The great importance of the Colby Affirmation

I made a rather unkind comment to my roommate the other day at the expense of both him and the department on which he studies. While the incident demonstrated a lapse of judgment on my part, it is not this, but rather the realization that my disrespect of my friend violated the integrity of our friendship, which causes it to remain present in my mind.

Of all 65 of the multi-syllable words written in the Colby Affirmation, I would argue that the most important of them are “integrity” and “respect,” for these two words summarize virtually the entire message of the Affirmation: that every Colby student understand that he or she is expected to respect others and not to do anything to compromise the intellectual integrity that Colby College holds so dear.

These two values seem straightforward. Many of us are first informed of these virtues before we even know what they mean. They are reiterated to us throughout our childhoods and adolescences. They are in the books we read and the television shows we watch, and by the time we are young adults in college, many of us have heard them so often we have mastered the art of tuning them out.

Due to this phenomenon,  we still have no or very little idea what they mean. In fact, I challenge anyone to find a fellow student who can define either “integrity” or “respect” without beginning his or her definition with “it’s when you like…” or a non-lexical conversation sound. Of course most of us have a tacit understanding of what these words mean, but it is easy to question the value of giving one’s solemn vow to uphold a slew of words about which one, in all likelihood, will not care wholeheartedly enough to even internalize its values.

Furthermore, the Affirmation is, by definition, a reiteration of the already explicit core values of Colby, with which we are already supposed to be familiar. The thing in question then becomes the importance of having students agree to uphold values they have probably been told to uphold throughout their entire lives, and are already required to uphold by merely being members of the Colby community.

And to those in question, I say that affirmations like the Colby Affirmation are not only important, but also necessary.

I do not mean to say that explicit over-arching documents are necessary. Rather, personal validations of the truth that in order to protect the integrity of one’s beliefs, one must respect other’s beliefs. And as far as I am concerned, anything, if it contributes to that integrity and respect, is a good thing, whether it takes the form of a stately document or a local drunk.

We all, however, forget or neglect this simple truth with some frequency—the earlier anecdote with my roommate is just one example. But the reason my roommate and I were able to move past it was because he held me to a standard of respect and integrity, and called me out when I failed to uphold it. And if we can all hold ourselves to this standard and, perhaps even more importantly, recognize when we violate this standard, I sincerely believe that we will become better people, better college students, and ultimately better members of society.

So maybe it deserves to be repeated every now and again.

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