The Colgate Scene
January 2003

Advice and counsel
The Office of Student Activities helps student groups manage themselves -- and develop valuable skills

Melanie Kiechle '03 flicks the dial while students, members of the community and basketball players play a round of Twister. Kiechle is a member of the Class Council of 2003, one of groups that helped organize activities for Midnight Madness on Cotterell Court. [Photos by Timothy D. Sofranko]

For as many hours a day that college students spend in class and studying, there's still plenty of time for other pursuits. At the heart of making sure Colgate students create educational, meaningful and enjoyable ways to spend their free time is the Office of Student Activities.

Create is the operative word, for anyone in student activities will tell you they're working under a misnomer. Rather than planning activities for the campus, as the name implies, the office takes an educational approach. Students run their own organizations and plan and manage events -- the staff members serve as mentors along the way.

"That's one of the things we're really proud of," said Marisela Rosas, who has been the director of student activities for three years. "Our philosophy is that we're here to help the students `do' for themselves. When a student group decides to bring in a lecturer or a band, they're having the conversations with agents and managers. They're doing the publicity, selling the tickets and running around crazy the day of." In this way, students have the opportunity to learn important lessons and skills, in planning, teamwork, communication, group dynamics, time management and accountability.

More than 100 student organizations are currently recognized by the Student Government Association (SGA), from publications and media to music, drama and dance, from political and cultural to academic, religious or service groups. In order to be recognized and receive funding, each must have a designated mission or purpose and an official list of members and leadership.

The events and programs organized by the clubs are funded through the Budget Allocations Committee (BAC). Seven students, headed by the SGA treasurer, oversee a budget of approximately $530,000 a year, which comes from the annual student activities fee of $190 that is paid by each student.

That's a huge responsibility, acknowledges Marques Green '03, who, along with playing on the basketball team, serving as an RA and being a member of several organizations himself, is the SGA treasurer this year. But, he said, "we want to have enriching events for students, so it's not hard when you think about it that way."

New student organizations

Colgate Greens (Green Party political group)
Colgate Anime Society (Japanese animation club)
Space Exploration Society
Exploring Spirituality
Sociology and Anthropology Club
Democracy Matters
Students for Social Justice
Once the organizations that require specific operating budgets such as media organizations and the class councils are taken care of (about 10 percent of the total), the remainder of the student activities fee pool is left to be allocated. The BAC hears proposals for funding from student organizations each Sunday, evaluating them based on quality, organization and economic and logistical feasibility of the plan outlined in a formal application. Other criteria include the potential impact on the campus community, and whether the program or event fits within the mission statement of the organization. It's a flexible process, mostly first-come, first-served, that provides an incentive for students to plan ahead but also allows for the funding of good ideas that come up mid-semester.

"The committee is strong and level-headed and makes great decisions. We try to keep in mind doing the best thing for the school, and to spread the wealth," said Green, indicating that groups with good ideas but weak or overly ambitious plans are given the opportunity to modify their proposals and reapply as part of a learning process.

Green spends a lot of time in the Office of Student Activities, and appreciates the mentorship he receives from the staff. "It's like my second home. I go there to relax and can talk to them about BAC or anything academic or personal. With the position I'm in, I need support and they provide it."

Aside from the SGA-controlled funds are those of the Colgate Activities Board (CAB), which operates out of the student activities office's own budget. CAB is composed of six student-run committees that provide regular entertainment and other social options. The Take Two film series brings recent blockbuster movies to Love Auditorium on Friday and Saturday nights, free of charge. The music committee schedules concerts in campus venues from Donovan's Pub to the Hall of Presidents. Another group puts on poetry readings, open mic nights, folk or jazz music at Colgate's Barge Canal Coffee Company in Hamilton. The CAB Lecture Series brings a number of major speakers each year; recent guests have included Michael Moore, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Judy Shepard. The special events committee sponsors entertainers such as comedians and hypnotists, and coordinates Winterfest as well as special bus trips. The publicity committee get the word out.

"I look at what our office does from a two-pronged perspective," said Julie Featherman, who's the adviser to CAB as well as the Spring Party Weekend committee and the class of 2004 council. "We work with students to provide entertainment for a good portion of the campus. Whether it's a Take Two movie, a lecture or concert, we're providing social options and alternatives." That programming provides a passive type of involvement for students in general. "Then there's this whole other piece, of providing opportunities for students to become leaders, to gain a voice and to find their passion and get involved," she said. Featherman has been assistant director of student activities for almost two years.

