In the Spring of 2016 after a number of bias based incidents, students and faculty took to the civil discourse to voice their opinions on the chain “Beware What You Practice…”

Below are the posts: 

Beware What You Practice … Part I

Submitted by: Nelson, Robert E. (
Date submitted: 5/12/16 3:08:48 PM

As I close in on completing my 34th year as a member of the Colby faculty, I find myself looking back on this past year with some good memories, and some not so favorable ones.

The good memories are of bright, enthusiastic students, young people with their own dreams and hopes and talents, their joie de vivre intact and well-fueled. When I’m lucky, as I usually am, I get a goodly selection of them enrolled in my classes, and when I’m really lucky, I can entice at least some of them into our department and watch them grow into sharp, talented young geoscientists.

But I also find in looking back, painful memories of things that should not be happening at Colby, but are happening, and are far too common. Sometimes students who are affected are people very near and dear to me, and other times I know them by name alone, if I know them at all.

The things that should not be happening are those incidents of bullying of all kinds, of racist aggression – from the overt and obnoxious to the more subtle and insidious – and the sexual assaults, as well as homophobia and the verbal and physical assaults on people because of their real or perceived gender differences. And these are all ongoing, practically on a daily basis, from what I hear.

Each incident of which I hear causes me pain – particularly when a first-year advisee looks at me with tears in her eyes and tells me I’m the only male on the campus that she can trust. Likewise, when I hear about a student being hit with debris thrown from a dorm balcony, or of others verbally and physically attacked while riding a bus to campus, it is extremely painful. It also makes me angry, because Colby students committing these offenses should and do know better. And maybe “it’s just a guy thing” that I want to fix it, to make it better ….. but it’s frustrating that I’m not really in any position to be able to do anything, directly, to confront the offending parties.

Unfortunately, the argument is too often raised that the person or people involved had been drinking, that it was the alcohol at fault, not really them. Everyone loves to hide behind an excuse for bad behavior. But there is an ancient Roman proverb – only a couple thousand years old – that goes “In vino veritas est.” In wine, there is truth. In other words, what you’re like when you’re drunk, is what you’re really like – deep inside – though you may hide it the rest of the time, even from yourself. This fundamental truth is not new – it’s been recognized for millennia.

What the Colby student community should know, is that there is a limit to what the Administration can do without turning the college into an authoritarian state. To change the institutional culture that accepts and condones this kind of behavior, requires that we ALL raise our voices and let it be known that we will not tolerate it in our midst. Faculty have, sadly, been too invisible in the discussion.

When you see someone bullying another person, even if the bully is a friend, you owe it to your own sense of integrity to intercede. Whether the bullying is because of race, or ethnicity, or religion or sexual orientation or identity, whether it is physical, verbal, or hidden in the coward’s refuge of anonymous Yik-Yak posts, it should not be tolerated by anyone with any integrity or honor. We’re better than that. We can and must do better.

At a time when fully 1/4 of our student cadre will be graduating and leaving, shortly before they are replaced by another 500 or so eager new faces, we ALL need to take stock. For the seniors about to graduate – how would you rate your own AAQ (Adult Attitude Quotient)? Are you mature enough yourself that you are ready to go out and do battle with the evil of the world? There’s plenty of it out there, ready to destroy you and the rest of us. Or are you going to duck your head, play it safe, and hide? Or, worse yet, are you going to allow a demagogue to talk you into becoming involved in activities that “I didn’t really want to do, but I did it to go along?”

Beware What You Practice … Part II

Submitted by: Nelson, Robert E. (
Date submitted: 5/12/16 3:09:11 PM

For those who will be returning in the fall (even if in absentia due to study abroad), are YOU ready to “step up to the plate” and take on the leadership role in showing what mature, thoughtful individuals believe, and how they behave? YOU will be the ones setting the tone for the incoming Class of 2020. What kinds of standards would you have liked to see when you started your first year? What kinds do YOU want to set for the new students?

