Author Archive

Feb

15

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A horn almost as majestic as the real thing (from the concert’s selfie station)

When Managing Editor Betsy Ladyzhets was picking a band instrument in fourth grade, she asked her mom if she could play the French horn, and her mom said no, it was too expensive. Now, after hearing the French horn quartet Genghis Barbie perform at the Miller Theater last night, she is deeply regretting not pushing her mom to let her pick that instrument anyway.

At a rehearsal of the CU Wind Ensemble last Monday, my friend Brent told our saxophone section that, at a particular point in the piece he had composed, they needed to express their love of saxophone in the way that they played the melody. It seemed like a ridiculous direction to me, as I laughed about it with my stand partner. But near the beginning of Genghis Barbie’s concert at the Miller Theater last night, I suddenly understood exactly what Brent was talking about.

Genghis Barbie describes itself as “the leading post post-feminist feminist all-female horn experience.” It is a group of four classically trained French horn players who play pretty much anything that can be arranged for four French horns – which is a more versatile collection of music than you might expect. The group consists of Rachel Drehmann (a.k.a. Attila the Horn), Danielle Kuhlmann (a.k.a. Velvet Barbie), Leelanee Sterrett (a.k.a. Cosmic Barbie), and Alana Vegter (a.k.a. Freedom Barbie). Not only do they excel at their instruments, they love their instruments  – and they demonstrate that love through their performance.

Last night, the group performed at the Miller Theater in the theater’s series of free pop-up concerts. Unlike most concerts, however, this one was dedicated to its theme: prom night. The theater had elaborate, romantic decorations of pink and red, all of the ushers and attendants wore “prom queen” sashes, and there was a selfie station with tiaras, flowers, and cardboard French horns for audience members to pose with. The event also boasted a free open bar. The theater was packed, with people sitting on the stage as well as in the theater itself; this event was more popular than the average Miller pop-up concert.

Did they play any Beyonce though?

Feb

11

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nobody saw me dance here, hopefully

Imagine this: you’re back at your old middle school. You’ve gone to an evening event in support of some younger sibling or cousin, and you have to get up halfway through to go to the bathroom. The bathroom closest to the auditorium is locked, so you wander through the hallways in search of one that the custodians might have neglected to close during their rounds.

The hallways are dark and empty. As you tread from one bank of lockers to the next, motion-activated lights flick on above you, illuminating student artwork and trophy displays in eerie fluorescence. The soft thuds of your footsteps are the only noise you can hear. You think back to your own time at this school – to racing through the halls with your friends, yelling across a cacophony of LL Bean backpacks and plastic folders – and it becomes impossible to reconcile that nostalgia-painted scene with this strangely lonely trip to the bathroom. You start to wonder if you’re not looking for the bathroom after all but for some feeling that has long evaded you – happiness, perhaps, or love.

Find out what a liminal space is

Feb

1

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No worms were harmed in the meeting of this club.

When two friends of Managing Editor Betsy Ladyzhets told her they were starting a book club at Barnard, she was amazed – there are college students who somehow want to do even more reading? The concept seemed fairly fantastical. Betsy went to the group’s first meeting last night to find out how they plan to operate, and to remind herself that reading doesn’t always have to be a source of stress.

LeFrak 117 has held bad memories for me ever since my first-year seminar last year, during which a gray-haired history professor droned on about twentieth-century Europe while his students tried to ignore his poorly-concealed distaste for their entire generation. But last night, the room seemed entirely transformed – rather than a boring professor, disengaged students, and unread texts, I found kind smiles, engaging conversation, and several varieties of tea and cookies.

A sign on the board proclaimed that this was the interest meeting for Barnard Bookworms, the college’s first ever book club. The meeting’s stated start time was 8 pm, but its organizers, Kira Mitchel, BC ’19 and Shruti Varadarajan, BC ’19, waited a few minutes for latecomers (and snack consumption) before getting started.

The meeting’s first piece of official business was to find out all of the attendees’ favorite books. This question was quickly amended to be either a favorite book or a book you read recently, because several people immediately complained that choosing just one favorite was impossible. Answers ranged from The Martian to Howl’s Moving Castle, and I found myself writing down several titles so that I would remember to look them up later.

Wait, STEM majors read novels?

Jan

24

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Getting ready to argue...

