of a "Petition for Peaceful Justice" being signed by students on campus just after the events of Sept. 11. Unfortunately, the photo was not able to reveal exactly the contents of that petition; however, its title alone -- the only legible item in the photo for alumni eyes -- caused concern.

Sometimes justice simply cannot be peaceful.

While I do not condone destroying innocent civilian lives if it's avoidable, I completely support the wartime response of our president -- and last time I checked, war is not exactly "peaceful."

For those who signed such a petition, perhaps you should have considered its title. For how naive you are to think we can hold hands with inhumane terrorists and sing some sort of retro-'60s-love-in-song to heal people's hearts. A "peaceful" response would not heal the heart of this nation, nor would it heal the hearts of the husbands and wives of our departed alumni who lost their lives Sept. 11.

Justice, sometimes, only comes with a firm hand. And sometimes, one only realizes that only once graduated from the naive, often-too-liberal world of academia.

Red

. . . I read with horror a letter in the Sept. Scene. The writer questions why groups of people would find the use of their ethnic classifications offensive, when used as nicknames for athletic teams. He then cites examples of cultures that do not complain (Knickerbockers, Celtics, etc.) but doesn't seem to make the connection that these are groups of people who have not been the subject of constant discrimination and cultural subjugation. He further goes on to say that these names are "tributes to the strength, speed and courage of those after whom they are titled."

Am I to assume that this writer believes that ethnic heritage is a factor in strength, speed and courage? Being of German and Hungarian descent, I feel somewhat slighted. Are Native Americans stronger, faster and more courageous than Germans and Hungarians? Am I destined to live out my life, never seeing the Houston Hungarians take on the Jersey Germans? Never mind that Indians is a misnomer, as Columbus thought he was in India. "Redskins" is blatant slang. In fact, it has its origins in the red skins (scalps) that white settlers would present for bounties to prove they had killed an "Injun" (hardly a practice to nurture in our collective memories). I can feel my chest swelling with pride at the thought of a new expansion team named the Kansas City Krauts or the Washington Whities (although the NBA is out for these because it is well known that we can't jump).

I believe the time has come to put an end to this brand of insensitivity and I applaud the university's decision to drop the "Red." I don't think the origin of the name is relevant, either (red jerseys?). It's the image that matters. It is only a matter of time before our professional sports franchises follow suit (as soon as they can figure out the profit angle). Welcome to the new millennium. May it be kinder and gentler to all Americans, not just those we have continually insulted for the last 225 years.

Rob Read

. . . This past Labor Day, my best friend, Rob Read '69, died suddenly while playing tennis. When Rob came to Colgate in 1965, both his parents had been dead for some time. His father, and later, his brother died in their 40s of heart disease. Unfortunately, Rob shared their genetic legacy. Colgate provided a place for Rob to begin to heal, through relationships, through learning and through fun. And Colgate gave me the great gift of Rob's friendship.

It was clear at his memorial service that Rob had lived out his strong values of compassion and social justice in every area of his life. Four hundred people who attended spoke with one voice in acknowledgement of Rob's quiet care, his persistence in helping, his humility, his humor and his wisdom. Experiences with Vista, with the American Friends Service Committee, the Continental Walk and the Boston to New York AIDS Ride reflected and shaped his social conscience. His sociology major at Colgate and his doctoral studies in counseling psychology at Harvard strongly influenced his thinking and his beliefs.

Rob was a highly skilled psychologist, able to work well with couples, individuals and groups. At Harvard's Bureau of Study Counsel, he was often called to intervene in crisis situations on campus. Finally, Rob was a wonderful husband, father and friend. His life is an inspiration. He is deeply missed.

Doc's passing

. . . How sad to read in the Scene that Linden Summers passed away. He was a man who made a difference.

I can see "Doc" Summers in my mind's eye, sitting in his office in the basement of Lawrence Hall circa 1967, puffing gently on his pipe and nodding encouragement as I tried to explain my thoughts from a recent course paper. Occasionally, his face would contort and he would grunt through teeth tightly clenched on his pipe stem. "Uh? Why?" The questions were often devastating because they cut to the heart of the matter at hand, a core issue I had not thoroughly considered.

Doc hated hasty conclusions, oversimplifications offered to put an issue behind us. He disliked clichés, and he thought accurate grammar, punctuation and spelling were an important consideration for anyone who expected his words to carry weight. I took several courses from Dr. Summers, but they were really the same course with different names. Each increased my self-confidence because he increased his expectations of me with each passing semester.

He taught me that education is not a discipline in itself. Rather, it is a perspective on learning and life. "Being a teacher," he told me once, "is a very complicated profession because it requires a deep understanding of both the curriculum and your own character." As his student, my mind grasped the concept, but I lacked the experience to take it to heart.

Last June, I stood before my colleagues and former students at a retirement dinner marking the end of my 33 years in the classroom. I spoke to them about the chain of education. The room was filled with those who had helped me get started in teaching, with colleagues whose journey through the profession paralleled mine, and with former students who reminisced with me and with each other. I shall always recall the sense of timelessness that came over me. I watched the long-retired principal who had hired me after my graduation from Colgate talking to one of my last students, a brilliant Russian immigrant who had more than the English language to overcome in her new land. Dr. Summers' words came back to me; this time they penetrated both mind and heart.

I saw him only once after graduation. It was the early '90s, when my wife and I visited the campus for a football game. In the halftime crowd, I spied Dr. Summers coming towards me. I knew him right away, but I doubted he would remember me.

I was wrong. As I began to introduce myself, he said, "Oh, yes, I remember you . . . McMahon, isn't it? How are you? Its been a long time. You were . . . what year?" As I reminded him and introduced my wife, he smiled and asked if I had stayed in teaching.

When I said I had, he asked if I liked it. "I love it," I replied. "That's great," he said, smiling and nodding in that encouraging manner I recalled from so many years before. "It was nice to see you." Then he disappeared in the crowd.

Later, as we drove home, I realized there was more to tell him: how the kids now called me "Doc" and listened as I tried to impress them with the importance of grammar, punctuation and spelling and thinking things through. But, more important, I enjoyed the heartfelt realization that education is, indeed, a matter of character. I felt as if the chain of education had been completed one more time.

I always planned to write this letter to Dr. Summers, but teaching is a busy life, so I put it off. Then I read that Doc is gone. So I am doing the best I can. Maybe my letter will prompt some of the Scene's readers to write to their teachers before they leave us. I know now how much it can mean, not simply for the letter's recipient, but for its author as well.

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