Where have we been? Where are we now? Where are we going?

On Thursday evening, the editors of the Echo received an anonymous essay from a vetted source. We believe the following essay makes a valuable contribution to both the public and private dialogues currently engulfing this campus. 

Where have we been?

This school means something. Being a part of this school means something. This experience is more than sleeping in a Hillside double and drunkenly making out with someone in the apartments. Once you graduate, your words and actions linger and the mark you’ve left on this school does not evaporate. The school morphs with each person that passes through its doors. These buildings have stories, and meaning— and history.

Colby College has a profound legacy of justice and inclusivity. Our school admitted its first African-American student, Jonas Holland Townsend, in 1845. He went on to assume a key role in publishing the first black newspaper in the state of California. Townsend walked the paths of Colby and argued vigorously for his activist platform nearly twenty years before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and exactly one-hundred and nineteen years before the Civil Rights Act nationally outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Four decades later, Adam Simpson Green became the first African-American student to receive a Colby degree, after a college career dedicated to writing provocative articles for The Colby Echo on the state of the nation after the Civil War.

Meanwhile, Colby became the first previously male college in New England to accept female students in 1871. As one of the first women admitted to the national Phi Beta Kappa academic honors society, Mary Caffrey Low proved that she was worthy of her education. She represented Colby as the valedictorian of her class nearly one hundred years before Harvard issued a degree to a female student for the first time in 1963.

Similarly, white men like Elijah Parish Lovejoy proved that one need not belong to a societally oppressed group to make Colby College, and America, more just. Lovejoy was an ardent abolitionist who was killed in Alton, Illinois for his blistering critiques of slavery. Many members of the abolitionist movement hailed him as a martyr and his death is often referred to as the “first casualty of the Civil War.”

The school that we all attend was built by these people: people who fought for equal education for women and people who died promoting the idea that a person’s race should not define or enslave them. These people are the products and the parents of this institution. And these names are more than characters in a history lesson of Colby—they surround us every day. Mary Low protects you from the cold winters and Lovejoy supervises the way you carry yourself in class. These names made Colby the school it is and we should all take pride in—and do justice to— their legacy.

Where are we now?

The narrative that has gained currency around campus is a simplified one. “These people are bad, these people are good and all these bad things are done by these bad people.” This displays a blatant lack of understanding of the situation and a disregard for the complexity of the matter.

I came to Colby because I wanted a small liberal arts school with a strong campus community and no Greek life. I will be the first to admit that I was not thrilled when I discovered the existence of the underground fraternities nor do I celebrate them.

However, I also am strongly opposed to condemning the individuals in them. Colby is not an easy school for boys socially– and especially for boys who aren’t involved in athletics when that is such a large part of how our community defines masculinity and circumscribes belonging. I personally saw many of my non-athlete male friends slip through the social cracks of this school. They struggled and were lonely. I think it is naive and unfair to condemn individuals for accepting offers of belonging when they are put in this scenario. It is a sad and complicated situation in which boys who join these institutions end up contributing to the cliquey and divided community that had made them seek belonging in the first place.

However, the matter of cliques cannot be conflated with the genuine campus crises surrounding sexual violence, race, and gender. These are not issues that Greek life created on campus and they are not issues that Greek life is any more responsible for than the broader Colby community.

These are significant problems on campus but these are CAMPUS problems and the entire campus is responsible and liable for them. To demonize Greek life is a misplaced “solution” and will thus not be a solution at all. Rather it will put a translucent Band-Aid on an open community wound.

I am hurt and angry:

I am hurt that this whole vitriol has turned otherwise sympathetic people against the very real problems of race, gender, and sexuality on campus.

I am hurt that there is so little attempt to understand where students of color are coming from with their genuine feelings of injustice at Colby.

I am hurt that the campus feels comfortable vilifying individuals on all sides of these debates without knowing them or hearing their side of the story. When I hear people denying the legitimacy of claims of racism or calling boys in underground frats “cesspools of humanity” I am confronted with how little mutual understanding and empathy there is on this campus.

