October 2012 Essays


Pluralism in Practice

Pluralism is hard.

Even under the best of circumstances making space for ideas and beliefs that are at odds with your own is hard.

Being for pluralism is easy. Being for a community where people who come from a wide range of backgrounds and represent a broad spectrum of beliefs is easy. At least at a place like Colby.

America is a pluralistic society and Colby is a pluralistic community and a liberal arts education is by definition about exposure to and engagement with different ideas and world views. Critical thinking is about challenging what we think we know in a thoughtful, deliberate, and disciplined way. Serious intellectual engagement is at its core civil and open and respectful. Easy. Simple. Clean.

But real life is messy.

It's one thing to say we're committed to being a community that welcomes and safeguards the rights of individuals to hold and espouse all manner of beliefs, but actually doing it is an entirely different thing altogether.

Especially when the beliefs and ideas being espoused are in conflict with what we believe.  When they are ideas that we find hateful and repugnant. When they are ideas that seem to violate our own sense of right and wrong, good and bad, decent and indecent.

But Colby is about the search for truth. Our job is to navigate a path to finding and understanding and knowing more than we do. So we have to make space for all ideas. Because somewhere buried in an idea or belief or way of seeing the world with which we disagree may be a doorway to a new way of knowing.

Colby cannot, does not, and will not regulate beliefs.

But Colby can, does, and must regulate behavior.

There is and will always be an inherent tension between competing ideas. Between world views and ways of thinking that begin and end in fundamentally different places. And we have to be thoughtful enough and open-minded enough and generous enough to negotiate that tension.

But there is an important difference between beliefs and actions. And at Colby there is a line where the practice of one's belief interferes with the rights of others to fully participate in the educational opportunities that exist here that can never be crossed.

Sometimes the line is stark and clearly defined. Other times it's not.

So we have policies and rules and processes to help us resolve conflicts when they arise. We do our best to apply them fairly and in a manner that reflects Colby's values and standards. And we commit to constantly evaluating and reevaluating our policies and rules and processes so that they continue to reflect our best thinking. And our best ways of knowing.

Pluralism is hard. Despite our best intentions and our best efforts the clash of ideas and beliefs will at times stir conflict.

But here's the thing. Conflict doesn't have to breed malice. We can disagree without being disagreeable. Without being cruel.  Without being unkind. Conflict can lead to understanding.

Really, at Colby conflict is supposed to lead to understanding.

Pluralism is hard. But we're up to the challenge.  

Jim Terhune
Vice President for Student Affairs
Dean of Students


Family Weekend Fun

It's Family/Homecoming Weekend.

You know what this means, right? You are looking at some serious potential for meals off-campus, the prospect of home-baked treats (cookies, brownies, etc.), the opportunity to add some Colby garb from the bookstore to your wardrobe, and a better than average chance that your mini-fridge and stash of late night munchies will get replenished and you won"t have to pay for any of it.

So I thought I'd offer some unsolicited advice on how you can get the most out of Family/Homecoming Weekend.

Let's start with the obvious. It's time to do your laundry and clean your room.

Okay, so maybe you don't see any problem with recycling t-shirts you've already worn four times between washes, and you and your roommate are perfectly content kicking away old pizza boxes to find your shoes in the morning. But, come on dude, if you don't deal with the mess you are risking some seriously bad karma with your mother or Aunt Sally or whoever it is that might be coming to visit.

And don't think you're off the hook if you don't have family coming. You're in line to be the roommate who gets taken out for lunch or dinner and your prospects fall off rapidly if your half of the room looks like the dumpster behind Bob's when the roomie's family arrives.

It's important for you to remember that you've been here for a month and you are fully acclimated to college living. And college living isn't like normal people living. You may think that the replica of Fenway Park that you have crafted out of empty Natty Lite cans is wicked cool but it's probably not going to impress grandma as much as you might think.

You've got to get your head back into living at home mode. Brush. Floss. Make your bed.

Keep it simple. When in doubt, tell your family you love them and miss them.

They'll probably want to meet some of the people in your life here.

Introducing your folks to your sociology professor or advising dean is a good idea. Introducing them to the guy at the MobilMart who sold you your fake ID is, well....not.

They may want you to show them around campus or the local area.

Taking the family up into the Miller Library tower to take in the view or to see the biomass plant are awesome things to do. Taking your elderly uncle on a nine mile hike in the Bigelows, not so much.

They'll enjoy learning about fun facts about Colby.

You mother will be interested to know that Samuel Francis French (who taught at Colby in the 1830's) wrote the words to "My Country 'Tis of Thee." She won't care that your roommate can belch the entire first verse of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" after drinking warm ginger ale in Dana.

