First Annual MLK, Jr. Celebration Successful

25 January 2002

By Andrea Suarez Falken and Stentor Danielson
Managing Editor

Of the almost 20 workshops held this Monday at 3 p.m. to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, "They Also Have a Dream: Latinos in Higher Education," held in Lawrence Hall, offered a distinctly surprising and fresh perspective on race relations among students. What might have been an opportunity to hear about Latino professors' experiences in academia, the workshop actually turned out to be a more general discussion about stereotypes between races on campus.

The mediators of the discussion, Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Lourdes Rojas, Professor of Philosophy and Director of Affirmative Action Anne Freire Ashbaugh and Assistant Professor of Psychology and Africana and Latin American Studies Gretchen Lopez provided both enthusiastic and realistic viewpoints. As with other round table discussions on race that take place at Colgate, such as those that occur during the annual Skin Deep retreat, participants and mediators alike did not expect to nor did they reach any easy panaceas on Monday. On the other hand, students were assured and came to firmly believe that change really does happen at Colgate. Professors who have been here even 10 or 15 years know this and those who have been here longer can corroborate more recent changes with ones that we now take for granted but were once hotly debated topics (for example, the admittance of women students and faculty at Colgate).

Across the Quad in Alumni Hall, Assistant Professor of Sociology Carolyn Hsu spoke to a packed seminar room on "There is No Such Thing As Race, So Why Can't We Get Rid of It? Race in Historical and Social Perspective." Hsu traced the development of our current conception of race. She emphasized that there is nothing natural or biological about today's racial categories.

"Before there was black and white," Hsu said, "there were Christians and heathens." She went on to explain how Southern and Eastern Europeans were placed in a different racial category from "higher" whites like the English and Scandinavians. More than half the hands in the room went up when she took a poll of how many students would have been excluded from Colgate under 19th century racial categories.

Although exact attendance figures for all the workshops are not available, Associate Dean of Faculty Jeff Baldani estimates that there were between 400 and 500 participants for the day's event and that individual workshops ranged from six to 100 attendees. Although there is currently no way to provide a demographic breakdown, from this particular workshop, it seemed that the same students were attending this event that attend all similar speakers, forums, workshops, and retreats on race. On one hand, this was frustrating to those tired of repeating themselves amongst those already in agreement: These were the student leaders and faculty interested and active on issues of race on campus, in large part minorities themselves.

Certainly, there are no easy answers to the deep racisl problems made manifest by the remarks this fall of a Professor of Political Science Barry Shain. It is clear, though, that this conflict existed before the fall and that those highly publicized comments hit a long-time sensitive nerve.

Fortunately, the healthy, structured dialogues that took place in Monday's workshops to honor Martin Luther King left attendees feeling satisfied with their participation and optimistic that change can and will happen at Colgate.

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