Getting ready to argue…

Yesterday, Bwog Managing Editor Betsy Ladyzhets attended a talk that focused on Trump’s energy and environmental plans for the next four years. Featuring environmental advisors to President George W. Bush, it seems that the United States’ environmental policy won’t be heavily affected by the change-of-hands between presidencies. The question remains: how can things not change if the leader of the free world doesn’t believe in climate change?

When I walked into the Pulitzer Hall World Room yesterday afternoon, I was pretty excited – and not just because the room is gorgeous. The panel I was about to attend promised to shed light on the ramifications of Trump’s presidency on America’s energy and environmental policy (that was, in fact, pretty much the title of the event). Its three panelists were all former senior energy and environment advisors to President George W. Bush, and, as the room filled, I realized that most of its audience was comprised of graduate students and people who dealt with energy and environmental policy in their careers. Still, I did not feel entirely out of my depth – as a biology major and, more broadly, human who cares about the future of the planet on which I live, I care a great deal about environmental policy. I hoped that this panel would alleviate at least some of my uncertainty about the next four years.

The panel began with a brief opening by Jason Bordoff, the director of SIPA’s Center on Global Energy Policy. He introduced the three panelists: Jeff Kupfer, former Acting Deputy Secretary of Energy; Jim Connaughton, former Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; and Bob McNally, former Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for International Energy, National Security Council. Bordoff also reminded the audience that the event was being livestreamed online. (The full video is now available on the Center on Global Energy Policy website.) Each panelist then talked for a few minutes about his perspective on the effect of the new presidential administration on energy and environmental policy.

“It’s really dangerous now to try to… say what’s going to happen, because it’s anyone’s guess,” Jeff Kupfer began. He explained that, although Trump made many promises during his campaign, he left many policy-makers wondering about what exactly the details of those promises would entail. But Kupfer also reassured the audience that he believes a great deal of policy in the White House will remain the same as it was in the past, due to the slow nature of the bureaucratic political machine.

“It’s always easier for something not to happen in the government than for something to happen,” Kupfer said.

More politics after the jump

Jan

23

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How do we know that this bagel is, in fact, a bagel?

How do we know that this bagel is, in fact, a bagel?

Have you ever thought about the metaphysical implications of believing New York City bagels are the best bagels on earth? Managing Editor Betsy Ladyzhets has, and her findings are more concerning than they are comforting.

A couple of weeks ago, I got into a discussion on Twitter about New York City bagels. One of my friends from home, whose writing I had been editing, had posted a couple of screenshots of our conversation on her Google Doc, in which she aggravated me by suggesting that the main characters in her story all ate their bagels dry. Her tweet was captioned, “i love knowing exactly how to torment a new yorker.” One of our mutual friends (this one a former New Yorker now living elsewhere in the US) replied in solidarity with me… and, long story short, I ended up agreeing to mail her half a dozen bagels from my favorite bagel place. I purchased the bagels yesterday and am sending them off this afternoon. To say my far-off friend is excited about this development would be like saying the staff at Absolute Bagel are only nice.

Dive into the metaphysical…

Jan

19

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Will they give him one of the top floor classrooms though?

Will they give him one of the top floor classrooms though?

This morning, we received a press release that Jacob “Jack” Lew, the outgoing Secretary of the Treasury, will become a visiting professor at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) next month. While at SIPA, Lew will “lecture, teach graduate students, and work with faculty members at the school and across the University on the subjects of international economics, fiscal and trade policy, and a range of other public policy issues.”

Lew graduated from Harvard College and Georgetown University Law Center, before becoming a legislative aide in Washington. From there, he worked on multiple financial committees, served as the President’s Chief of Staff, then became the Secretary of the Treasury in 2013. As treasury secretary, he “helped lead the U.S. economy to its current foundation of economic growth and declining unemployment.” He also has been a managing director and chief operating officer at Citigroup, and executive vice president and chief operating officer of NYU.

The faculty at SIPA is excited to have Lew join them. Dean Merit Janow said, “At a time when we are all concerned with issues of global economic growth, trade and finance, our federal budget, tax system and the challenge of creating economic opportunity, Jack Lew brings insights borne of years of experience from the academy and the most senior decision making roles in the US and global economy.”

President Bollinger is also enthusiastic about the Treasury Secretary’s new position; he called Lew “an invaluable addition to our faculty, and an asset for our students who will benefit greatly from all that he has to teach them.”

