Editor's Column: Bursting the Colgate Bubble

10 September 1999

By Stentor Danielson

By now I imagine most of you -- even first-years -- have heard the term "Colgate Bubble." The bubble tradition is, unfortunately, one of Colgate's strongest.

The "Colgate Bubble" refers to the invisible wall that springs up between Colgate students and the outside world. Under the guide of quiet, small-town life, it cuts students off from what is happening beyond campus.

It's no surprise that the bubble exists. Hamilton, inhabited by just a few thousand citizens and situated in the beautiful -- but, by city standards, deserted -- hills of upstate New York, seems cut off from the rest of the world already. For those students coming from New York City and other urban centers, it's especially easy to fall into the trap of thinking Colgate is its own little universe.

The magnitude of the hold of the bubble was driven home to me last semester when I was interviewing students for Campus Viewpoints. The question one week was "What do you think of NATO's recent actions in Kosovo?" I hope you are as shocked as I was to find most of the students asked admitted that they did not know that we were bombing Yugoslavia. Many had not even heard of Kosovo! Most of them told me, "Oh, I don't keep up with the news," in the same tone that they would use to say, "Oh, I don't like Thousand Island dressing."

This semester, the bubble's presence struck me agains while talking to a friend. She was unable to identify which nations people such as Slobodan Milosevic and Fidel Castro led. These things seem like basic facts, but when they're not on the upcoming Orgo test, we tend to forget them quickly.

Unfortunately, the outside world hasn't gone away. In fact, it is closer than ever. Though a variety of magazines and newspapers are available at Case Library, you don't even have to come down the Hill to stay abreast of world events. Most of you doubtlessly spend hours on-line, emailing or IMing or doing research. The whole time, the news of the world is just a few clicks away. Almost every newspaper in the country has an on-line edition, and news services like the Associated Press post their stories as well.

I'm not telling you that you have to become an expert on international affairs or politics. In fact, anyone who thinks they are is deceiving him or herself. But even the busiest person can find a few hours a week to check up on events beyond our campus.

You may not immediately see the benefits of knowing the latest turn of the Mideast peace process or the up-to-the-minute status of East Timor (What's East Timor? Check the news.)

But there's a presidential election coming up in 2000. And even if you don't vote, in less than four years, you will have to return to the world that you have been ignoring. People are going to expect that, as a graduate of a small, highly selective private liberal arts school, you are an educated and skilled thinker. That will be a hard image to uphold if you don't even know that Slobodan Milosevic is the president of Russia.

And if you read that last sentence without noticing an error, I suggest you start catching up now.

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