I only ask that you beware what you practice….. because you will become the actor whose guise you wear. If you believe in the highest ethical standards of personal conduct, but practice at a lower level, that lesser standard will become that which defines you and your life. As Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Best wishes to the Class of 2016, as well as all those who will be rejoining us in the fall. Have a safe, enjoyable, and thought-provoking summer. You’ll undoubtedly be able get plenty of angry, hateful messaging in the political ads to be unleashed over the next six months. Hopefully, these may give you reason to think back on some of the things that have happened on campus, and help you to vow to do what you can, to put an end to the behavior that shames us all.

R. E. Nelson – “Dr. Bob”
Professor of Geology

“Bus Incident”… Beware what you Practice

Submitted by: Raag, Tarja (
Date submitted: 5/12/16 6:08:18 PM

Having been at the hearing for this incident, I have agreed to confidentiality. However, I will say … My dear friend Nadia did NOT punch herself in the face, someone on that fraternity bus perpetrated this violent act, and this person is now hiding behind many others who are protecting the perpetrator. There is something terribly wrong with that.

Nadia, I admire you and look up to you. Keep being who you are because your courage will be rewarded. Cowards whose power is completely a function of a system that holds them up… at the end of the day… are empty. They will fall.

And, to the one lovely young woman who apparently reached out to Nadia and Anita after the attack. I hope to get to know you.

Beware what you practice

Submitted by: Hatch, Walter F. (
Date submitted: 5/12/16 7:30:03 PM

I don’t know all the facts surrounding specific incidents of physical and emotional violence at Colby this year. I only know that:
a) there have been too many;
b) students of color, queer students, and female students often appear to be on the receiving end; and
c) we can do better.

Walter Hatch, Govt. Dept and Oak Institute for Human Rights

Beware what you practice…

Submitted by: Gunter, Samara R. (
Date submitted: 5/12/16 10:18:53 PM

I love teaching at Colby. My students are hardworking, inquisitive, surprising, and funny.

It is hard to reconcile the thoughtful and dynamic personalities I encounter each day with the cruelty of some of the Yik Yak posts I heard and saw this morning. And so these incidents leave me wondering: who am I talking with in my classroom?

This anonymous malice undermines all of us. It undermines my willingness to write glowing letters of recommendation: do I really trust this person whose praises I am singing? It undermines my enthusiasm for asking my students about their lives and their passions and their frustrations: with whom am I aligning myself? It undermines my own–and especially my students’–motivation and confidence to do our best work.

To all my students: please, don’t be one of those people.

Samara Gunter, Assistant Professor of Economics

“Be aware of what you practice…”

Submitted by: de Sherbinin, Julie W. (
Date submitted: 5/12/16 10:49:15 PM

Habits are hard to change: they are comfortable routines that reinforce the beliefs we have about ourselves. Terrance MacMullan titled his book “The Habits of Whiteness” (2009). He is one of many white American scholars who describe the thoughts and behaviors that characterize the culture of Americans of European heritage. One “habit” that deeply troubles me is the broadly held belief that the perceptions of people of color are not credible. White people sometimes use the words “playing the race card” to dismiss spot-on understandings of our own illogical practices. (When did white folk, who invented racism, become the big authorities on what it feels like to be treated in demeaning ways based on skin color?) Luckily, habits can be changed. Try switching over: if you’ve ever had as much as a thought such as those above, reverse the terms. Take the person of color’s word as the credible version. Defensive white disclaimers about “race playing no role” in altercations make no plausible sense since there is no logic behind them. On the other hand, the logic of a voluminous literature, scholarly and otherwise, backs up the most mild utterance or protestation of racial bias. Oh, and another bad habit to break? Once you begin to see that white culture has precious little credible thinking about racial identity, try speaking up! The silence of complacency or complicity (on the bus, in classrooms, everywhere) is, perhaps, the most devastating habit of whiteness…. and it is one well worth changing. –Julie de Sherbinin, Professor, Department of German and Russian

Beware what you practice …

Submitted by: Waldkirch, Andreas (
Date submitted: 5/13/16 11:11:02 AM

I’m sad, outraged and disappointed at what too often happens on this campus: violent acts of racism, classism, homophobia and more. As a community, we all must be better than that. And as a community, we must find better, way better, ways of dealing with incidents than we did on this one.

Prof. Andreas Waldkirch, Department of Economics

Beware what you practice…

Submitted by: Engman, Bevin L. (
Date submitted: 5/13/16 1:33:33 PM

Beware what you practice…for you shall become it.

