Suzie Benack reflects about Minerva Program’s place on campus

Haley Newman and Mallory Nelson

Professor Suzie Benack is retiring at the end of this year. As part of her goodbyes she has done two meals and discussions with Minerva houses. Benack was one of the founding faculty members of the Minerva program. Minerva programs at their inception were intended to be an alternative for Greek life.

In the late 90s Union College was debating how to make the campus a more diverse place, with Benack describing it as a “crisis.” The College wanted to provide more opportunities for women and people of color to attend the college and add to the on-campus environment. According to Benack, some faculty members wished to abolish Greek life as a whole and many students that were not involved in Greek life felt marginalized, even though they were the majority of the student body. President Roger H. Hull created a commision, U2K, to solve the issues with one stipulation, Greek stayed. So with that as the goal the group of students, faculty and administrators set out to make Union College a better, more inclusive place to learn and socialize outside of the classroom.

The Minerva program has changed a lot over the years after its introduction. Benack spent some time reminiscing about the events of past years. Candlelit dinners, late night parties and interactions with faculty and their families were all events that the Minerva program had held. According to Benack, these events were used to bring the community together, with both students and faculty taking part in them.

Benack explained that these events were not without pitfalls. Many students on the councils during this time quickly found themselves burnt out by the amount of work such events required. Benack talked about alcohol in Minervas as well. She, along with many other faculty, used to buy alcohol for Minerva events, then because minerva money could not be used to buy alcohol would use the minerva funds to buy groceries. This was eventually found out by the College who quickly banned the practice. Over the years the Minerva Program has changed in response to the ever changing needs of our campus.

The conversation then turned to the issues that Benack believed were currently plaguing the Minerva Program. Faculty are not as involved as they once were and students were unable to find a balance between creating events whilst avoiding burn out and other programs have been created to fill the roles that Minervas were originally intended to perform. Benack went on to say that the need for intellectual discussion outside of the classroom has since been filled by seminars and discussion events on a variety of topics. So the question quickly became whether Minervas had served their purpose and where they are heading in the future.