Further reflections on Spike Lee’s visit for S.H.O.U.T! week
The Colby Echo is an important outlet on this campus to gauge Colby’s social climate and document the events that mold our college. And, of course, we all are entitled to our own opinion, which the editors of the Echo staff made well-known with their reflections on the Spike Lee keynote, and further cemented with their photo op-ed asking “What would you ask at the next Spike Lee therapy session.” I fear that the perspective of the Echo is assumed to be the perspective of the student body, and so I would like to respectfully offer my own perspective as well.
Although I am the chair of the Pugh Community Board, please view my words as merely my own, and not reflective of the perspective of PCB as a whole.
The Echo staff wrote in the previous week’s opinion piece on Spike Lee’s keynote that, “After a disorganized, meandering ‘speech,’ which was then followed by a shambolic question-asking performance on the part of our student body, many stepped out into the bitter cold, feeling an equally bitter sense of disappointment.” They conclude their op-ed with a summary of the Q and A section, writing that the questions “mostly consisted of requests for personal career advice, prostrate entreaties for life guidance and local neighborhood shout-outs. In the spirit of S.H.O.U.T! week, we as a student body should have cast aside our narcissism and asked questions that sought more deeply to confront the issues of multiculturalism and diversity that resonate throughout the world that we are all preparing to enter.”
Now, in no way do I want to argue that people are not allowed to dislike the execution of Spike Lee’s keynote. However, I am concerned that his keynote is being wholeheartedly dismissed because it did not fit the mold of what we assume a “good” speech demands. While his speech differed from our past S.H.O.U.T! keynotes that the Echo acknowledges Junot Diaz (2011) and Eve Ensler (2009), although Maya Angelou was not a PCB S.H.O.U.T! event—perhaps they meant our 2010 Keynote, Angela Davis?), it is not a fair judgment to label his keynote as less than a speech. Lee is an artist, and his nonchalant style, his dress and his language were not in the stereotypical style of highfalutin academia—and perhaps that was the point.
I want us to consider critically how the campus as a whole reacted to the Q and A section. While not all questions were directed to the arts and New York City, the ones that were seem to have fostered the brunt of the backlash. When a student artist stands up in front of our community and has the opportunity to have guidance from one of the few artists of color that can bring a campus together, why not take that chance? Instead, these students were mocked almost immediately after the event. Let us ask: why were we unable to sympathize when students said how hard it is to pursue the arts at Colby, and instead rejected them as misguided and narcissistic?
At an institution where non-traditional career paths are stigmatized enough, we as a community only reinforced the perception that if an event does not speak to the mainstream (or even if it just does not speak to ME), then it must be inconsequential. The safe space generated by the lecture, which allowed students to open confidently up, and ask questions about their personal struggles, was broken with the “therapy session” photo-op-ed which literally made the students who spoke into a joke—a joke that functions to reinforce the feeling of superiority among the rest of the student body.
I have heard that many students left the lecture feeling like it didn’t apply to them, or at least did not seem to speak to them. They weren’t from New York City, they didn’t care about sports, they weren’t pursuing a career in the arts—so how could they have taken anything from the lecture? To those of us who felt isolated by the lecture in this way, perhaps we caught just a glimpse of what it feels like to be in an environment that has different priorities, and perspectives than our own. Dare I say, to be an outsider.
As a student body, we have proven that we know how to speak, but I wonder how much longer we have to go until we learn how to listen. I love Colby, but I am not complacent.
Nicole Sintetos ’12 is the chair of the Pugh Community Board.