This is such a simple thought that one can almost miss its meaning. It is expressed in the remarkable way that the bodies of Olympic athletes are sculpted by the repetition of their actions – their practice. So much so that by their physique alone, a speed skater would never be mistaken for a long distance runner, nor a swimmer.

The changes we manifest are not only physical though – intellectually, socially and emotionally we are practicing all the time. With every thought, every spoken word, and action, we are shaping the person we will become. During these four brief years in our classrooms, labs and studios, on the playing fields, and on the weekends you are faced with choices. In every setting you are not only shaping your intellect but also your character and the contributions you make to our community.

So here’s my question: In social situations that are difficult, when group-think or an individual bully begins to take over and the dynamic is tense – what do you practice? Leadership or fear, action or passivity, compassion or self-interest, kindness or cruelty? Remember, either way you’re going to learn something – and they call it practice for a reason – because if you do it, you’ll get better at it. But beware; if you practice cruelty or dishonesty, it will be easier to do so the next time. And if you practice passivity you will learn that too. So it doesn’t matter, for example, that I don’t think of myself as racist. My actions are a direct expression of my character and if they are racist, then like it or not, so am I and I must confront it, for my moral bearing as a human being is at stake.

As a faculty member I care about every one of you and wish you safe passage to adulthood.
I leave you with this – your life could go very differently depending on what you practice. The person you aspire to be is waiting – so please, beware. Choose wisely.

Bevin Engman, Professor of Art

Beware what you practice – The Real Exam

Submitted by: Johnson, Russell R. (
Date submitted: 5/13/16 7:46:28 PM

I would like to share a few thoughts during this week of final exams, as we finish up the academic year.

The real final exam is how we live our lives every day. In this exam we are continually being tested. And the exam isn’t just for students. Professors, administrators, and staff all get to take it as well. The questions on this exam can be difficult and it will require hard work, moral resolve, and risk-taking to find the best answers.

Do we, as individuals and as a community, do everything we can to make Colby a place that is inclusive and welcoming for everyone? Are we doing everything we can to make Colby a place where everyone has an equal chance to learn and grow, without the threat of bigotry or violence? Do we show everyone the same respect that we would want to receive, and that every human being deserves? It isn’t easy to do these things, and it can be especially difficult when it requires challenging some of our own assumptions and privileges, and when it involves standing up to pressure from our friends.

We have not always done as well on this exam as I believe we need to. We need to keep reminding ourselves of how important it is.


Russell Johnson
Professor of Biology

Beware what you practice…

Submitted by: Tappan, Mark B. (
Date submitted: 5/13/16 9:38:13 PM

As an institution, and as a community, we’ve fallen short in ensuring that everyone has access to a fully inclusive campus, and the opportunity to participate in all aspects of our life together, without fear of harassment and intimidation, free from both the threat and the reality of psychological and physical violence. We’ve fallen short as individuals, and we’ve fallen short in our policies, practices, and procedures.

Ninetta Runnals, ’08, Colby’s first Dean of Women,* offers these words to guide us in difficult times:

“Loyalty to our college does not mean that we are blind to its imperfections. Loyalty does mean that we must steadily love Colby and work, as much as is in us, for her progress and improvement.”

We can do better; we have to do better.

Mark Tappan, Professor of Education
Lyn Mikel Brown, Professor of Education


Beware what you practice

Submitted by: Chan, Nathan W (
Date submitted: 5/14/16 12:59:39 AM

To the proud POC, to the survivors of sexual violence, to the LGBTQ community, and to others who fight to advance justice on Mayflower Hill and beyond:
Thank you. You bring to light the many ills that exist in our community and the world at large. You challenge us and refuse to be silenced. I am ever grateful – and Colby is indebted to you – for your continual courage and inspiration.

To those who perpetrate hate and hide from the consequences:
I’m sure that I know many of you. I’m sure that I’ve had you in my classes. And I’m sure that you’ve been exceedingly polite and respectful in our interactions together (as Colby students seem to be in the presence of their professors). But why does your demeanor change outside of the classroom? Why do you afford esteem to your instructors but show contempt for your peers? Which is the real you: the polite, hardworking student on Tuesday morning or the Saturday night bully? Reflect on your duplicity and reorient yourself. Or at least be honest about who you really are and be accountable for your actions.

