The Colgate Scene
January 2002

Proceeding with care

On Nov. 26, 70 Colgate students assembled in James B. Colgate Hall and requested a meeting with Interim President Jane Pinchin, members of her senior staff and trustees who were on campus for other meetings. The ensuing discussion focused primarily on issues surrounding diversity at Colgate. Some students also expressed concern about their safety in light of a Nov. 18 incident in which African-American students were harassed and threatened by strangers while walking on Oak Drive. [Enlarge]

"Colgate is fully capable of meeting what is difficult with wisdom and generosity of spirit"

Many of you have seen news accounts, in the New York Times and elsewhere, of Colgate students sitting-in in the public space in the administration building.

I write to give you a view from campus and some follow-up on that story; to tell you what I see to be at stake in the issues at hand; and to discuss how the college will deal with what is before us.

On November 26, 70 students spoke with me, with members of my senior staff and with four trustees who were on campus for other meetings. The conversation focused on at least three issues, only the first of which was covered in the national press.

That issue concerned a professor whose views on students "seduced into taking exotic courses" and on faculty who "accommodate" students of color were seen by those assembled as calling into question their integrity and achievements as students.

The second issue was one of safety, arising out of an incident on Oak Drive in which three students were assaulted with a racial epithet and death threat by those we assume to be strangers to our community.

The third issue, which garnered no headlines, was about the circumstances of being students of color in a predominantly white college, and about whether these students, over time, felt a part of the whole; whether they were deeply welcomed into a community with which they were to have a lifelong relationship. Like family.

A Nov. 29 panel discussion, "The Value of Diversity in Curriculum and Pedagogy," planned by the university before the student protest, drew a standing-room-only crowd to Love Auditorium. Faculty members Scott Kraly (psychology), Heidi Ross (educational studies), Pete Banner-Haley (history, Africana and Latin American studies), Jay Swain (music), Marilyn Thie (philosophy and religion, women's studies), Barry Shain (political science) and Barbara Hoopes (biology) discus-sed the merits of a variety of teaching methods and learning styles. Similar discussions, addressing a variety of topics surrounding diversity, are planned for Jan. 21, which is both the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and the first day of classes in Colgate's spring semester. [Enlarge photo]

Free speech, safety, diversity: all complicated, sometimes intractable issues, and when they come accompanied by the idea of a "sit-in," itself complete with requests that, however politely, are packaged as "demands," one knows one is in a difficult and delicate situation.

One also knows that Colgate is not only fully capable of meeting what is difficult with wisdom and generosity of spirit but that these students deserve and will get our full attention, even as we proceed carefully and within our governance structures.

Note what I have told the students: we will be calling upon alumni here, and with Bob Tyburski '74, and RuthAnn Loveless MA'72, who have already begun this process, will be contacting alumni of color and those who have a particular interest in the issues at hand -- and who can help provide students with necessary networking and mentoring. Deans Jack Dovidio, Mike Cappeto and Gary Ross '77 have all put their shoulders to the wheel as well. The campus, in the week that followed the sit-in, took part in a panel debate -- about pedagogy, the canon and diversity -- in which structured controversy reigned. The students with whom we have met since have shown themselves to be articulate spokespersons, and it will be a pleasure to work in governance with them and with students, faculty and staff across the campus to build on Colgate's strengths.

The road ahead will be hard -- we will not always agree -- but if our actions are both disciplined and generous, if they support intellectual engagement and student life, we will all do well by our fine college.

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