Your parents and families love you and they'll say they want to know all about everything you're doing here. But maybe they only think that. Maybe they'll be happier just knowing almost everything, you know?  I'm just sayin'.....

Nah. I'm just goofing around.  Except the part about doing your laundry and cleaning your room. That's for real.

And telling them you love them and miss them every chance you get.  That's for real too.

Anyway, have a great weekend.

Jim Terhune
Dean of Students   Back to Living Colby Home Page

Not What You Expected

Have you ever noticed how things almost never turn out to be what you think they'll be?

Sometimes they're better. Sometimes they're worse. Sometimes they're neither. But they're almost always different.

You know what I mean?

Maybe you really wanted to take US history this semester only the particular course you wanted was full so you ended up taking geology instead because there was room and it fit in your schedule. So you griped all spring and summer about how it sucks that you couldn't get the class you wanted but it turns out that geology totally rocks (yeah, sorry about that) and now you're thinking you might major in it.

Or maybe a few nights ago a slice of chocolate cake caught your eye as soon as you walked into Dana for dinner. And you glanced at it longingly while you worked your way through some pasta and a green salad. Then finally, having disposed of the last carrot in your salad bowl, you took that much anticipated first bite of the cake only to find that it was a little dry and not nearly as chocolaty as it looked.

Or maybe you let your roommate talk you into going to hear the band playing in LoPo a few weeks ago only it turned out to be a comedian but she was pretty funny so, you know, it was cool.

I'm bringing this up because it's the middle of October and every year around this time I find myself thinking about how the semester is unfolding and realizing - again - that things just aren't how I thought they'd be when the term started. And I'm guessing that if this is how I'm feeling there is probably a decent chance that you're feeling this way too.

Maybe you're two books behind in English. Or your best friend from last year is the worst possible roommate you could have chosen. Or you didn't get the part you wanted in the fall theater production. Or you went to the College Democrats meeting just because you're a government major and it's an election year and you wanted to find out more about who's running for congress in Maine only somehow you ended up running a voter registration drive. Or you're not getting as much playing time in soccer as you expected. Or, you know, any one of a hundred other things that are different about this year than what you expected. And now that you realize it you're wondering what to do.

It's easy to get frustrated when things go astray. It's easy to feel like it - whatever it is – isn't fair. And to want to make excuses or blame someone or something else. It's okay to feel those things. We all do.

But they also don't really change anything, you know? And eventually there's still the question about what you're going to do.

Here's the good news. The answer is actually pretty simple.


I don't mean that in a harsh way. I don't mean adjust as in stop whining and deal with it.

I mean embrace your reality. You get to change your course. You get to try a different way. You get to do new things.

Okay, there's no easy way around the getting caught up in English. Still there are worse things than reading two really good books, right? (Work with me here, okay?)

And you and your roommate are best friends. You'll figure it out.

Yeah, not getting a part in the play is a drag. But now you have time to get the radio show you've wanted to do. Or to learn how to organize a voter registration drive. Or spend more time in the weight room. Or volunteering at the homeless shelter. Or writing poetry or songs or whatever.

Or ask for help.  There are lots of us who are here just to help you figure things out from time to time.

You've got this.


And enjoy it.

Have you ever thought about how cool it is that things almost never turn out to be what you think they'll be?

Jim Terhune
Dean of Students

Back to Living Colby Home Page

October Observations

This semester is flying by. It's already the end of October. How the heck did that happen?

I've been thinking about a bunch of things that I thought I'd share with you before we flip to the next page on the calendar and turn back the clocks for the winter - don't you hate that? Anyway, here goes:

Oh What a Beautiful Morning... I hope you've taken the time to pause and take in how spectacularly beautiful the campus looks on these blue sky autumn days we've been having. It's easy at this time of the year to get caught up in all the work you have to do and lose sight of everything else. But Mayflower Hill on brilliant fall days is a gift not to be taken for granted so try to remember to look around on your way to chem lab or back from the library.

No Ordinary Joe: A huge nod goes to Pat Adams '13 who in September was among a small handful of young people nationally honored at a dinner for up and coming LGBTQ leaders at Vice President Joe Biden's home. How cool is that? Of course, those of us who know Pat, and are aware of all that he has done at Colby see this as hard-earned and well-deserved recognition for exceptional leadership. Well done and thanks, Pat.

Tell Me a Story: Big appreciation and credit to the SGA for starting the Story Time program where students share their remarkable personal stories with the community.  Thanks also to Pandit Mami '14 and Saboor Sheerazi '13 for being the first two presenters.  The next installment is this weekend.  Go and listen to Anna Caron '13 share her story.  You'll be glad you did.