To the rest of us, those who are neither the perpetrators nor the targets of abuse:
We are failing. We must all – faculty, staff, and students – do better. We are the silent majority who stand by passively while our fellow community members suffer. Our silence is a tacit approval of the abuse they endure, of the pain they bear daily. They deserve better from us. We are culpable for our inaction. I urge us all to seize responsibility and take an active role in making Colby a more cohesive, loving, and inclusive community.

Nathan W. Chan, Assistant Professor of Economics

Beware what you practice

Submitted by: Moland, Lydia (
Date submitted: 5/14/16 8:26:19 AM

Through the fog of grading and travel, I want to thank my colleagues who have started this thread and articulated such important truths; thank you likewise to the students who are voicing their concerns with such wisdom and grace.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle formed his entire moral philosophy around the claim that habits form character and so are imperative for a good ethical life. He also claims that bad habits not only cause bad behavior, but that they can prevent us from KNOWING what the right thing is. Turning a blind eye can blind us.

I feel sure that most Colby students want to become good partners, parents, friends, workers, and citizens. The way to make that happen is to form good habits now–habits of decency and compassion and intolerance for hateful behavior. Habits of being willing to see when there is a problem in our community that needs to be addressed.

This is of course true for all members of the community, not just students. I know I do not always get it right, and I am reminded by this thread to keep trying.

I want students who are suffering to know that many of us work to address the concerns you raise in ways you cannot see. I know this is not much of a comfort, but know that the grief and anger I feel when I hear your stories inspires change in my teaching, advising, and scholarship that I hope will result in longer-term change.

Lydia Moland
Associate Professor of Philosophy

Beware what you practice…

Submitted by: Hanlon, Aaron R (
Date submitted: 5/14/16 10:42:25 AM

One of the tough things about being human is we can’t know what it is to be someone else.

True, if I’ve stubbed my toe before then I have a rough idea of what you feel like when you stub your toe; but I can never have *your* experience of what it’s like to stub your toe. The same is true for our more consequential experiences: we all know what it’s like to be left out, abandoned, offended, and mistrusted; and many of us know what it’s like to be attacked, punched, and shoved.

I remember vividly that panicked, adrenal feeling that came over me the first time someone laid hands on my body with the intent to do harm. But the fact is, again, that just because I have a sense of what violence and scorn feel like for me, and how I experience and manage these kinds of things, I can’t know what it feels like for others who are made to feel unsafe, threatened, or marginalized, especially for those made to feel that way *on a routine basis* because of who they are. And if we can’t know something, it’s not our prerogative to move immediately to the defensive, to be incredulous about the suffering of others, or to let our own experiences speak for those of others. If members of our community are suffering, it’s our prerogative, foremost, to listen.

What we must practice is empathy. That’s difficult, especially because we know from the outset that we’ll never truly know what it’s like to feel with another person. But it remains our duty as human beings, and as members of this community, to get as close as possible to that kind of understanding. So I ask you to stop and listen to those who are hurting, to reflect on why they might be hurting, to try to understand; and finally, to consider: Which is more important to you: maintaining a side in a public disagreement, or taking steps to hear, understand, and support those who say they are hurting?

Faced with this kind of question, I lean on the words of James Baldwin, from _Notes of a Native Son_:

“It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, totally without rancor, of life as it is. and [people] as they are: in light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is a commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one’s own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one’s strength.”

Take care,
Aaron R. Hanlon
Assistant Professor of English

Beware what you practice

Date: 15 May 2016
From: “Mary Beth Mills” <>

With thanks to all who have contributed to this inspiring thread:  I write to support the compassion, concern, and outrage that colleagues and students have expressed here in the digest and in other venues. When members of our community are in pain, when their safety or well-being is threatened or violated, then we must question what our life together as a community means. Being in community is not a given; it is a practice. And like others on this thread, I know that my practice has not always lived up to the goals I believe we set for ourselves. I will try harder and I am encouraged by the strength and commitment of so many – faculty, students, staff – who strive daily to enact the inclusive, loving, and empowering community to which we aspire. These efforts can be facilitated or undermined by the contexts in which we act and so I also wish to thank everyone who has worked and is working to question and dismantle the institutional structures that constrain our abilities to practice a more inclusive, loving, and empowering community. Along with what we do for each other as individuals – at Colby or elsewhere – we must craft better institutional supports that can enable and sustain the kind of community we seek to practice.

