The Colgate Scene
Breaking bread, building bridges
|By Rebecca Costello|
[Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]
Jaime Nolan wants everyone to Pause. With a capital P.
No matter who you are, what you are doing, or what you are talking about, "rather than ambling headlong into your typical reaction or response, take a moment and stop," she said. "That's where all the possibility is. If you can create what I call the Pause, you might do something that will make a difference."
Sharing -- and living by -- this credo are how Nolan has carried out her duties as director of the ALANA Cultural Center since 2003. The approach has been essential in making her work as much about building bridges and fostering a sense of community among various groups at Colgate as it has been about running a college facility originally intended for a specific population.
The ALANA Cultural Center has always served as a place where Colgate students, faculty, and staff gather to understand Africana, Latin American, Asian American, and Native American cultures, struggles, and accomplishments. The staff has also advised and facilitated ALANA student organizations and collaborated with cultural academic programs.
Nolan came to Colgate aiming to expand that mission. Her experience working in the arena of diversity and multiculturalism spans more than a dozen years in higher education. She previously held several multicultural and academic affairs positions at the University of Minnesota; taught freshman composition, Chicano studies, and women's studies courses; and served as marketing communications director for a private sector organization focused on the recruitment of women and people of color to corporate management positions.
On a personal level, she said, "I've always been interested in people and differences, more from a curious place than a judgmental place. My father's family is from Guatemala, but I was raised only by my mother's side of the family, which is white and privileged. So while some people's identities are formed through struggle, I ended up exploring my Latino heritage through my white privilege."
Nolan was attracted to Colgate, she said, because "what I saw was that Colgate was at this amazing crossroad, with so many different pieces in place, but not necessarily the connecting point. I was excited about playing a role in creating connections to these wonderful pieces."
The shifting landscape of diversity
The first challenge in fostering such change was to broaden the ALANA Cultural Center's identity.
"When I arrived, I saw that this place was almost cloaked to the majority student population," she said, "so I felt I needed to bring groups together and also make the center more visible to the whole community."
Nolan began to facilitate frequent partnerships with other campus departments and student groups. Now when planning a multicultural event, she said, "I always ask, `who can we do this with?' And we don't specify the individual sponsoring departments, clubs, or programs in our publicity. It's just, `Colgate presents.' That furthers our mission of building community." An added benefit of closer collaboration: departments are able to use resources more efficiently.
"As diversity has become a shifting landscape at Colgate, Jaime has opened up the cultural center in ways that have influenced the entire campus," said Adam Weinberg, dean of the college. "She helped reinvent it as not only a safe space for students who have often felt marginalized, but also a place where all students can learn the skills of walking across difference. She has creative ideas to encourage them to think about and act upon issues of diversity in new and exciting ways."
For example, Nolan created the Breaking Bread program to capitalize on the adage that food brings people together: in the kitchen, people work together to create a meal and then share it at a common table, building relationships and hashing out differences as they work toward a common goal.
"The idea was to bring together student groups who normally wouldn't interact," she explained. "We have this great kitchen here, and in the process of cooking a meal, they are asked to come up with two objectives that would lead to a more formal collaboration, such as a charity event or a speaker."
Funds for the meal and the event are provided, and the program is open to all student groups. In the first year, eight separate Breaking Bread events took place, including pairings of Students for Environmental Action and the Latin American Student Association, and the College Republicans and Advocates (sexual identity group).
"Breaking Bread provides a chance for groups that may have misconceptions about each other, or even tension between them, to come together," said Nolan, "and what better way to diminish or minimize that than through real contact?" She also noted that the program is becoming a model for other colleges and universities interested in adopting the principles of Colgate's vision for residential education.
Nolan also revised the format of the annual Skin Deep retreat, where students discuss issues of race, gender, and discrimination. Extending it to two and a half days, Nolan said, "we decided to offer it only to first-years and sophomores, with the idea that the experience could impact them personally as well as the community in coming years."
Skin Deep has become a popular program. Anthony Reyna '08 was an organizer this year.
"At times it was tense," he said, "but I think in order to really have an effect on discrimination, it's good to open yourself up and talk about issues that make you uncomfortable. At the same time I got a chance to meet and develop a relationship with other people, so that was cool."
Moving over, moving forward
The program has been a key component of ensuring that Colgate can bring in and support a diverse group of students, said Weinberg, who also noted that some of the university’s most important campus leaders are a part of OUS.
Nolan said she will work closely with Monica Nixon of the Center for Leadership and Student Involvement, who has been named acting director of the ALANA Cutural Center, to develop new collaborations between her old post and her new one.
Asked why she was interested in taking the position, she said, "Initially I thought, why would I? I'm doing all this great work, with the diversity initiative executive council and these broad programs, which is where my heart is.""
Then Nolan Paused.
"It was then I realized that by moving over to the academic side of the house, I could create change maybe even more quickly, because we've already created this momentum here.""
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