Racial Controversy on Campus


By Stephen Collins '74
Photography by Kristin Nissen '11

Students, faculty, and staff stage a sit-in in response to a series of racially and culturally insensitive events on campus.
Students, faculty, and staff stage a sit-in in response to a series of racially and culturally insensitive events on campus.

A series of racially and culturally insensitive events stirred controversy on campus this fall, precipitating a sit-in in Pulver Pavilion and a series of demands presented to the Student Programming Board, the administration, and to students.

Early in the semester some students objected to a luau-themed party that they considered insensitive to Hawaiian culture. At Halloween, a costume depicting a Latino and another involving a noose roiled additional outrage. Most controversial was a show by the Campaign Comedy Trail, a troupe hired for what was characterized in advance as political satire but deteriorated into jokes based on racial and religious stereotypes. A Latina student who objected was taunted by a troupe member, according to those in attendance. These incidents followed a controversial Cinco de Mayo party last spring.

On Nov. 4 dozens of students and faculty members sat in the main passageway through the student union with signs simply saying “Listen,” and participating students issued demands that student leaders take part in the Campus Conversations on Race program and that the Student Programming Board manage events to constrain “entertainment groups regarding offensive statements based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion and class.”

Written demands included one for an annual address by the president about the ways differences in race, gender, sexuality, religion, and class manifest themselves on campus. Students also demanded changes in the academic diversity requirement and funding for multicultural disciplines. They challenged students to educate themselves about difference and to be conscious of actions that are inconsiderate and offensive.

Though students set a Dec. 1 deadline for a response, the administration and the Race and Racism Committee were discussing responses to the students’ demands at the end of the semester.

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  • On January 31, 2009, Patricia A. Atherton, Ph.D. wrote:
    The potential for racial conflict is surprising at this point in time when our country has elected the first person of color as president of the United States and has received international acclaim from countries all over the world. Our country has gained stature because of the intellect, poise and gentility of Barack Obama. Perhaps inviting him to speak to the students would enable students and faculty to expand their racial tolerance and their capacity for mutual respect.
  • On March 17, 2009, george wrote:
    the comedy show was great and there was nothing said to the latina girl except that the comedian said is there any latinas here, and she said yes and then he was saying a joke about how white people cannot dance as good as latinas and he said right marisol and she stormed out. that is exactly what happened. The political debate which was the second part of the show was great and very political if you stayed for it.
  • On March 25, 2009, Jeronimo Maradiaga wrote:
    George, you're certainly entitled to your opinion, but I just want to point out that the WOMAN (It's telling that you refer to her as "the latina girl") who stormed out of the comedy show is a level headed individual who rarely overreacts. She felt attacked during the comedy show and was the only one who spoke out against it, but there were Jews, Whites, Catholics, other Latinos, Black/African-Americans, and many others (including myself) also in attendance who took offense to the night's material. Also, she did not walk out because she was called Marisol or even because he had singled her out for ridicule, what really bothered her (as one of the few Jewish studies majors at Colby) was the "joke" he made about Jews being turned into soap during the Holocaust. I personally think that the exact reasons behind her decision to "storm out" are irrelevant and we should just honor her experience. I think we should start to recognize and appreciate that a White man from Maine studying at Colby has a very, very different experience than does a Black/Latina from NYC. We should recognize that perhaps the White man (and I'd just like to point out that I'm not assuming your White, George, I'm just trying to illustrate a point) would find some things offensive that would perhaps be inconsequential to the Latina woman, and that's O.k. Instead of treating people's experiences like opinions that can be debated and torn apart, why don't we try to constructively listen and empathize with each other. I promise, it will help alleviate some of the racial tensions evident at Colby and in the nation. Peace.