Students and Administration at Colgate University Come Together to Combat Discrimination

Education 10.16,14

After a five-day sit-in at Colgate University, students and administrators came together on September 29 to develop a 21-point plan on how to combat racism and increase diversity on campus.

Lead by the Colgate University Association of Critical Collegians, at least 350 student demonstrators gathered on the predominantly White campus to increase awareness of the treatment of minority students on campus and to push for university policy to combat discrimination and advance a climate of inclusivity.

One of those students was senior Olivia Rauh, who told The Leadership Conference that during her time at Colgate, her experience participating in the sit-in was by far the most rewarding. “While protesting countless incidents of racism, classism, homophobia, sexism and other forms of marginalization on our campus, the members of the Association of Critical Collegians and all those who joined our movement got to spend five days and four nights in an inclusive and accepting safe space,” Rauh said.

The students’ demands included hiring more faculty from diverse backgrounds, engaging faculty and staff in diversity training, revising the university’s core curriculum to include the study of systemic power inequities, and implementing stronger disciplinary action for hate speech of any kind.

In the agreed-upon plan, university officials describe how they will address all 21 demands put forth by students. The plan includes measures to install security cameras on buses and other places where discrimination has occurred, as well as to revise hiring practices to encourage candidates to also describe their experiences with students from all backgrounds.

The Colgate sit-in is just one recent example of students at campuses across the country who are taking an active role in leading efforts to promote access, inclusivity, and equity in higher education.

Last fall, students at the University of Michigan began turning to social media to draw attention to instances of racial discrimination and inequity on campus. Among students’ concerns was the decline in African-American student enrollment following Michigan’s passage of Proposal 2 in 2006, which banned affirmative action in the state. The Black Student Union at the University of Michigan created a “Being Black at the University of Michigan” social media campaign to encourage students to use Twitter to share their experiences of being Black on campus with the hashtag #BBUM – which quickly trended nationally and inspired similar hashtags at colleges across the country.

Students at the University of Texas at Austin, Harvard, UCLA , Swarthmore College, and elsewhere across the country have also recently worked to draw attention to a lack of diversity on college campuses, highlighting incidents of racism and other forms of discrimination.

Rauh hopes what happened at Colgate will lead to meaningful, permanent change on campus.

“The supportive environment that we created when we took over Admissions is exactly what we were fighting for,” Rauh said, “so that one day everyone at Colgate will get to experience that atmosphere on a regular basis.”