The Colgate Scene
Live from Broad Street
|By Rebecca Costello|
Students wrestle in a pile of leaves at Phi Delta Theta's Halloween pumpkin carving event for the Hamilton community in October. [Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]
On a late Wednesday afternoon in early November, nearly 20 students are gathered around the dining room table at Bunche House. Although dressed in typical super-casual student attire, this group is all business. It is the weekly meeting of the Broad Street Community Council (BSCC), and today's agenda includes brainstorming ideas for the upcoming holiday lights festival, troubleshooting plans for an event that has gotten off track, and debating content and implementation of standing rules for their organization.
In its second year of operation, the student-governed council serves as the elected representative body for the Broad Street community — composed of Colgate's cultural, theme, Greek-letter houses, and townhouses — where 530 students, mostly juniors and seniors and a few sophomores, live.
The concept for the Broad Street community comes out of Colgate's vision for residential education, which is built on the approach of giving students more freedom as well as responsibility for what and how things happen in their time outside of the classroom, while also providing mentorship and support.
Colgate's vision is just what the country needs to carry out a better form of democracy, according to Dennis Donovan. He is the national organizer for Public Achievement, an initiative of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs that gives young people the opportunity to participate in civic engagement.
"There is more to democracy than voting and service. Our work is about helping people realize that we all have the ability to solve problems," said Donovan. He said that Colgate, along with three other institutions (Naropa University, the University of Minnesota, and Minneapolis Community and Technical College), is working with the Humphrey Institute and serving as what he calls a "democracy laboratory," to help students learn the skills of citizenship, from communicating and working with people who are different from them, to learning to work with administrations "in a way that isn't protest politics."
In several visits to campus, Donovan said he has been impressed through his work with the student senate as well as the residential life program, including students in Broad Street houses.
"Colgate is looking at how students can use this four-year experience to not only get a great intellectual education but also have greater experience with real-world politics," he said. "It is an example of the great leadership that Colgate is demonstrating to the nation."
Residents talk and sip hot cocoa outside the Loj during the Broad Street holiday lights festival in early December. [Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]
Created last year, the BSCC is one element of Colgate's residential education vision in action. It addresses the concerns and interests of students who live on Broad Street; fosters cooperation among students, Colgate, and the town of Hamilton; and maintains the integrity of each individual community.
The council is supported by the Broad Street Community Fund, an annual allotment of approximately $40,000. Groups submit proposals, which are evaluated by the BSCC in consultation with staff advisers, for activities that will foster community building among the various houses and other student organizations.
"That's one thing I really like — it's all about taking a risk," said Beth Weick, a junior from Kintnersville, Pa., who is La Casa Pan Latina Americana's representative on the BSCC. "The money allotted to us is a social venture fund. We're told that we don't have to be successful with it, just to try new things. Without that it would be hard to accomplish anything different." She joined the council after taking a course, Citizenship, Service, and Social Change. After a fellow student examined the council for her class project, Weick got excited about its practical applications.
In addition to representing the interests of her house, Weick said, "I have strong ideas about what kind of communities can take shape. Broad Street can be another space to open up and tackle difficult issues about race relations, town/gown relations, and Greek/non-Greek issues, and start crossing divides between certain houses to break down stereotypes. That's my ideal."
Students speak enthusiastically about the dinner held by the Class of 1934 House, whose residents are members of student media organizations, and Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority as part of an initiative to bring together different houses. And the November celebration of Diwali (the festival of lights, also accepted by many Hindus as the start of the new year) is universally cited as a rousing success showing the social venture fund at work.
In recent years, the Diwali festival had been held on campus. According to Anand Kapur, a junior from Calcutta, India, the attendees were mostly members of the Hindu Student Association and those who were required to attend for a class.
"This year we held the celebration in Creative Arts House," Kapur said. "We brought a Hindu priest from Syracuse. A huge amount of people came from up and down Broad Street to the Puja and then stayed for food afterwards. It was a real success. We printed 200 handouts and we ran short." In addition to supporting events on Broad Street, the BSCC worked throughout the fall on several other fronts: to further define its long-term goals and structure; build connections with students, faculty, administrators, and alumni; and to improve specific aspects of the residential life system that impact their residents.
"I saw the BSCC as an opportunity to help integrate fraternities into what Colgate wants for the future," said Oberg. After serving as co-author of the first draft of the BSCC's standing rules last spring, Oberg ran for council president. He sees this role as a way to realize his hopes for a strong Greek system.