I am hurt that the administration has been cognizant of underground fraternities for thirty years, allowed the institution to endure as a major element of male social life and belonging on campus, and then decides to intervene when they see that Greek life is a convenient foil for real and persistent issues on campus. That is not courageous, that is a simplification of a very messy situation. It’s unjust towards individuals who deserve real solutions to issues of race, gender, and sexuality. And it is unjust towards boys who are no more culpable of these issues than we are and who came to Colby expecting an open social scene and made understandable choices when they discovered the shadowy institutions that the administration has been complicit in for decades.

This is not a matter of Group A versus Group B, and to frame it as such is to exacerbate our campus’s divisiveness and pass up the opportunity for real and constructive dialogues about what kind of campus Colby can and should be. This is a matter of us versus ourselves. Colby is an amazing place, but as a community, we have clearly allowed many problems to compound to the point of crisis. This is a moment of reckoning in which we should all be engaged, honest, and loving.

We very well may decide as a campus that Greek life is not something that should be an ongoing part of our social archipelago. However, that discussion should be part of a larger discussion about how to make Colby a social environment in which everyone experiences a sense of belonging and in which we all feel comfortable defending rather than demonizing each other. It should not be a quick and politically expedient solution to egregious and embedded campus crises. Underground fraternities are a convenient target, but they are not the cause and they will not be the solution.

Where are we going?

This school has been here for 200 years and will be here for 200 more. We must find a way to move forward and commit to making this a community that works for every single one of its students.

The personal attacks that have consumed and guided our conversations about race, gender, and sexuality on campus have plummeted us into an abyss of misunderstanding. I can assure you that if we commit to this strategy as a way to solve our problems, they will only multiply. What has happened this spring and last spring, and probably the spring before, is indicative of a genuine campus crisis—a festering wound at the heart of this community.

We must move forward, so how will we? Will we devolve further into petty fights? Will incoming freshman be assaulted by Yik Yiks that defile students by name? Will these freshmen instantly understand that Colby is a school with irreconcilable differences that refuses to come together? Will everyone be victimized by a discourse that is founded on hate and divisiveness rather than love and mutuality? Will we have digressed from the most accepting school in New England to the most toxic?

Are we comfortable with that progress?

Our path to healing and our path forward is one of love and commitment—love for each of our fellow classmates and personal commitment to make Colby a just and inclusive school.

This is an anonymous article because the focus of our campus dialogue up until now has been on individual personalities and not the voices they have contributed and the issues they have raised.

You will not be able to attack me, nor would that be productive. However, please attack these ideas. Debate them. Support them. Rip them to shreds. Reconfigure them. Create a conversation that will help move us forward in a way that respects the legacy of our past.

  • ITB46

    Is this a response to the recent posting by a professor apparently breaking her confidentiality agreement? The same post where she then “called out” a student for something he was cleared on? I am surprised that professor is still teaching a la the University of Missouri Professor who was fired for pushing and yelling at a student? Sorry to the woman who was hurt, but a professor should not “cyberbully” a student.

  • BK67

    Wow. So eloquently written. I am proud that my daughter is a peer of yours at Colby and hope she knows you. Thank you.

    I am reminded of this great poem by Phyllis Wheatley. Turning to One Another by Margaret J. Wheatley

    There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about.

    Ask: “What’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?” Keep asking.

    Notice what you care about.

    Assume that many others share your dreams.

    Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.

    Talk to people you know.

    Talk to people you don’t know.

    Talk to people you never talk to.

    Be intrigued by the differences you hear.

    Expect to be surprised.

    Treasure curiosity more than certainty.

    Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible.

    Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something.

    Know that creative solutions come from new connections.

    Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know.

    Real listening always brings people closer together.

    Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world.

    Rely on human goodness. Stay together

  • h2ovilllee

    whoever you are, you are an incredible writer. this is thoughtful, beautiful, thought provoking, personal and so important. thank you.