Common Ground

by Stephen Collins '74

Late this fall, Colby will break ground for the Pugh Center, a 7,000-square-foot addition to the Student Union, putting $1 million worth of bricks and mortar behind its commitment to diversity. Proposed as a "common ground" center in which students of all races, cultures and religions and others committed to diversity will have a stake, the facility is Colby's answer to a 1994 student plea for a multicultural house on campus. The building is named in honor of Colby board chair Lawrence Pugh '56 and his wife, Jean Van Curan Pugh '55, whose leadership gift was instrumental in making the addition possible. (See Gifts & Grants.)

A special Trustee Com-mission on Multicultural and Special Interest Housing studied the students' suggestion for almost a year but decided that a residential multicultural house was not right for Colby. The commission subsequently proposed, and the Board of Trustees endorsed, the common ground center, which should be ready for use by September 1996.

President William R. Cotter called the project "a unique Colby solution that comes out of student suggestions and sticks to our philosophical position not to have special housing." While some campuses' multicultural centers seem to fragment their communities, Cotter says the Pugh Center will be an integral part of the Student Union. He envisions the area as an incubator for dialogue across the classifications and categories that might otherwise keep different groups apart. "We expect it to become a hub, radiating to the Student Union and throughout the College," Cotter said.

Former Student Association Vice President Joshua Woodfork '97, who served on the trustee commission, said, "For me this was an incredible year-long process, visiting other schools and deciding what was best for Colby." Reflecting on the decision to build a common ground center, he said, "It's very exciting, and I've heard mostly positive things. It should be a selling point for the school. You can say in the viewbook, `We're committed to diversity and making people comfortable,' but this is something tangible. A million dollars isn't peanuts."

Woodfork tempered his enthusiasm for the building with concern that it not be seen as a panacea. "We need to be realistic," he said. "It's one piece of the puzzle. I'm worried that people will say, `We've solved the diversity puzzle, we've answered the comfort question' when there's still a lot of work to do." He pointed to a pending comprehensive review of residential life by the College Affairs Committee and ongoing efforts to recruit and retain more students and faculty of color as positive steps in Colby's quest for greater diversity.

The Pugh Center will be built onto the northwest corner of the Student Union, linking it with the existing Marson Common Ground room. With Lovejoy, Eustis and the academic quadrangle to the north, Lorimer Chapel to the west and Dana Commons to the south, the building's location makes it both literally and symbolically central to a welcoming and comfortable environment for all students. The support staff and services already available in the Student Union, the critical mass of student activity there and ongoing programming to foster cooperation among diverse student organizations are seen as keys to the success of the venture, commission members say. A new staff position will be created to support and coordinate Pugh Center activities beginning with the 1996 school year.

Still being refined, plans for the 7,000-square-foot addition call for a meeting space for up to 100 people, a small lounge and two kitchens, one kosher. Initial residents of 11 organizational office spaces should include the Asian-American Student Association, The Bridge, Colby Christian Fellowship, the East Asian Cultural Society, Hillel, the International Club, Muslim students, the Newman Club, SOAR (Students Organized Against Racism), SOBHU (Student Organization for Black and Hispanic Unity), the Women's Group and the Student Association.

The impetus for the center came from a group called Students of Color United for Change that in the spring of 1994 presented to the Campus Community Committee concerns and suggestions aimed at making Colby more comfortable for students of color, especially. Some changes were approved that spring, but the implications of the request for a multi-cultural house on campus were so profound that a trustee-level review was initiated.

The commission included two dozen members--trustees, alumni, faculty, students and administrators--who first met in May 1994 and established three fact-finding committees. One visited a dozen colleges to investigate other institutions' experiences with multicultural houses. A second committee gathered campus opinion on how to improve racial, ethnic and cultural understanding. The third group looked at cultural and racial issues from a broader, national perspective to provide background information that might guide Colby's efforts to honor diversity.

When the commission's plan for the million-dollar addition went to the full Board of Trustees this spring, it got more than just the stamp of approval--members of the board, led by Pugh, pledged to donate more than half of the construction budget.

Cotter praised the extraordinary effort of commission members as well as their plan for a common ground addition. "So many people worked so hard for so long," he said.

Trustee James B. Crawford '64, chair of the Commission on Multicultural and Special Interest Housing, concluded that "It's one of the strengths of Colby that the College always is responsive." That is borne out by the changes that students precipitated in this case, by the fact that all College constituencies were represented in the process and by the number of individuals who participated in the discussion, he said.

Crawford says he feared that "special residential housing would move us backward--would be more divisive." The plan adopted and the process leading up to that plan, on the other hand, already have helped to bring various groups together, he says. Meetings on campus were "the first time all of these representatives of student organizations had gotten together. It was the first time some of them knew the others existed."

In the broadest sense, the commission's goal was "to make the Colby experience good for all students," Craw-ford said. "We now have a cornerstone to build on."

Unhappy Medium
An opinion article written in the Echo by Rachel Kondon '95 (North Kingstown, R.I.) describes how Colby has incorporated another "ism" into its culture: cynicism. Kondon maintains that American society as well as Colby society complains too much, then complains about the excessive complaining. "Colby students are among the growing population of malcontents," said Kondon. "We are prone to pessimistic views and critical outlooks." Kondon says that while questioning authority can promote positive change, "there is a middle ground--something between fixation on every minute detail and simple passivity."
Lifestyle Alternatives
Student demand for on-campus housing where drinking is not allowed has increased substantially, resulting in the designation of Pierce and East Quad as "chem-free" halls for 1995-96.

Many factors, primarily heightened alcohol awareness on campus, have contributed to the expansion of chem-free housing, says Kerill O'Neill, assistant professor of classics and faculty representative to the Alcohol in the Campus Environment (ACE) Committee. O'Neill told The Colby Echo, "We know that people are more aware of alcohol issues, and that people are talking more about them." Dean of Residential Life Jan Arminio said in the Echo that while many students do not consume alcohol, there are others who do drink moderately but dislike dealing with hall damage due to excessive drinking--and therefore opt to live in chem-free housing.

Students now are required to sign up just to be included in the chem-free room draw to ensure their commitment. According to the Echo, 80 students have requested chem-free housing, with more anticipated with the incoming Class of 1999.
Not Politics As Usual
Student Association elections this spring generated controversy not because of what happened but because of what did not. Namely, campaigning.

In an editorial lamenting the dearth of serious candidates, The Colby Echo called the April election "one of the most bizarre in recent years."

". . . most positions were left uncontested until a flurry of last-minute candidates plastered their signs all over campus in an effort to gain a few votes," the Echo said. "But what did these signs say to the Colby public other than the names of the respective candidates? A few noted that they offered experience or claimed they could get the Beastie Boys to come to Waterville." A planned debate between candidates was scrapped because only one team had committed to the race, the Echo noted.

Joshua Woodfork '97, former Stu-A vice president, said the entire election process should be reevaluated and new ways found to interest both candidates and their constituents. "It's not the most effective model of student government," Woodfork told the Echo. He suggested more incentives for office holders that increase the prestige associated with the positions.

Hannah Beech '95 and Meadow Dibble '95 have been awarded Thomas J. Watson Fellowships for international study projects next year. Beech, who this summer is interning at U.S. News & World Report, will study Chinese print media, and Dibble will work on a recycling project in Senegal.

Forty-five Colby students have received Watson Fellowships, including at least one each year since 1971.

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