Lew starts at Columbia on February 1.

Read the full press release after the jump

Jan

18

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Braving the cold (and the human interaction) for those sweet, sweet tix

Braving the cold (and the human interaction) for those sweet, sweet tix

This Friday, Columbia’s TIC office will open in Lerner, selling Columbia students discounted tickets to Broadway shows, the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, and more. But even these discount tickets are often fairly pricey – a ticket to Aladdin in March, for example, is $59. To help out those of you not quite ready to shell out money at the TIC, Managing Editor (and penniless arts lover) Betsy Ladyzhets has put together a list of places you can get cheap tickets to shows, concerts, and other arts events outside of Columbia.

  • Broadway Week: Two for one tickets are being offered right now with a special promotion that lasts from January 17 to February 5. Speed is of the utmost importance for this opportunity – many shows are already sold out.
  • TKTS: The Theater Development Fund (TDF) has three discount ticket booths in NYC: one in Times Square “under the red steps” in Father Duffy Square at Broadway and 47th Street; one in South Street Seaport, at the corner of Front and John Streets, near the rear of the Resnick/Prudential Building at 199 Water Street; and one in downtown Brooklyn, in 1 MetroTech Center at the corner of Jay Street and Myrtle Avenue Promenade. These booths have same-day tickets to Broadway and off-Broadway musicals, plays, and dance productions between 20% and 50% off regular prices. You can see which tickets are available at any given moment on TKTS live. If you plan on trying TKTS, it’s good to get there at least half an hour before the booth opens to secure a decent spot in line.
  • Playbill: This list has information for rush, lottery, and standing room only policies for all Broadway shows. Playbill has rush and lottery information for many off-Broadway shows as well.
  • TodayTix: This app boasts last-minute Broadway deals and other theater tickets; you can both get tickets at discounted prices and sign up for daily lotteries for many popular shows.
  • Tix4Students: Anyone at least 18 and currently enrolled (part time or full time) in an undergraduate or graduate program at an accredited college or university can create an account on this site, which then gets you access to Broadway and off-Broadway tickets at heavily discounted prices. (The average is $40 per ticket.)

More (non-theater) ticket info after the jump

Dec

21

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When Ann Thornton asks a band alum to donate to the library...

When Ann Thornton asks a band alum to donate to the library…

It’s been eight days since the Marching Band announced that they had been banned from playing Orgo Night in Butler 209 this semester – an edict that originated in the devious mind of Vice Provost and Head Librarian Ann Thornton. Senior Staffer (and Band member) Betsy Ladyzhets tried to get into that very mind by imagining what Ann Thornton’s life must be like, now that Orgo Night is over and most “disruptive” marching band members have migrated off campus.

5:29 pm

Headed home for the night! Time to not think about administrative meetings or official documentation for a few hours, and maybe watch a Netflix documentary.

5:31 pm

Shit, did I remember to send that email to Dean Kromm? I know she so values my opinions about which groups should and shouldn’t be allowed to hold events on the lawns…

5:33 pm

It’s fine, I can send it tomorrow.

5:57 pm

The subway gets more and more disgusting every week. There should be designated different cars – one for people who want to gossip with their friends, one for people who want to loud, ear-damaging music, and one for people who actually want to spend their time in a productive way. I’m going to write a strongly worded letter to the MTA.

6:18 pm

Did someone… poop… on my doorstep?

Did someone poop?!

Dec

8

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Could you rate the correlation between two of your identities with Venn diagrams like this?

Could you rate the correlation between two of your identities with Venn diagrams like this?

Yesterday afternoon, Dr. Bonita London, CU Graduate School of Arts and Sciences ’06 and Associate Professor at Stony Brook University, gave a presentation on barriers and bridges to STEM engagement among women, focusing in particular on undergraduate students. Betsy Ladyzhets, senior staffer (and woman in STEM), describes Dr. London’s talk.

When I arrived in 614 Schermerhorn yesterday, the room was already half-full. Unlike most events I’ve written about for Bwog, this presentation appeared to have an audience primarily consisting of undergraduates – I even recognized a few faces. All of us were the women in STEM typified in the event description, and all of us were hoping that Dr. London could present new insights that would help us look at our majors and possible careers in new ways.