Answering an e-mail on the fly, Director of Student Activities Marisela Rosas works in her office, whose walls are pegged with publicity posters for past and upcoming events.

Opportunities to learn
On a Thursday in late October, Denise Upton, the student activities office manager, was in her usual mode, taking it all in stride. Someone wanted to fill balloons but didn't know how to put the nozzle on the helium tank. A student from CUTV needed a voucher to pay a local pizza shop. A hose borrowed from Buildings and Grounds for the past weekend's carnival was missing. A student organizing the upcoming Asian Awareness Coalition banquet was struggling with how to negotiate a deposit with a Syracuse restauranteur who was being difficult. With her calm and warm demeanor, Upton dispensed advice and good wishes to everyone who walk-ed in or called.

"It's like a wedding with just about every event," she remarked, "where you don't always see behind the scenes and everything comes out beautifully, but there are moments of anxiousness and worry." Upton serves as the bridge for students between the fine details and the event -- making sure they understand when the paperwork must be done, and handling the work orders, obtaining checks, booking rooms, Campus Safety and grounds personnel, and fielding unusual requests.

As an SGA member for two years and Panhellenic president this year, Emily Landgraf '03 has depended on the student activities staff for help in many ways. "They work a lot on teaching students how to interact on a more professional level," she said. "They teach you how to govern yourself, how to deal with people and work as a group. They are always willing share their opinions with you and give you advice, but you make the final decision."

Landgraf ran the annual Mr. Colgate charity pageant this year and said the staff also helped her "to get everything organized and show me what I needed to get done, who I needed to contact, how I should get the personnel there, get the equipment I needed, get the applicants ready to go -- all the logistics," she said. "I love working with them."

Nathaniel Lewis, co-editor in chief of the Maroon-News, agrees. He explained that the Maroon-News was having trouble keeping up its online version, a tedious and cumbersome process. "There was a dialogue between us and student activities on how to deal with that and make it work," he said, explaining that Rosas put them in touch with Mark Nakamura, a university staff web designer. By mid-fall semester, Nakamura was able to help institute a short-term solution that ensured the paper could be posted online each week and is working with them to develop a long-term, more efficient process.

"Through their involvement in student organizations, many students have taken on the responsibility of challenging themselves and their peers, as well as the university."
Some student groups also receive valuable feedback and guidance through faculty or staff advisors. "I would love to put it out as an expectation to have an advisor," said Rosas, "but currently it's up to the student groups whether or not they choose to have one." There are pros and cons to this, she said; while operating solo gives students the autonomy to make and learn from their own decisions, a faculty advisor can provide historical context as the student population turns over.

Michael Coyle, associate professor of English and advisor to WRCU since 1992, feels it's important to lead by example. In addition to meeting regularly with the station's board, listening to student radio shows, calling in to encourage them and provide feedback, he also has his own weekly jazz show.

"I have no stick and only baby carrots," he said, "but I can offer advice and the students are good listeners. Recently we worked on the process by which the new WRCU board is elected. Now elections are done earlier, so that the new board can take over in January, providing continuity because the seniors are still around to help them make the transition into their new positions."

Emily Landgraf '03, center left, Panhellenic Council president, helps ready contestants for the organization's Mr. Colgate pageant in the Chapel. The annual event raises money for charity.

Initiative and involvement
Especially in light of Colgate's rural location, Rosas said they often hear "there's nothing to do here!" from students. In response, "what I say is, you're not looking hard enough," she remarked. "But if you don't see what you want, how can we help? Let's plan it, let's think about it." In fact, Colgate has long been known as a school where it's easy to start something new, and the staff is always looking for better ways to encourage and support initiative.

"We are changing conversations with students away from entitlements to responsibilities," said Adam Weinberg, dean of the college. "We want our students to ask, `what am I responsible for?', not `what am I entitled to?'

"That really starts in student activities," he said, "When a student says, this is a problem, we don't tell them, `we'll get it for you,' we say, here's an opportunity, and in fact you have a responsibility now that you've identified it, to work with others, to envision ways to solve it. The skills they will gain will become incredibly important as they get out of college -- the ability to see a problem and think, what's the vision, what resources do I need, how do I create a strategic plan? How do I gather other people to help me, and how do we implement it? That's how you start or reorganize a company, build a neighborhood or start a nonprofit. Those are the real skills of personal success and engaged citizenship."