Mary Beth Mills, Professor of Anthropology

Beware what you practice…

Date: 15 May 2016
From: “Erin S. Sheets” <>

“Empathy is not simply a matter of trying to imagine what others are going through, but having the will to muster enough courage to do something about it…” – Cornel West

I thank everyone who has posted perspectives on the current atmosphere and hopes for Colby becoming a more inclusive, supportive community.  Your willingness to share has encouraged me, and I’m certain so many others, to reflect on my role within this environment.

I keep returning to the question of what it means to be an accountable member of a community. Certainly, there are the most basic standards of human decency: don’t perpetrate violence; don’t intimidate or harass others; don’t be a bigot. But beyond these rudimentary expectations, the commitment becomes more difficult. Truly being accountable means taking responsibility for one’s actions and one’s inactions. Could we, those here to support students’ education, be doing more not just to encourage greater awareness of others’ lived experience but to embolden more intentional action? If I or you have witnessed an act that exacerbates vulnerability, capitalizes on privilege, or otherwise violates our community values, do we speak out in that moment? And when warranted, do we communicate our concerns to those in a position to respond broadly?

“Expanding empathy” is a learning objective in all of my core courses, but I wonder if I’ve been advocating an incomplete definition. Attempting to understand someone else’s lived experience first requires an ability to disengage from your self, put judgments on pause, and to ask over and over again, what do I not know? I applaud everyone who strives to do this work every day. But is awareness enough? Is that the endpoint, or when someone else is struggling, must we also act on this knowledge to actually be empathetic?

I know that I could do more to enact this complete definition of empathy, and I will reflect on what and how over the summer. I hope that many other members of our community, across many roles in our community, will do the same.

“… In a way, empathy is predicated on hope.” – Cornel West

Erin Sheets
Assistant Professor of Psychology

Beware What You Practice…

Date: 15 May 2016
From: “Margaret T. McFadden” <>

I am finishing my twentieth year of teaching at Colby. In that time, I have had the great pleasure of working with many bright, talented, ambitious and creative students. It has been an enormous pleasure and a joy. I have also, however, had the experience of seeing some of those same wonderful students endure terrible verbal, physical, and sexual abuse at Colby, much of it based on race, gender, religion, gender identity, and sexual identity. Many of these students’ educations were profoundly harmed by having to endure this treatment, and, all too often, by responses from the college that did not adequately support or protect them. How could anyone be expected to reach their full potential in such a hostile and unwelcoming environment? How could anyone open their hearts and minds and take intellectual and creative risks when they quite rationally feel unsafe? As a faculty member, I am heartbroken by the number of gifted students I see damaged by their Colby education, when they should be enlightened and empowered. Indeed, what amazes me is the courage and strength that students who have endured abusive treatment have demonstrated; despite their suffering, many manage to do extraordinary work. But no one should have to endure such treatment as a cost of getting their education, and no one should have their potential limited by the fear of harm.

It seems evident to me that our campus culture is deeply sick, because we collectively allow unmistakable patterns of bad behavior to continue, even though the vast majority of us do not commit such acts and do not condone them. The vast majority of us deeply and sincerely oppose racist, sexist, classist, and homophobic violence and bias, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, and the astronomical amounts of dorm damage that occur on this campus. And yet they persist because too many of us are silent and afraid to speak up for what we think is right. We allow this campus’s social life to be dominated by organizations and groups that are exclusionary and destructive, that enable appalling levels of substance abuse, and that foster biased and hostile environments in which abusive behavior is implicitly or explicitly condoned. I hear from many students that they believe if they challenge the power of the underground fraternities or other groups who sponsor parties perceived to be cool or otherwise high status, they will experience a kind of social death. They don’t like the party culture, the endless alcohol and drug abuse, the hookup culture, the loud drunk guys trashing their dorms, and the completely anti-intellectual nature of life at Colby after 5:00 p.m. But they don’t see anything they can do about it, if they want to have any kind of social life.  To all of you who feel this way, I say, it could be different.  And you have a choice to make about whether you will be a silent bystander as the current sick climate persists, or whether you will be part of the majority that builds a healthy new environment together.

