An Open Letter To The Students Of Columbia
Written by Eric Cohn
We present a letter from Eric Cohn, CC ’16, in reaction and response to today’s events on campus.
I do not know your pain; I cannot know it. As hard as we try we cannot comprehend what goes on inside another. But we can try; we can reach out in understanding and solidarity and compassion. And this letter forms my outstretched arm.
The first time it got real for me was like a dream. In bed on another weekend night—while my roommates and suite mates and classmates solidified their friendships and laughed and posted to Facebook—I looked out my open window. It would be so easy, I thought, if I were to sit on the ledge of that window to just slip off: to plummet nine stories—to escape. I imagined myself doing that, and it just felt so easy. It was almost a comfort.
For nearly three semesters here at Columbia, I was miserable. I felt lost, trapped, meaningless, and alone. I did not have the energy to wake up in the morning; work that should have taken minutes took hours if not days. But no one understood; no one saw the true inner pain. I kept it inside, and so everyone thought I was all right. But I was not all right. I hated Columbia and myself and my life, and it was all my fault. At least, that’s what I told myself.
The transition to this big, challenging, different school was supposed to be seamless, I thought. It would be easy being out to everyone instead of closeted, to make new friends with people on my hall, and finally to self-actualize into the person I was meant to be. That’s the narrative we are told by our predecessors and by our friends and by Facebook. And so when this did not happen—when I was floundering and struggling—I blamed myself. I scoured the Internet looking for people with similar experiences to mine. A google search of “lonely second semester freshman year” soon became “first semester sophomore year,” and the results were increasingly scant and distant. I did not see myself in them.
And this is why I write this letter to you. I want this letter to be a realistic experience of what it’s like to suffer at school, to feel lost and tired, not only to give you hope that you will get out of it, but to tell you it’s okay to be where you are right now. It’s okay and normal and understandable to feel this way at college. It’s one of the biggest changes of your life: despite what they tell you, it’s not supposed to be easy—and it never is. And most of all: it’s not your fault.
You will get out of it, too. For all the hopelessness I felt and all the pro/con transfer lists I made—now in the first semester of my junior year, I am finally beginning to get acclimated. It just took some extra time.
Ultimately, toughing it out at this school was the best decision I could have made. I have learned so much about myself and others that I am a different, wiser person than I was in the fall of 2012. And I do have friends; I do have a community. And most of all, I have a home.
I promise you will get there too. And though it might not look like the picture-perfect college experience you always imagined, it will be yours and you will be better because of it. It just might take some extra time.
So while this school might not be as supportive as it should be for people like us, I think we can (and must) support each other. You are strong, and I have faith in you.
Tags: an open letter