Tuesday, February 5, 2013

22 Jan BB response: Institutional Memory

As a senior, I've found myself marvelling time and again at which histories get lost with the passage of even two years at a university, because of the rate of turnover of its population.  While this provides great room for change, it also silences experiences of those who might not have access to traditional methods of preserving institutional memory, and makes large-scale, long-term change more difficult.

So, what I liked most about the Brown Bag on the 22nd, called "How Our Work Forwards MLK's Teachings: Voices from the Past and Present", was how the presenters gave a brief history of the organizations they were representing.  The panel of seniors included Gabby Cortes from LASO, Denny Gonzalez from Brothers, Anneliese Gretsch from ARC, Courtney Jackson from SORT, and Yellow Shabazz from BSU.  I learned so much about the founding of these organizations and their place on this campus historically that I wish was more well-known.  This information is a combination of official histories passed down by documents and records and other traditional forms of historical research, but it is also informed by the oral history of this campus, the stories we hear from the upperclassmen before us and those before them.

I think we seniors have this calling to bear witness to our experiences in this way, to celebrate (and denounce, as necessary) change, and impart our memories unto the underclassmen, not for any imperative of tradition in the patriarchal, colonial sense this institution has seen time and time again, but in the multiplicitious recording of personal narratives that paint a picture of what Colgate was like before they got here: where it's come from, where it's headed, and why.  When I was a first year, I was a blank slate, and as a senior, my slate is filled with 4 years of experiences, both positive and negative.  Each position gives/gave me considerable agency in making Colgate a better place for its students, and it is a balance of these types of creative force that such a project requires.  I remember thinking as a first-year that the seniors were so old, so put-together, so much like real people.  I don't feel like a real person yet, but I see that same look of reverence and trust in the first-years when they look at me (sometimes; I think they see through me pretty quickly! :D )  And it inspires in me the desire to tell my story, to foster institutional memory by giving them a context for what Colgate used to be and the ability to see it critically and take the tools in their hands to make it better.  To connect this all the way back to the brown bag topic, Martin Luther King Jr, maybe that is his legacy, at least for me: the desire to make change not by blowing up the tradition, but seeing it for what it is and moving forward.

Xavia Publius '13

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