Beware What You Practice…part 2

Date: 15 May 2016
From: “Margaret T. McFadden” <>

The groups that have power now have it because you give it to them. It’s simple: don’t get on that bus and don’t go to the parties. Join the new group that thinks those exclusionary, abusive environments are about the least cool, least fun things on the planet, and that the people who hold and attend those events are pathetic losers.  But in order to do that, you will have to take control of your own social culture. You’ll have to figure out what you’d rather do to have fun and take steps to help make those alternative events happen. From what I hear from students, there are a lot of you who want an alternative, but few of you who are willing to do the work to make that alternative a reality, few of you who are willing to stand up and lead in building the kind of healthy, respectful, fun environment that most of you want. But it can and should be done, and in fact, it can only be done by students. It’s your culture, and you can take it back. But it will not happen if you are passive, if you just join the crowd and give in to the sick, destructive culture that is already established and that brings out the worst in you, not the best.

So yes, beware what you practice, because if you participate in a culture that systematically and structurally excludes and abuses people, you are helping to perpetuate that culture, even if you never throw a punch or hurl a hateful epithet or grope somebody at a dance. You are morally implicated if your behavior (active or passive) does not live up to your beliefs and values about how to be in the world and how to treat other people. But you can also celebrate what you practice. You can choose to be part of the group that actively works together to build a community that is genuinely welcoming to all, and that enables everyone to be their best selves, to grow and learn together, to have fun and to struggle together for what’s right. Isn’t that the Colby most of you thought you signed up for? Isn’t that what you want? If so, practice what you want to be.

beware what you practice

Date: 16 May 2016
From: “Laura Saltz” <>

I feel so grateful to work with such wonderful students and colleagues at Colby.  Their fortitude is inspirational.

At the same time, as many have noted in this forum and through the work they do in venues across the college, there is something deeply, systematically wrong with our campus culture and with the institutional structures that reinforce that culture.  Acts of violence, including racism, sex and gender discrimination, homophobia, and classism, occur with disturbing regularity.  It’s no use telling ourselves “we are better than that.”  We *are* that.  We are what we practice.

But we can change what we practice.  Underground frats might be a symptom of Colby’s ills, but I doubt they are the cause.  They tell us that wealth and privilege remain deeply entrenched in our institutional values.  They show us that “work hard, play hard” might be a strategy for success, but success of a very limited nature–success that comes at the cost of self-harm and harm to others.  Work so hard that you lose touch with yourself?  Play so hard that you abnegate all responsibility for your actions?  Instead, how about “work smart, play smart”?  Or “work well, play well”?  Work and play to discover who you are, where your passions lie, what joy you can find in life, what value you can find in other people.

Change–personal, communal, institutional–is difficult and painful.  It requires honesty, humility, self-awareness, study, thought, courage, and struggle.  It means admitting that we don’t have the answers but affirming our commitment to working together to find them.

Laura Saltz
Associate Professor of American Studies

Beware what you practice…

Date: 16 May 2016
From: “Marilyn R. Pukkila” <>

A question:  If you go along to get along, how will you (or anyone else) know who you are?

Some generalizations about bullies:
Bullies are usually motivated by fear, and by a (mistaken) belief that they are supposed to be in control of all things in their lives (no wonder they are so fearful).  They use power-over to exercise that control.  Power-with (sharing your power with others) is more effective than power-over, and produces empowerment (feeling powerful from within, and thus not needing to “prove” your power by overpowering others).  And don’t forget:  “Love is the greatest power.”  — J.K. Rowling

Bullies, by and large, must compartmentalize themselves, rejecting empathy for those they hurt.  They usually resist vulnerability above all things, and it is vulnerability that allows people to connect with each other in meaningful ways.

A reminder:  It is very important to learn the difference between feeling safe and feeling comfortable.

A challenge:  Say hello or wave to each person you cross paths with as you travel around campus.  It doesn’t matter if anyone responds; it will still make a difference, especially in you.