WTF, Columbia: Building Community?

Written by

don't have time for this shit
don't have time for this shit

Oh no, not again

Last month, we had our first “WTF, Columbia” post, detailing intricate complaints about the school.  This time around, Bwog Editor Alexandra Svokos (#transparency) divulges on an interesting experience.  If you have a story you’d like to share about Columbia pushing you around, email tips@bwog.com or use our anonymous form.  Anonymity guaranteed.

I love this school.  I wouldn’t be dedicating all my time to clubs, classes, and–of course–Bwog if that wasn’t true.  Like a beloved brother who always leaves the toilet seat open, though, Columbia has room for improvement.  Last week, I was invited to a focus group to “better assess Columbia’s campus culture.”  Participants were nominated by advisors and were highly active students in various sections of the school.  About 35 were invited and split into four groups based on our organization association.

Deans Martinez and Shollenberger explained that this initiative was started by Student Affairs in reaction to student outcry about the culture of high stress that permeates campus.  Community Development reached out to a faculty member at Teachers College, a national leader in consulting with institutions about their social culture.  The people working on the project are TC students in their last semester (at least those I spoke with).  According to Martinez they are all working toward becoming consultants; this is easy experience learning to work with clients–so, yes, we’re being used as their guinea pigs.  The TC leaders I talked to said this initiative should continue on for “years,” with new people taking it up after they graduate.

In my group for Performing Arts and Publications, we were told that the major complaint they were examining is that we identify with our student groups rather than Columbia as a whole.  We were then asked to go around and say what group we’re from and what that group does.  Being split based on our group associations and asked to identify ourselves by that association did not help much in changing this.

In introductions, I started seeing the major fault in the initiative–a common theme at Columbia–that the people we were supposed to be getting help from had no idea what we were talking about.  Our TC leaders asked for clarification on nearly every acronym and  abbrev: from easy stuff like SEAS and Spec to the more intensive SGA, ABC, UEM, SACBO, etc.

Ours was an interesting group–all from performing arts (particularly a capella) with the exception of myself and two members of another publication (we’re under confidentiality).  The performing arts groups have a whole mass of problems completely unrelated to publications’; the other publication guy and I kept looking at each other and shrugging, nothing to add.  It was a marvelous listing of the ridiculous myriad of problems performing arts groups face; hearing what they’re against, it’s a true testament to their dedication that we even have shows.

In the course of our conversation, we reached the conclusion that a lot of the stress derives from lack of help from the university.  Rather than help us, in fact, the university tends to throw up roadblocks.  One person stated that he felt lied to in applying to Columbia: all the wonderful opportunities he was promised exist only with extreme personal effort to make it happen.

We’ve become so discouraged by lack of help that we stopped looking up–instead we look to each other.  Nearly everyone in the room cited times they’d reached out to each other or CCSC for a boost up when, once again, something stupid got in the way and the administration was not there to support.  Watching the discussion unfold, I had to chuckle to myself.  This initiative is precisely emblematic of the problem it aspires to eradicate.  Instead of solutions, we are given more people to complain at who don’t even understand what we’re talking about. Largely ignoring the prepared questions from the TC leaders—who were overwhelmed by the complaints and jargon anyway—the students took over the conversation.

I’m willing to make a slap bet that nothing useful for students will come of this initiative.  Given past experience, the only way to make life easier for ourselves is to continue working together.  It would be much more efficient and effective to have students form groups comprised of leaders from across the spectrum, discuss amongst ourselves what would make life easier, and present solutions to Student Affairs–but we’re all too busy straightening out forms in SACBO and arguing with UEM.

Bwog’s feelings via Shutterstock

Tags: , , , , , , ,


  1. Yo Svokos  

    Can you tell us what schools were represented?

  2. CC '13  

    Why are we (students and admins) constantly analyzing the culture of the students, when we (the students) almost universally acknowledge that the culture of the admins is unhelpful and standoffish (excepting those rare cases of genuine compassion). As a senior whose had a very broad experience with not only admins but also student leaders who must work extensively with specific admin bodies, it's my empirical belief that the admins here contribute significantly to whatever "stressful" experience the students might predominantly share.

