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Benton Scholars: Student Activism on Campus

By Jessica Li on October 28, 2014

In the early hours of Monday, September 22nd, a group of Colgate students convened at the admissions building in a peaceful demonstration, with the goal of holding Colgate to it’s promise of “being an inclusive institution for students of all backgrounds.” These students put together a comprehensive plan of action, later distributed throughout the campus. They promised to stay at admissions until the administration responded with a comprehensive and actionable plan.

Five days later, Colgate’s administration presented a plan of action, which the ACC’s leaders agreed was a sufficient first step in what they referred to as a sustained process of development, with the goal creating a Colgate that is “a truly inclusive institution where students feel comfortable and welcome, regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and gender identity.”

Hannah O’Malley, Sharon Nicol, and Grace Western–three highly active ‘17 Benton Scholars–were intimately involved in the movement. Each of them spoke about their experience as empowering and challenging on both an intellectual and emotional level.

The reasons these three women contributed to the sit-in speak to the complexities of the protest. Sharon described how she has taken many classes on topics of gender, hetero-normativity, and privilege, and has surrounded herself with peers interested in talking about those same subjects. Yet, she described her frustration with the reality that these conversations rarely leave the classroom. Hannah likewise described the incongruity she has observed between the way individuals speak in the classroom and the way they behave outside the classroom.

Hannah, Sharon, and Grace therefore committed themselves to the cause. For five days, they ate, worked, and slept in the admissions building. Alongside hundreds of their peers, they heard and shared individual accounts of prejudice, micro aggressions, sexism, and classism that exist on campus and in society. Many of these stories moved the audience, bringing them to tears. That people felt safe enough to share their stories in that environment, Hannah explained, was incredibly uplifting.

When asked about the most moving aspects of the protest, Sharon explained how “we often make these topics into academic conversations, but when I see someone show emotion, I realize that it is real and not about a theory, but that these issues are actually affecting someone’s life, their well being.”

Participating in the protest was not without its challenges, however. All three women spoke to the difficulty of engaging in productive dialogue with individuals who do not see the same issues as problematic. Grace explained her process of learning involved understanding the importance of explaining her perspective without devaluating other people’s opinions.

Ultimately, their sentiments towards the future of this movement are predominantly hopeful. “Personally, this experience broke down a lot of prejudices that I had,” Hannah said. “Typically these kinds of movements only include those who are marginalized or who the issues directly affect.” This movement, though, engaged concerned students from all corners of our campus. “It gave me a lot of hope for this campus,” Hannah stated.

Grace, Hannah, and Sharon are three students among several hundred who participated in the protests. Each student that I have spoken with who found themselves involved with the protests have emphasized the the ongoing nature of this movement. The work of the ACC has just begun, and in their view, the future of Colgate looks bright.



Hannah O’Malley ’17 – Transnational Media Studies

Sharon Nicol ‘17—Peace and Conflict Studies, African Studies Minor

Grace Western ‘17—Political Science and Women’s Studies


Author: Jessica Spero Li ’15


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