In that light, last year, student activities created a program called Show Me the Money, for organizations or individual students who had an idea for an educational, social or diversity program. "We would fund up to $500 and assist them through the process," said Rosas. This fall, for example, a student interested in bringing an Andean folk band had approached several campus departments with ties to Latin American studies to help supplement the cost and submitted a proposal. Show Me the Money paid the balance and the band appeared as part of the World Expo in November.

Sharisa Boston, assistant director, who joined the staff last summer, finds that Colgate students are ready to take on more initiative. "One of the things I love about working here," she said, "is that Colgate students are definitely more focused. When they have a goal, they do whatever they need to do to get there."

As an example, she noted that a group of students wanted to bring DJ Fatman Scoop for a concert in the Hall of Presidents in early September. In the process, they figured out how to shop around for a lower fee. Boston was impressed that by empowering students to have creativity, research their ideas and propose them, "they were willing to find other sources and negotiate deals."

Sue Parsons from Onondaga, left, and Kakwireiosta Hall '04, right, a Cherokee and Mohawk who grew up in and around the Onondaga Nation, perform an Iroquois Social Dance during the Native American Art and Culture Festival co-sponsored by the Native American Student Association. Hall said this year's organizers worked hard to add variety and representation from more groups of Native Americans.

Developing leadership
Another strong emphasis in student activities "is our commitment to leadership development for student organizations," said Rosas. While each staff member works with students on developing leadership on an individual basis, Sharisa Boston advises two specific student teams focused on leadership.

The Student Leadership Team, led by Sarah Scarselletta '04 and Caitlin Bennett '05, offers interactive workshops through a newly focused program, The Key: Unlocking the Leader Within. "I'm really proud to say that they won a Campus Life Award in November for their group dynamics workshop, which focused on different personalities within a group, how to hold an effective meeting, and team builders and ice breakers," said Boston. "The Student Leadership Team has also taken a special interest in helping the Leadership Options For Tomorrow (LOFT) residence hall community, which has 85 first-year students this year."

The second group, still under formation, will be the Student Leadership Organization Committee (SLOC). Ten campus leaders will be selected by the SGA to serve as liaisons, to ensure that all student organizations hold to their mission statements, have the program planning skills they need, locate and use resources effectively and identify new leadership opportunities.

"Some organizations are really great and have solid foundations, and others struggle from year to year," said Rosas of the need for this initiative. She noted that some of the most active groups, who take ownership of their social and educational experiences and are the most conscientious in their program planning, are cultural organizations such as Latin American Student Organization, Asian Awareness Coalition and Brothers. "They're actively engaged and are good examples of serving as big brothers and big sisters and transitioning from one leader to another."

Walking across difference
As part of their mission, many student groups organize events to which the whole campus is invited. Because of their complexity and scale, these are some of the best opportunities to learn to work together. A new initiative is encouraging groups to collaborate on these types of events.

"It's a joke on campus that after sophomore year, you don't make any new friends," said SGA President Sarmad Khojasteh '03. "We're working with the president's office, dean's office and legislative affairs committee of the student senate to create a fund for student groups to co-host social events like catered parties at the Commons." The fund would allow two organizations that wouldn't normally interact to apply for a specific date, and work together in planning, getting caterers, booking the locations, advertising and decorating.

"The hope is that kids who don't normally hang out together will hang out," said Khojasteh. "Plus, if other groups are throwing parties on campus, the fraternities won't feel the pressure to be throwing parties and getting themselves into bad situations, and at the same time, we can offer something else besides the downtown bars."

Known as the President's Social Fund, the program will accomplish another broad university goal, according to Weinberg.

"We focus on teaching our students how to walk across difference," said Weinberg. There is a nationwide tendency of groups to balkanize or isolate themselves based on commonalities like race or politics, he noted; but, while it is important for people to find a community where they feel safe, "that needs to be a pretext for finding commonality and building a larger community. Our students are going to graduate and live in a global society. They are going to be in business with, live next door to and share communities with people who are going to be very, very diverse, not just in terms of race or ethnicity, but also in terms of gender, sexual identity and politics." Being able to deal with and thrive through diversity is crucial, Weinberg continued, and programs such as the social fund are at the heart of helping students learn to do that.

Bill Yoast, left, CAB Lecture Series Chair Matt Pysher '04, center, Herman Boone, top right, and Assistant Director of Student Activities Julie Featherman do a pre-lecture time check. Boone and Yoast are the real-life coaches portrayed in the movie Remember the Titans.

