The Colgate Scene
January 2006

The Colgate Scene welcomes letters from readers. We reserve the right to edit letters for brevity and clarity.
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. . . The review of Mel Watkins's book (Stepin Fetchit: The Life and Times of Lincoln Perry, November 2005) reminds me of an evening in probably 1968 in a roadhouse near Clinton, Iowa. Before heading back to Chicago, I stopped in, as I saw a sign announcing the evening's entertainment -- "Stepin' Fetchit" and "so-and-so, exotic dancer." Inside, I was advised that Stepin' Fetchit would do a stand-up comedy routine.

I decided to stay for the entertainment. Mr. Fetchit's routine, as I recall, was humorous and had no relation to his movie reputation, with which I was acquainted. The show was reasonably well received by the audience, which I would describe as pretty rural, and my memory is that he was far more interesting than the exotic dancer. I'm also sure his take for the evening's work was minimal; I don't think the place held 100 people.

. . . I was extremely disappointed that in the printed portion of new Colgate Athletics Director Dave Roach's September Scene interview, no mention was made of the incredible athletic opportunities for students who do not participate on the varsity level at Colgate. In fact, more Colgate students participate in recreational and club sports than in varsity athletics, and it is a disservice and dishonor to those student-athletes that the athletic director seems to be only focused on varsity athletics.

As the AAP chairman in the western New York area, I know that students and prospective students tell me regularly how important these options are to them when they select Colgate over other comparable schools. For those of us who participated in recreational and club sports, and for those of us who are out "selling" Colgate, Mr. Roach's comments are a cause of concern.

Colgate is a school where participation matters. Athletic activity is not limited to Division I athletes. Speaking both as an alumna and as someone who devotes countless hours each year to presenting Colgate to potential alumni, I know how important — and how special — Colgate's emphasis on athletic participation at all levels is. I am disappointed that Mr. Roach does not seem to share this view.

Editor's note: In focusing the interview primarily on varsity athletics, the Scene did not intend to imply that Dave Roach does not value the other areas of the university's overall athletics program, which also includes 40 club sports, 16 intramural sports, the physical education program, outdoor education, and open recreation offerings.

"Our division's goal is to offer programs that allow every student to participate in physical activity at some level," said Roach. "We are proud of our well-rounded program and will continue to strive for quality in everything that we offer."

. . . I was surfing through Colgate's website and decided to re-read the Report of the Task Force on Campus Culture that became an instrumental study for the university's new residential plan and the acquisition of the Greek-letter properties. While reading the report, I made a startling discovery that alumni were not mentioned once in the Principles and Recommendations section. What happened? To me this fact highlights the arrogant and reckless behavior of Colgate's administration and the Board of Trustees. Colgate is endowed with a loyal and talented alumni resource pool, many of us lifetime members of Greek-letter chapters. One would think that the "master plan" for the future of our alma mater would have been more cognizant and inclusive of the alums, which form the very "foundation of the spirit and culture of Colgate."

The alumni would most likely offer the single most beneficial resource for solving the social and behavior problems within the student body, since we have many lifetime experiences to mentor the young students. I recommend that the administration and the Board of Trustees evaluate the benefits of an alumni mentoring system, where a volunteer CU graduate is assigned as a sponsor to an undergraduate student for one year or the four years of the student's undergraduate years. The mentor and the student could be matched up by special interests or other criteria, and the sponsor would be available for personal and private support for the student.

Editor's note: We asked alumni board president Joanne Spigner '76 to provide her perspective on ways alumni have become involved since the recommendations of the task force were published. Thank you, Mr. Platt, for your reminder that alumni are an important resource for mentoring students. The alumni board has had regular conversations with senior administrators, trustees, and student leaders on this topic. Although the task force report does not specifically reference alumni involvement, Colgate has established and expanded a number of specific mentoring programs to connect students and alumni through a shared interest, common goal, or professional area, such as the Real World program, Career Development for a New Economy, and the Alan I. Greene '51 life skills program. Through the Fraternity and Sorority Alumni Initiative (FSAI) committee, alumni are actively assisting Greek letter organizations and their student leaders in the transition of house ownership (November 2005 Scene). The alumni board has been meeting with Broad Street students to ask for their alumni engagement suggestions and to support their ideas (see story).

These examples, along with many other programs and informal connections made through career services, faculty, athletics, and campus contacts, lead to hundreds of one-on-one connections between students and alumni. We welcome ideas such as yours as part of the dialogue to advance the university's strategic plan, of which one tenet is to create lifelong connections with alumni.

. . . Warren Ramshaw (Deaths, November 2005) was my teacher in the very first class I took at Colgate, Introduction to Anthropology, 8 a.m., M-W-F, in the fall of 1961, which was also the very first class that Warren taught as a new member of the faculty. Professor Ramshaw was a wonderful teacher who saw something in me that I didn't even realize was there.

Warren believed I could write and that I had something to say. This was an unbelievable gift to someone with working-class roots in New York City who was also the first in his family to attend college and wasn't sure he had anything to offer anyone. Warren guided my successful change of major from mathematics to sociology and anthropology, watched me play basketball, and continued to inspire me in many quiet and thoughtful ways.

Over the years, we managed to stay in touch. He invited me back to Colgate in 1970 to speak about my opposition to the war in Vietnam. He encouraged my decision to become a VISTA attorney in Alaska and to teach on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. He continued to support, even champion, my writing in the field of Indian law and my continued efforts as a fledgling poet (at almost 50 years of age!). All of this was particularly important to me because my direction often seemed so contrary to both the conventional upper-middle-class patterns of most Colgate alums and my working-class background.

The last time I saw Warren was at a class reunion in 2000. We took a long walk around the campus. We talked of many things. When we finished, we embraced and he kissed me on the cheek.

When I heard of Warren's passing, I was visiting my daughter Kate '06 at Colgate, which made the news all the more poignant. In talking with Professor Chris Vescey, we both noted how swift and inexplicable death can often be. Then in an unexpected and touching moment, Chris gave me one of Warren's ties (several of which had been given to him when Warren's effects were being gathered from his home).

Upon returning to South Dakota, I wore Warren's tie to class and spoke to my own students about Warren Ramshaw and about the ties that bind a teacher and his student across the years, about a teacher who made a difference.

. . . I had the pleasure of taking several classes taught by Warren Ramshaw in the late 1960s, as well as serving as a teaching assistant to him in 1970 and 1971. Whatever awards Warren obtained over the years for excellence in teaching probably understated his ability to motivate students. The Berrys' description of Warren (Letters, November 2005) prior to his death as "unique, energetic, dignified, dedicated, and caring" describes the man I knew 35 years ago. I am a better person for having been his student, and I am certain there are many others who feel the same way.

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