Birthday Bash: The Bicentennial Celebration Kick-Off last weekend was as good as it gets. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the members of the Bicentennial Planning Committee - can you even imagine how much time, energy, love, and creativity went into organizing Friday night? There are too many people to thank by name here but you know who you are and we want you to know how much we appreciate all you're doing. Oh, and a big shout out to the Colby Eight and the Colbyettes for their outstanding performances at the kick-off dinner on Friday.  And that was just the beginning. There will be lots of other very cool Bicentennial happenings taking place on campus all year.

Mule Tracks: Some Colby sports news of note include:

  • Congratulations to new coach Jonathan Michaeles, captains John Gilboy '13 and Phil Amato '13, and the Colby football team on their exciting win over Hamilton at home on October 20th. And, an extra tip of the cap goes to Henry Nelson '15 for being selected as the NESCAC Defensive Player of the Week following that game and to Dave Bendit '13 for being named NESCAC Special Teams Player of the Week after the Amherst game.
  • It's a big weekend for the volleyball team with home matches against Amherst and Trinity tonight (8 p.m.) and tomorrow (2 p.m.). The Mules are battling for playoff rankings so head over to Wadsworth Gymnasium and cheer them on.

  • Congratulations on a terrific regular season and good luck to women's soccer in their NESCAC quarterfinal match-up at Amherst tomorrow.

  • Both men's and women's cross country teams will be in action this weekend at the NESCAC Championships at Bowdoin.  Good luck to captains Brian Desmond '13, Berol Dewdney '13, and Morgan Lingar '13 and all the Colby runners.

  • I want also to commend the tennis teams, the golf team, men's and women's crew, men's soccer, and field hockey for your fall seasons.

  • Not to be forgotten - though you don't get the same coverage or recognition that varsity sports do, I know that dozens of you who play club sports (rugby, ultimate Frisbee, etc.) work just as hard at your sports. Well done.

  •  Finally, I want to give a special nod of thanks and congratulations to all the seniors who are finishing up their final fall seasons as Colby Mules. You should be enormously proud of what you have accomplished as athletes and leaders. We appreciate the hard work and dedication that goes into doing what you do and are grateful for the opportunity to watch and support you. Way to go!  And, again, thank you.

All the World's a Stage: The Colby Symphony Orchestra is performing tomorrow night (October 27th) at 7:30 p.m. in Lorimer Chapel.  And, the fall theater production of Lysistra opens on Thursday, November 8th and runs through November 10th in Strider Theater. Mark your calendar, you won't want to miss these shows.

Hook-up Culture Redux: Kudos to SHOC for its second (hopefully annual) event sharing student's stories about the hook-up culture on campus. These conversations help us all gain a better understanding of student life on campus and, in turn, help us identify ways to make life on campus safer for everyone.

It's Not Too Late:.... To participate in the final events of Africa Week with food and performances tonight in Page Commons.

Comings and Goings: We were sorry to say goodbye to Paul (Campus Life) and Barb (Goldfarb Center) Spangle and Shauna Hirshfield who left Colby at the end of September to pursue new opportunities closer to their homes and extended families. But we are very excited to welcome back Sam Helm '12 as a member of the Campus Life staff for the remainder of this year. And as long as we're on the subject of welcoming new members of the Colby family then we can't pass over Lillian Grace Nelson, daughter of Kurt (Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life) and Joanna Nelson, who made her debut on the planet on September 27th. Congratulations to the Nelson's and a warm welcome to Sam and Lillian.

Something to Talk About: PCB, the Pugh Center, the Gender and Sexual Diversity program, and Religious and Spiritual Life have done a great job of creating opportunities for the community to come together and have meaningful and thoughtful conversations about a number of important issues recently. Specifically, the discussions about religious observance and sexuality, and marriage equity have been outstanding. I encourage everyone to be on the lookout for more of these sorts of events where we have collective opportunities to discuss issues and topics of real significance both on campus and in the world at large.

Speaking of Speaking: There will be a community open forum on Monday evening at 7 p.m. in Ostrove Auditorium. President Adams and I will be on hand with SGA leaders and other members of the administration to participate in an open discussion. I hope you will be able to join us and participate in the conversation.

That's all for now. I'm sure I have forgotten some individuals and events deserving of acknowledgement. Please know it's not intended as a slight. If you drop me a line I will do my best to get you the public shout out you deserve next time.

Jim Terhune
Dean of Students   Back to Living Colby Home Page