Senior Wisdom: Barry Weinberg
Written by Bwog Staff
Claim to Fame? That randomly intense guy who was always at CCSC saying “well, see, I was digging through the archives and there used to be…,” the reason CCSC no longer has instant-runoff voting, foot soldier in the war to protect and reform the Core, former Co-President and all-around board member of Everyone Allied Against Homophobia, very former CU Dems Lead Activist, the accidental Chair of the Student Governing Board of Earl Hall, GS’s number one fan, general meeting attendee, that weirdo walking around in the February snow or a September Indian summer in sandals and a green fleece. I also gathered a large group of random people in a room in Kent on Monday nights and called it the “Columbia-Barnard Student Forum.”
Where are you going? For the moment, home to 109th and Amsterdam for a breather. Then, hopefully the New York City Comptroller’s Office or maybe China to work on my Mandarin.
Three things you learned at Columbia:
- How you got to where you are can be an immensely useful tool when you’re trying to figure out how to get to where you’re going. Columbia is notoriously bad at keeping written records of the way things work (it’s hard to do that when you run on fiat), so every professor or (even better) professor emeritus can be a goldmine of institutional knowledge. It’s important to find them, meet them, and get to know their stories.
- Why you do things is more important than what you do, and usually determines how well you do them. The whole point of the Core Curriculum is to force us to examine and define our own personal values, our sense of justice, and our moral and ethical beliefs in conversation with our peers and professors. If you do things simply to “succeed” you’re implicitly acquiescing to a set of values whose importance you have absorbed unquestioningly from your surrounding social structures. Really challenging yourself to see if those values have both an internal coherence and make sense when put in context with the experiences of your classmates and the writings of the past can save you from having to figure this shit out when you’re 27, 35, 50, or 80 years old and have infinitely more regrets regarding your failure to live a truly meaningful life. If you’re passionate about righting an injustice, fascinated by the potential of a particular field of study, or you just genuinely want to live a good life, you’re far more likely to do those things well than if you simply try to “do well.”
- People are incredibly complicated and multifaceted beings, and we are all flawed. Race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, socio-economic background, and a million other things all help to contribute to each individual’s unique set of lived experiences which can nonetheless have patterns of shared experiences with others. People appreciate being treated with respect and civility that acknowledges our intrinsic value as human beings. Even when people do not treat us with said respect and civility, they are still people deserving of such respect and civility because yet another part of being human is to be flawed, to fail to live up to our moral obligations to others. It is only by the grace of our fellow human beings that when we fail we may ask forgiveness and attempt to learn from our failure.
“Back in my day…” PrezBo skipped convocation, every dean was an “interim Dean,” the class of ’09 and ’10 had great war stories of an engaged and fired-up campus, a High Gay Council made sure First Fridays had pre-games and after-parties and that all three were both worth attending and the gateway to sloppy Saturdays, the Spec was a “vom-rag” while people turned to Bwog for the latest snarky inside scoop on campus politics, the legend that is La Negrita was the haven of those too cheap or unconnected to get fake IDs, the Varsity Show was perhaps less technically virtuosic but provided biting commentary on the Columbia admins sitting in the front row, there was some warehouse art/dance party called Collision that I was on my way to when my RA said “oh, you’ll have plenty of chances to go to that in the future, you should go to this other thing,” Kevin Shollenberger’s hair looked like this, and Frontiers made no sense conceptually (some things never change).
Justify your existence in 30 words or less: I found love in a hopeless place, was ¼ of the Ovaries, and dance like a wild man. I love nachos and green things. I sometimes make people laugh.
Is the War on Fun over? Who won? Any war stories? According to my archival research and (untrained) oral history interviews with alumni, the War on Fun as we know it is a fairly recent phenomenon. While the administrative impulse to make sure that students are having absolutely no dangerous, obscene, debauched, ill-advised, impolitic, spontaneous, or otherwise unsanctioned fun has existed for hundreds of years, they’ve previously been either too lazy or too understanding to act on that impulse with anything more than a half-hearted or token gesture. Then came Manhattanville, the Minutemen, and Ahmadinejad, and suddenly people realized that it would be very hard to raise money for a massive capital expansion while we were constantly being slammed on Fox News or had potentially less-than-flattering media attention. Thus, the rise of the UEM/Public Safety-complex, a renewed effort to control liability, and the general “no-you-can’t-do-that” attitude of admins. To be fair, we’re seeing some moderation recently thanks to Dean Martinez in Community Development and others who genuinely care about our lives as students, but we’re still a far cry even from the general laxity of our so-called “peer and aspirant schools.” That being said, there’s nothing like scoring a well-earned victory by kicking back on a roof with an El Presidente and taking in the skyline or having a four-person band perform in an EC suite during a raucous game of cocktail pong (gays do it so classy).
Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? I’ve had four years to figure this one out, and it still stumps me. I guess it’s better to give than receive, but that doesn’t hold true for cheese. So cheese.
