This summer, Colgate University’s 2026 Office of Undergraduate Studies (OUS) cohort, faculty members, and directors visited Washington, D.C., for a three-day co-curricular trip to engage with learning outside of the classroom and build connections with the Alumni of Color (AOC) organization.
OUS students and alumni visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture together and attended a dinner and reception to mingle and listen to a keynote speech by Vice President of Equity and Diversity Renee Madison.
“This is the first time OUS has done something like this outside of Colgate that is tied both to the curriculum and to building community with the AOC,” says Frank Kuan, senior associate director for OUS.
Professor John Palmer, OUS academic director, has been deeply invested in connecting the OUS students with alumni and began this work during the pandemic via Zoom.
“The students found the Zoom calls to be engaging, and many told me that they remained in contact with some of the alumni they connected with,” says Palmer. “But even before taking over the director position, I wanted our students to engage with the AOC in person.”
This was not possible during the early stages of the pandemic, but, in 2022, Palmer contacted the Office of Alumni Relations and connected with Justin Jackson ’78, chair of the AOC reunion committee. Together they envisioned the large gathering of students, faculty members, and alumni that took place in Washington, D.C.
Jackson says the AOC reunion committee wants to support Colgate students of color in ways that will endure. “We want to open doors for the students, as previous generations did for us,” he says. “The remarkable young people we met at these events will be leaders in our communities. We want to enable them to lead us well.”
Palmer was able to secure support for the trip from summer 2022 OUS faculty members, including senior lecturers in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Nady Abdal-Ghaffar and Amany Ahmed, Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Brenda Sanya, and Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies Dominique C. Hill ’05. These faculty members found ways to connect the museum visits and other excursions with their coursework.
Hill, who taught Introduction to Women’s Studies and was an OUS student while an undergraduate at Colgate, paired up with Sanya, who taught Core Communities and Identities: Black Migrations, and took their students on tours of both the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The students were then invited to use the respective lenses of their courses to teach their peers how to read exhibitions through that framework.
“The opportunity to teach in OUS is a gift,” Hill says “I wanted to contribute to a program that held me in many ways, and I desired to take part in gearing up a new, amazing group of students for their life at Colgate.”
The Colgate students who took part in the trip were enthusiastic about the opportunities to learn and connect with alumni. “It was an experience of culture — between the dancing, the lessons being taught, and the community — I was amazed to see the generations come together,” says Chrissy Gelins ’26.
This year marks Professor Palmer’s third year as OUS academic director, and he plans for the OUS program to build upon this experience in the future.
“We want our OUS students to know that with an elite education comes an awesome responsibility to those who came before and those who will come after,” Palmer says. “We want our scholars to control the narrative and resist the silencing gaze by viewing themselves as producers of knowledge, creators of change, and believers in the hope of a better tomorrow.”