    Shitty things that could have been handled a LOT better:
    -Super shady brownstone selections
    -Even shadier relations with the greek community
    -Kevsho outrageously rebuking CUMB (one of many reasons he should be fired)

    Two more thoughts:
    1) I'm not really sure if it's possible to get collegiate admins to act like cheery camp counselors, so maybe it's just an immutable fact that they have to comport themselves like managers at a car rental franchise. That might be a part of how Columbia, in general, completely lacks that Hogwarts-ian fog of traditional collegiate charm that is probably much more present on campuses outside of New York. Not saying that's overall a bad thing; I'm happy that my college experience was vomlet-free.
    2) I think "stress" is a bad proxy for fixing Columbia's culture. Stress seems like an inevitable result of a good undergraduate experience. If lived correctly, our lives are not going to get any less stressful in the near future, so I don't see why we are at STRESSCON 1 around here. People are responsible for the choices they make in life, and if they can't pull a 3.7 while going out 3 nights a week, then that sucks for them, because obviously others can. Furthermore, I think we need to more clearly separate the idea that everyone should be equally eligible for an education like at Columbia from the idea that everyone can successfully complete and education like at Columbia. Some people are going to burn out, and if they don't then I'd argue that we need to turn the difficulty level up. We can't change the fact that society places a ton of pressure on grades and name-brand educations (or that dropping out or taking time off is a sign of some ambiguous moral weakness), and so we aren't responsible for that pressure's effects. Or at least that's what I'm rolling with for this internet comment.

    TL;DR: I'm a senior who appreciates the academic/social/personal crucible that is Columbia, and although I'm certain that I would have enjoyed most other schools more, I don't fully regret coming here (as I don't think that undergrad should be the landlocked analog to the booze cruise). I think that in the long run I'll be better for it.

    • CC '14

      Dear CC '13:

      Your comment made me feel sane again. Whoever you are, I am glad that you are my classmate.

      CC '14

    • Anonymous  

      "maybe it's just an immutable fact that they have to comport themselves like managers at a car rental franchise."

      i stood up and applauded at my computer when i read this line. it was a little weird because i was in the ref room, but YOU'RE WORTH IT, OP

    • Anonymous

      I want to chime in as a Barnard senior who feels the same.
      -losing friends to /almost having to graduate early from the part-time enrollment change, and dealing with the administration's bullshit response to that
      -losing housing as a return students
      -having friends whose rooms got converted into doubles with random roommates they hated and/or assigned male roommates in a suite they picked to be single-sex
      -multiple friends who keep getting sick on the meal plan (including friends with allergies who simply don't feel comfortable with any accommodations and don't want to be on the fucking meal plan)
      -multiple people I know who can't get disability support because their doctor won't put them through the tests for disabilities (e.g., migraines) that they've been diagnosed with already
      -closing the pool, which tons of students used expressly for destressing
      -quietly cutting the number of free psych appointments down ("because people weren't using all of them" would indicate they *wouldn't* need to cut them down, wouldn't it?)
      -(almost) the flier policy where you couldn't even promote your event without being "approved" by the administration

  3. Anonymous

    yo when are senior wisdoms

  4. cc15  

    "I started seeing the major fault in the initiative–a common theme at Columbia–that the people we were supposed to be getting help from had no idea what we were talking about. "

    Perhaps the most insightful statement regarding Columbia admin that I've ever seen.

  5. Come on Bwog  

    Did you REALLY have to tag HIMYM in this?

  6. asdf  

    How did I miss all this discontent when I was deciding where to go to college?

  7. CC '14  

    I think I decided to become a consultant because I couldn't relate to my clients, but felt like I had great ideas that would ultimately never be implemented.

    That would be a generous evaluation of this initiative.

© 2006-2015 Blue and White Publishing Inc.