On the night of Monday, May 1st, Colgate University was put on lockdown for a “dangerous situation in the coop” that turned out to be an African-American student running to escape torrential rain while holding a glue gun. I am in no position to write about the trauma students experienced for a variety of reasons that night nor about the trauma that is ongoing for many students, particularly students of color, on this campus. However, I feel obligated to write and reflect on a particularly troubling aspect of my experience in lockdown, as well as on the way in which responses in the following days are equally troubling.
When we were alerted via the campus-wide alert system of the potential danger on campus, I was sitting in the library studying. After a few moments, I moved with some teammates into a small study room on the fifth floor. We were seated on the floor, in the dark, with the door locked, with about twenty people, for two hours. Then, we were moved, along with the rest of the students who were sheltered in the library, to the first floor where we waited out the remaining hour of the lockdown. Some students cried, many called their parents, a handful listened to police scanners, and a few distracted themselves with Netflix. However, a majority of students continued their work. I was one of those students.
It was the last week of classes and everyone had papers, projects, and presentations as well as impending finals. Yes, I think we were justified in feeling pretty safe in our locked room in the locked library, but physical safety shouldn’t be the only question when it comes to completing work. Regardless of the fact that the armed shooter alert was a false alarm, mentally and emotionally many of us were in an incredibly scary and theoretically life-threatening situation. While I understand the logic of wanting to pretend that things are normal instead of simmering in fear, I don’t think that was what most working students were doing. At least not myself.
Students had no faith that Colgate as an institution would cancel classes the next day in order to allow students to cope. Colgate didn’t. Students had no faith that professors would be accommodating and extend deadlines. Most professors didn’t. Not only is it problematic that students were just expected to carry on as if nothing happened after that night, but it is even more problematic that the culture on campus meant that this was entirely unsurprising.
Partially, this speaks to Colgate’s culture that no amount of work is too much work and that stress should be ignored or channeled instead of diminished or cared for and that academic success takes priority over health and well-being. Not every professor contributes to that culture, as I’ve had many professors who have been incredibly accommodating, especially this year given the various traumatic moments on campus. However, those professors’ kind gestures always surprise me initially, which speaks to the number of professors who are much more rigid.
This sentiment of working through anything in tandem with the false alarm that dragged up racialized tensions on campus also speaks to Colgate’s culture as an institution that privileges whiteness. Before I continue, I think it’s important to say that this isn’t just a Colgate problem- it’s a national problem. Nevertheless, it is incredibly present on Colgate’s campus. Now that a few days have elapsed since that fateful Monday night and Tuesday morning after, I’ve witnessed students move on in a variety of ways. Some students, particularly students of color, haven’t moved on, whereas many students, particularly white students, are able to go through the day without giving Gluegate a second thought. It pains me to say that I am one of the latter. I feel sometimes as though I should be more disturbed, but it is revealing that I’m not. Even more revealing is that Colgate has commended me for being just fine.
On a campus where it’s not okay to not be okay, students who are not okay suffer twice over. Not only do they suffer from whatever it is that troubles them, but they are also troubled by the notion that they’re supposed to be fine, like other students. While many corners of campus have offered support, academics go on, and in the midst of final papers and projects and exams, I recognize that I have an advantage over some of my peers who were more negatively impacted by Gluegate.
While I realize the pitfalls to disrupting the last two weeks of the semester, I think a little more flexibility than I’ve seen would go a long way towards sending students the right message: that their mental health is Colgate’s utmost priority, and that it’s okay to not be okay and not “move on” from incredibly problematic and traumatic moments.