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Three Steps Forward
Morris Dees speaks on war against hate
   
 

Diallo's Mother Speaks at Colby
"He was doing nothing wrong. He was not armed. . ."

   
 

Award Honors the Late Morton A. Brody
First recipient devotes career to judiciary

   
 

Plane Crash Claims Edson V. Mitchell '75
Colby benefactor dies in plane crash; award bestowed in his name

   
 

Paul Paganucci Passes
Trustee, longtime Colby friend, dies at 69

   
 

Colby By the Numbers
How many tons of fertilizer?

   
  Wit and Wisdom
What we're saying and where we're saying it
   
 

Q & A
Alan LaPan talks about being there for students, "out" at Colby

   

Q and A: Allen LaPan on student mail, surrogate parenthood, and being gay at Colby



Allen LaPan

For the record, what is your official title?
Slave. No, student postal supervisor.

What are your official duties?
Incoming mail, on-campus mail, outgoing mail. Staff of about twenty-five student employees.

And your unofficial duties?
Surrogate parent. I still get letters and e-mail from students who graduated fifteen years ago. It's kind of nice. I had someone shadow me one day from a sister school. She was amazed. While she was here I got a call from Paris. It was a former student. She said, "You still keep in contact with them?" I said, "Well, yeah."

What do they call you?
I'm very, very informal with the students. They don't call me Mister. Queen once in a while but that's OK. I'm fortunate that I can be me. Mr. Cotter promoted that a little bit, certainly accepted it.

Speaking of Mr. Cotter, we heard you had a long-time relationship--

With his mom. Yeah. When I first came to Colby I was hired as switchboard supervisor. At that time we had an old cord-board so all the calls had to go through the board. So whenever she would call, of course she had to get me first. And after a few minutes conversation she'd say, "Oh, Alan, I do want to talk to Bill." I think they were always afraid she'd spill the beans on something but she never did. We'd exchange Christmas cards and things like that. It was a nice relationship. But it kept Mr. Cotter on his toes, I think.

We also were told you help students emotionally and even financially.
Yeah, yeah. I've paid for kids' trips home in emergency situations and their parents were thankful. . . . I have the best job in the whole college. I wouldn't take president. I wouldn't take anything. Because I have this interplay on a very personal level. I have eighteen hundred children, none of whom I have to support.

Speaking of another job, weren't you asked to lead a student book discussion group?
Yes, a student came to the window and asked me if I would do it, which blew me away. Do I get faculty parking now? What do I get?

What is the book?
It's the Rev. Peter Gomes's The Good Book. It's a collection of contemporary sermons on social issues from anti-Semitism to abortion to gay rights. I thought it would be rather thought provoking. Way over my head, these kids are, but we'll get there.

How did it make you feel to be asked?

Absolutely floored. When an honor comes from a student like that, that's an honor. It's like earlier in the year, two of my foreign students showed me a letter that was presented to the board [of trustees] for my nomination for an honorary degree, which really blew me away. Unfortunately I'm not retiring so there goes that.

If you got the honorary degree, what color would your robe be?
Oh, lavender, of course. Or maybe gold lamé.

Now, you're the advisor to The Bridge?

Yeah, it's been about five years now. Again, a student request to Mr. Cotter. . . . Students were very generous in that kind of gesture. I don't get involved on a day-to-day basis. When they need to know where to get money or they need resources of any sort. That's their club. I'm only there for support. So I don't attend the meetings very frequently. Especially at 9:30 at night.

Still, isn't it a big responsibility?
For me, I'm so out I don't see it as any responsibility. I realize that former students have said, "Thank you for getting me through the four years, letting me see someone who has been successful, who has a domestic partner for thirty-four years." The same one. And that you can hold a job, that you're not sinful, all the negatives that the Right likes to show you. It was a lot different when I first came to Colby [in 1978].

What was that like?
When you would attend the [gay students'] potluck there would be other young men outside writing your name down as you entered, for whatever reason. It wasn't until one young man had just had had enough of it, who said, "Enough is enough. We're going to be out. Get used to it." He was probably the first really brave individual to say to the Colby community, "We're here. We're queer. Get used to us." Now the door's off the closet. I'll never go back. I'm very fortunate that I can work under that, that Colby allows me to do that and supports it and promotes it.

What about your past job?
I was with the phone company, was never really "out" there. Before that when I was working in other jobs I tried to come out but people wouldn't believe I was gay. They'd say, 'Oh, yeah. Right.'

Do you see continued progress in gay rights here?

One of my students said to me several years ago that this campus would not be satisfactory to a gay or lesbian person until she could walk across campus holding her girlfriend's hand and nobody turns around. Some days I feel positive about that, some days I feel negative. I think we change the minds of very few and that's unfortunate. I think maybe we're changing more and more minds, and I've seen wonderful success stories. I think the fact that they have to deal with a gay man almost every day for the four years they're here is, in fact, part of their training. I'm harmless. I think they need to know that.

It's easy to adhere to certain values in this bubble. It's more difficult when somebody's living in the apartment next door to you. We'll work at it. If we stop working at it, there's going to be no progress. so we might as well work at it. Our kids do.

Why do you think students confide in you so much?
Because I'm at that unique layer at Colby, I represent the administration but I'm not the administration. I hope I make them feel comfortable. Now I have a steady stream in and out. It's a wonder we get any work done at all.

Do parents still send care packages to kids?

Oh, yeah. When they started e-mail, they thought, oh, regular mail is going to drop. It's increased. They still like to get that letter from mom or dad. Especially if there's that check in it. Open it up. That tangible thing. This time of year, Valentine's Day, it's ridiculous. Beginning of the semester, September is always heavy. Unfortunately, by senior year parents don't even know they're here.

And what about those years when you were the voice of Colby on the switchboard. Did funny things happen?
Oh, god, yes. We were Colby Information so you'd get, "How do you make zucchini bread?" All of that. One time, Helen Staples, she was the secretary in the Music Department. Her husband, he called me one time and he said, very gruffly, "Give me Music." So I went "La, la, la, la, la, la, la." And then I patched him through.

 


FEATURES:
HOW SHOULD WE TEACH?
Small Triumphs: Alex Quigley '99 finds reason for both hope and despair in the Mississippi Delta
A Ray of Hope: Brittany Ray '93 inspires where she found her inspiration
An Education CEO: Robert Furek '65 brings accountability to Hartford public schools
Charting Success: James Verrilli '83 directs charter school turn-around in Newark
Perspectives on Reform: Colby experts discuss reform and the purpose of education

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