The interests of the student body at particular periods of time drive the creation of new kinds of organizations or initiatives, in part "as a reflection of what is happening in society and popular culture," said Rosas. Recently, the staff has seen an increase in community service as well as social justice organizations -- "organizations that are challenging the way that we think or encourage students to be advocates or allies to causes," she said. The creation of the Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education last year was a direct result.

Mac Barrett '03 has learned a lot about initiative, leadership and walking across difference as a member of the Students for Social Justice, the group he now leads.

"Before I came here, I went to the Ellis Island Museum and I saw a quote from former Colgate president George Barton Cutten. It was anti-immigrant, and more specifically, I learned he was a eugenist," explained Barrett. "I then came here and noticed that we have a building named for this man. Not to dishonor him, but I thought there was no reason to hold him up as one of our role models if he was a strong proponent of racist ideas. I thought that this was an opportunity for Colgate to publicly take a position for racial harmony." Through the Students for Social Justice, Barrett started an information and petition campaign to have the Cutten residence complex renamed, gaining more than 800 signatures.

In the end, Barrett said, while Colgate chose not to rename the building, he recognizes today that his efforts produced a positive change on campus. "What they have done is started an annual Cutten Race and Society lecture series. To get people to continue to think differently about race at Colgate is a good start."

"What is so great about Colgate is that individual students can make a difference and are empowered to have an active hand in shaping our community," commented Rosas. "Through their involvement in student organizations, many students have taken on the responsibility of challenging themselves and their peers, as well as the university. The initiative of the Students for Social Justice is a prime example of students understanding their role as leaders, engaged citizens and activists in their community."

There has also been an increased interest among students in entering intellectual conversations and in increasing the intellectual diversity on campus. In fact, the SGA has taken up intellectual climate as one of its main priorities this year. One result was the creation of a faculty dialogue series to discuss contemporary topics at the Barge in Hamilton.

"We're hoping this becomes a weekly event," said Khojasteh, remarking that the idea for the series came out of a post-September 11 discussion with philosophy and religion professor Omid Safi last year. "I was there and saw Hamilton residents, administrators, faculty and students in an intense discussion, and I thought this was great, why doesn't it happen more?" The first discussion focused on the potential war in Iraq.

Nana Hoda, right, native speaker in the Romance languages department, demonstrates Japanese calligraphy, while Amanda Erekson '03, president of Japan Club, center, works with another during World Expo, an annual collaboration of many student groups to celebrate culture with entertainment, educational displays and food from many lands.

Alumni involvment
Colgate alumni become involved in student activities in myriad ways. In addition to Real World, the January collaboration of the alumni and career services offices and the senior class council that brings alumni and seniors together to discuss navigating life after Colgate, Rosas noted that a number of student organizations such as the Colgate Thirteen, Konosioni and the Resolutions maintain strong ties with their alumni, and other groups bring alumni back to campus for lectures or other events.

Additional groups, such as CUTV, she said, are beginning to recognize greater possibilities and benefits of alumni involvement and are reaching out. For example, this spring, the Latin American Student Organization is sponsoring a student-alumni conference to discuss the past, present and future of Latinos on campus.

A new home, a new name
"We see the students who are very involved often, and that's a joy," said Rosas -- but, she noted, the student activities staff has found their location in the Student Union on the lower campus, out of normal student traffic flow, to be detrimental. Many club leaders rarely come down unless they have to, and opportunities for interaction and encouraging involvement with the general student body are rare.

The situation will soon change. By mid-fall 2003, ongoing renovations to the O'Connor Campus Center will include a new home for student activities in a building that is much more central to students' daily lives -- where they get their mail, eat in the Coop, hold meetings and shop in the new convenience store.

"How exciting, for us to be in a place that's easily accessible for our student leaders," said Rosas, "but also, I wouldn't be surprised if there was a significant increase in involvement."

Weinberg underscored her statement. "This renovation will be the one of the most important things that happen in our division this year," he said. "You can't mentor people if you're not around them. We want students popping into the office to say, `gee, we had a meeting last night and it didn't go well, what do I do?' That kind of informal mentorship will get a greater spectrum of students involved."

Along with a new home, Weinberg said it's time the office also had a new name that more accurately reflects its mission and purpose. "Colgate has always been focused on student leadership and initiative development," said Weinberg, so that's the working title for now. He's asked the staff to come up with a creative moniker. It will most likely be unveiled later this year.

Top of page
Table of contents
  Next: The cancer killer >>