Jarman Russell, the BSCC rep from Phi Delta Theta and that fraternity's vice president, said his goal for the council is to address administrative issues, such as those related to the Greek-letter house ownership transition. "Greek houses have had so much experience running a community efficiently that they have a lot to offer. I see my role as reflecting the interests of the people who live in my house and participating in the decision-making as a member of the council at large. I've been critical of this whole process, but up front [the staff] said we should feel free to bring things up," said the senior, who is from Horseheads, N.Y.
For several Greek-letter chapters at Colgate, including Delta Delta Delta, the residential education vision means that they are living together in a house for the first time. Members welcome that change.
"It's made a big difference in the chapter," said Lauren Mondrone, president of Delta Delta Delta, which moved into 84 Broad Street in the fall. "We had our biggest year since starting with recruitment. We had 43 new members, and we really think the house had a part in that. Also, now Tri Delta feels much more like a home. We've gotten to know other sisters better and have become really close."
Mondrone, a senior from St. James, N.Y., who plans to go into teaching, also said, "I've learned a lot about management, and what you can do to make sure everyone's voice is heard." She noted that Delta Delta Delta has decided to combine their house manager and BSCC rep positions. "It's an important position that we think should be selected by the chapter because it represents us."
Colin Oberg mentioned several ways that Colgate helps ensure the BSCC's success, including providing a leadership workshop. "I learned a lot of exercises for developing community among a group that didn't know each other very well," he said. Also, on a regular basis, Jennifer Adams, assistant dean of the college, and Kelly Opipari, director of fraternity and sorority affairs, attend the BSCC meetings. They place themselves outside of the circle of members in order to be unobtrusive yet available to provide institutional knowledge or a bit of coaching when needed. That approach exemplifies the mentorship model that Colgate has adopted for working with students.
"The core principle is that staff members do not solve problems or do things for students," said Tim Mansfield, director of residential life. "It's about showing students how to negotiate conflict or ideas, and allowing them to use their living spaces to make that happen. When a resident comes to us with a problem, we will ask, `What can you do about it?' and `How can I help?' We tell them that sometimes it's going to be uncomfortable, but at the end of the day, you're likely to learn a bit more about living with others and understanding conflict."
Bunche House residents take a break from the chaos of finals week. [Photo by Aubrey Graham '06]
Tapping into alumni experience
"They are in a new position with a new governance structure," said Coldebella, "so we wanted to talk to them about issues they might face this year, and think about ways in which alumni could help. The students came up with great ideas that centered around having alumni coming to campus to talk about their lives and careers — one group even suggested an `alumni in residence' program — and alumni helping to answer leadership questions that they might have."
Out of that workshop also came the idea for the entire alumni board to meet with Broad Street residents during the fall board meeting a few weeks later. The alumni broke up into groups to tour Broad Street houses and then held a working dinner with approximately 50 students to discuss further how alumni, both board members and others, could make new connections with students.
"The tour was excellent because it gave us a glimpse of what daily life in the residences was all about," said Coldebella. "That weekend also tied into ideas that the alumni board has been working on for quite some time — ways to leverage the incredible interests that alumni have in students and in residences and to link them up. If we can establish this link, everyone wins. The alums get to be more involved in Colgate, and the students receive valuable advice as well as a contact in the real world."
"It was really interesting to hear what the students are trying to do with their houses and to be part of the community. For a lot of us, Broad Street is different from what we experienced," said Laura Hoag '97, a member of Gamma Phi Beta. "Even though it's student-run, it's a little bit more structured. The houses are working together to be more a part of the college, which I think is important." She encouraged the students to reach out and keep the lines of communication open with alumni of their houses or other student organizations.
Anand Kapur, who is the community coordinator for Creative Arts House, said that one specific idea that came out of the interactions was to have alumni stay over for the weekend and conduct a workshop in their area of career expertise.
"I have someone from Class of '04 already interested," he said. "We'd like to do that one or two weekends next semester."
As the Broad Street community continues to refine and develop, there is more work to be done, but the potential has surely begun to take hold. As Dennis Donovan put it: "Wherever I go, I'm taking Colgate with me as an example of a great vision. Bringing this notion of democracy and everyday politics into campus life is very exciting on the national scene."
Top of page
Table of contents
|Next: Facilitators and mentors >>|