By Danica Davidson
It may sound crazy, but even in 2014, bigotry is alive and well. After seeing racist posts on social media from fellow students and battling day-to-day biases, students at Colgate University decided they’d had enough.
Mimi Ballard, ’18, has experienced bigotry firsthand. She reported another student saying to her, “Oh, I didn’t know your people got in here.” She also recalls a group of white guys calling her names like Shoniqua and Shanene.
“I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my four years here being miserable and hating myself,” she said. “I wanted to do something about it. Personally, I plan on protesting until the administration hears us and there’s actual change. I’m going to stay here until I can be comfortable in this community.”
Fed-up students like Ballard created the Colgate Association of Critical Collegians (ACC), which swiftly launched its powerful #CanYouHearUsNow campaign. Hundreds of students are protesting, wanting to make their campus more all-embracing, open-minded and diversified.
“During the beginning of this year, there were a series of events that led me to a low point and I think I felt defeated,” explained Natasha Torres, '15, who is one of the founders of ACC. “I can’t not do anything. It led to a group of us getting together about how we could address it. People think these [examples of bigotry] are isolated events, but they’re not. They happen every day.”
Bladimir Martinez, ’16, has definitely experienced bias. He described how he’ll be casually walking along and people will avoid him and even cross the street out of fear.
“What I want to get across is that, beyond the individual instances of bigotry, there is a large and systematic oppression,” he said. “This bigotry is the eventuation of that systematic oppression. Yes, we all have these individual situations, but we are fighting the system.”
Samantha Rodriguez, ’17, has not personally experienced bigotry, but she knows the damage it can do, including bias that is done through microaggressions.
“I think people don’t understand the implications of words,” Rodriguez said. “Words mean things. Although it could be a context where you’re joking, if it’s about somebody’s identity, whether it’s race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, those things carry a lot of weight. Be conscious of the jokes you make. If you don’t know if it’s okay, then ask. I think it’s good to have a constructive conversation.”
Federico Elizondo, ’17, also said he hasn’t experienced bigotry firsthand, but he’s as dedicated to the protest as anyone else.
“I feel like knowing this is a school — an institution based on liberal ideals and humanistic values — and knowing this sort of bigotry goes on [in spite of that] is very disheartening.”
Whether they feel the sting of bias firsthand or not, these students understand how real the situation is, and that many stories go unreported and even unspoken.
“I would say I’m not here because of my own issues, but because of what I hear is going around,” said David Jordan, ’17. “It’s also for what I don’t hear. For every story that actually hits, there are so many, many stories no one hears. I see this movement as the beginning of something.”
While the protest has been gathering news, Kristi Carey, ’15, reports that the school is taking an interest in what’s going on.
“The administration sat down and listened for seven hours of personal experiences and testimonies of things people have gone through. Since then we’ve been actively negotiating. The administration wants to work with us. The faculty support has been overwhelmingly positive.”
And while the protest is taking place at Colgate, this could open up dialogue about bigotry and bias across the country. We can talk about things like affirmative action, racial slurs, and the biases we experience each day that others might not be aware of.
When asked how young people can join these students in taking a stand in their own community, Shemuel Malave, ’18, had a quick answer:
“A lot of my peers are shocked these things happen on a daily basis,” he said. “If people share their stories, new people might listen. It starts with people who are willing to get out of their comfort zone and share things they aren’t afraid to share. Be conscious of your actions, and get to know people on a personal level, because a person is not solely defined on stereotypes that are attributed to them.”
To find out more about bias and what you can do about it, check out Look Different.