Advice for the Class of 2016:
- You are, of course, insanely privileged to attend Columbia. Admissions attempts to put together a class of some of the most outstanding young adults in the country, the faculty are the top of their field, and the cachet that comes with the degree is (probably unfairly) immense compared to that which accompanies other schools. BUT REMEMBER, as great at all that is, it is okay to hold Columbia to higher standard and strive to bring it closer to its ideal. Columbia has such immense potential to be an even greater institution and it fails to fully live up to that potential. When students are complaining about marginalization of people of color or queer people, poor student services, Columbia’s mistreatment of local communities, and its increasing professionalization, you may feel incredibly defensive of the University. It is, after all, a privilege to go here. But step back and take a moment to try to understand what these students working for change are saying. Columbia is a great university, yes, but that does not mean that it cannot or should not try to improve itself and come closer to its ideal of a great liberal arts institution with the power to deliver a transformative education.
- Related to the above, almost everything that Columbia has ever done to advance progress and improve life for the students has usually been a hard-won victory by a bunch of loud student activists. Things that Columbia likes to proudly trumpet and advertise on the admissions website, like need-blind admissions, the IRC, our amazing and vibrant student groups, a “politically, environmentally and socially conscious and active student body,” “the country’s oldest student gay-rights advocacy group,” etc. have all at one point been opposed or limited by the University or College administration and only exist thanks to long and difficult struggles by a committed and engaged portion of the student body. If the administration opposes a student initiative led by passionate leaders, expect to see it in our admissions brochures in under 10 years.
- Campus media is under-appreciated. If you get to know reporters and editors, and remember that they’re students with lives and interests just like you, you’ll go a long way towards understanding the sometimes mystifying process that is media production. It’s a grueling job, and so if they don’t know the details or the background your event or group they’re covering, just help them out and let them know. Explain things, pass along ideas for stories, and just be a nice person. It’ll pay off in more informed, well-rounded coverage of your important issue.
- If you want to get something done around this place, knowing the insanely complicated org chart is a huge help. Talk to professors, talk to administrators, talk to upperclassmen, but the faster you figure it out the faster you can talk to the person you need to and get what you want (hint: secretaries, assistants, and chiefs-of-staff are sometimes the people you need to talk to). If you talk to them and they don’t give you what you deserve, see the above advice. Administrators here sometimes fall prey to two “administrative allergies.” The first is an allergy to student input. They may view students as insufficiently informed of the complicated workings of the university or as low priorities, and may dismiss your concerns accordingly. The second allergy is an allergy to media attention. The second allergy can usually help them overcome the first.
- President Bollinger’s nickname, PrezBo, is not one of affection anymore, if it ever was. It’s a symptom arising from the fact that the central administration is more removed from the daily lives of students than at any point since perhaps the 1960s. During his tenure, Low Library has shifted towards greater and greater reliance on administration by fiat, rather than by the written processes that exist to bring faculty and student voices into decision-making. The faculty look like they’re sick of it and are finally getting their act together. Don’t let the students be left out!
- As a continuation on that theme, PrezBo doesn’t actually make any high-level decisions. If you care about something that needs to be decided in Low Library, it’s probably handled by Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin. If it is something decided in the President’s Office, it’s usually handled by his Chief-of-Staff, Susan Glancy. Her e-mail is email@example.com. Have fun with that knowledge.
- As you may have figured out from all the shit above, it can be a bitch-and-a-half to go here. That being said, don’t let the difficult parts overshadow the most important thing you’ll take away from Columbia: the relationships you create here. Spend time with the people you love, the people you find fascinating, the people who share your passions, the random people you meet in class or at events, and your professors. Get to know people you wouldn’t otherwise, people who are different from you, and even people you think you won’t like (remember, you’re no saint, either). Even when you graduate with all your battle scars and a body deadened by all-nighters, not enough exercise, erratic nutrition, and self-medication with alcohol, you will always have the ability to write someone an e-mail, call someone up for drinks or lunch, or have a shoulder to lean on during tough times. That is worth more than any internship, any degree, any paper written.
- Again, build relationships with your professors. People (me) sometimes forget professors while they’re here and only realize how amazing their professors are as they exit Columbia. For the love of god, go to professors’ office hours, get to know them, make them your life-long mentors.
- It is possible to find love in this hopeless place, but it usually happens when you’re not looking for it. I wound up meeting my boyfriend of three years (Aries Dela Cruz, GS ’09) at a time when I thought I’d stay single for years and expected to find nothing at Columbia. It’s not a bad idea to expect nothing, but on the flip side, stay open to anything.
- You have four years here. Go fucking nuts. Just do it. It’s okay to go harder than is good for you. It’s okay to take a step back and take care of yourself and be well. Just don’t feel guilty for doing one or the other. But whatever you do, make the most of it. If you’re mad about something, change it. If you’re sad, do something that makes you happy. If you’re lonely, make yourself uncomfortable, meet new people and let them change your life. Just. Go. Fucking. Nuts.
Any regrets? I guess I wish I’d been a little faster to figure out all the shit I put in this Senior Wisdom. So let’s make that “not trying harder to follow the advice in previous years’ Senior Wisdoms.” Also, writing such a long-ass Senior Wisdom.