The return of Cornel West to Colgate University on Thursday night, after nearly 20 years, brought the return of a man whose impact has persisted in classrooms throughout campus.
West first appeared at Colgate in 1995, and his expertise was solicited once again by members of Brothers, a student group focused on fostering multicultural awareness. The group wanted to engage the Colgate community with a provocative speaker and figure for the celebration of Black History Month.
Jennifer Rivera ’14 recalled listening to West’s 1995 campus lecture for her Challenges of Modernity course taught by Jeff Spires.
“We were required to watch the Cornel West lecture from when he was here in ’95, and that was really interesting. When he came back this year, I wanted to see him again,” she said.
West’s lecture combined comedic retort, poetic verse, and political and history lessons.
“Do you have the courage to analyze yourself?” he asked. “We live in a society where we live in a cultural, superficial spectacle. Where is the substance?”
West prompted his audience to give up individual prejudices, and to search for truth and knowledge.
A Princeton University professor and author of 19 books, West certainly showed he can engage a young audience. Mentions of pop culture, stemming perhaps from his stints as guest commentator on the Colbert Report and his roles in two of the Matrix movies, enabled him to speak directly to students who filled Memorial Chapel to capacity.
However, his speech proved relevant to people of all ages, affiliations, and beliefs. He encouraged the audience not to rely on superficial forms of pleasure and expedience. He called each person a “brother” and “sister,” demonstrating the sense of camaraderie he fostered throughout his speech.
Students seemed to receive West’s talk positively, and many expressed hope for further discussion to come in lieu of his lecture.
“I think there are going to be some questions that people are going to be asking that they never had to confront before,” said Ibrahim Shah ‘14, chief of Brothers.
Before answering numerous questions posed by audience members, West left the Colgate community with one important piece of advice: “Greatness has to do with your quality of service to others.”