Dr. London began her presentation by stating the general purpose of her psychology research lab at Stony Brook. “The basic, general theme of the work I do in my lab is understanding how social identity affects everything,” she described. “Everything” includes health, mental wellbeing, and academic relationships, and numerous other facets of a person’s life. This type of research is called social health psychology.

She then explained why her research on women going into STEM fields is so important. STEM fields are growing at an incredible rate (80% of the fastest growing careers are in STEM fields), yet these fields have a very high attrition rate. For example, on average, 59% of students interested in computer science will change direction before completing their major or program. And these attrition rates are disproportionately high for women. Dr. London cited that in middle and high school, girls are actually taking part in advanced math and science classes with an increasing interest compared to boys, but this interest drops off some time between entering college and entering the workforce. Her research aimed to look into why this attrition occurs.

Dr. London went on to talk about disparity in STEM fields from a social identity framework. She explained that “STEM departments in particular tend to value natural ability over effort,” thus setting “a standard that many students can’t meet, but is a hallmark of what STEM faculty think is needed to be successful.” This standard is particularly dangerous when combined with the common stereotype that women are not good at the logic problems and rational thinking characteristic of STEM fields.

“This creates an environment that you have to be a genius, and you don’t have what it takes,” Dr. London said.

She described how she and her team more closely examined the challenges women in STEM face using the lens of social identity theory. She defined the terms “STEM identity” (extent to which an individual feels connected to or invested in their STEM field) and “Perceived Identity Compatibility”, or PCI (belief in conflict or compatibility between gender identity and STEM identity). If STEM and gender identities are in conflict, women are most likely to disengage from one of them – and they will usually choose to let go of their STEM identity rather than their gender identity.

In addition, social support can heavily influence how women going into STEM fields deal with the challenges they face. Dr. London explained that networks of support (especially of women) can buffer stressful experiences, such as going to college. The transition to college is particularly stressful, because students’ concerns about abilities, “fitting in”, and potential for success often become exacerbated during this time.

Dr. London and her team did a multifaceted experiment on undergraduate students interested in STEM fields at Stony Brook to examine “how women live the experience of their identity in the college context.” They collected data on 247 first-years who identified as women interested in STEM fields, first by having the students complete structured daily diaries during their first twenty-one days of college, then by having them complete weekly diaries during their second semester. These diaries asked students to rate how they felt they had performed in their STEM classes, how supportive they felt their friends and family were of their majors, how they felt they belonged in their STEM majors, and how likely it was that they might change majors.

Before the diaries started, the researchers did initial surveys that allowed them to attach a PCI ranking to each student. They found that for women with higher PCI rankings remained motivated in their STEM classes even when not doing well, while women with lower PCI rankings became less motivated when they failed. The researchers also found that perceived support buffers women when they’re struggling. They were also able to use PCI rankings calculated from survey data at the beginning of the spring semester to predict students’ end-of-year STEM engagement; students with lower PCI were more worried about others’ perceptions, and had lower GPAs in STEM courses.

Dr. London’s conclusion of her team’s study was that “PCI and social support are important for STEM engagement, particularly when female STEM students are struggling academically during the early transition to college.” However, they also found that, even though a high PCI rating and strong social support act as buffers when women in STEM are feeling less confident about belonging in their majors, on average, many of the women they studied ultimately will contribute to the high attrition rates of women in STEM fields. On average, the researchers saw drops in PCI, perceived support for students’ majors, and sense of belonging in STEM – and increases in expectations of dropping out of those STEM majors.

All of this research seems disheartening. How can we, women hoping to go into STEM fields, combat the entrenched societal pressures that seem to be dead-set against our success? How can we hold onto our confidence and support systems when kids in middle school classrooms told to draw a scientist all draw balding white men?

Dr. London provided a few recommendations at the end of her presentation. The most important ways of helping women succeed in STEM, she said, are exposure to role models, mentors, and reducing gender bias; as a result of her research, Stony Brook is working on applying these ideas directly to courses. Perhaps, someday, Columbia will make similar efforts (and when it’s finally completed, Barnard’s new TLC is supposedly going to promote STEM majors). But for now, all we can do is stick together, mentor each other, and remind ourselves that we belong in our STEM classes, laboratories, and discussions just as much as men do.

Fun with Venn diagrams via Dr. London (photo via Betsy Ladyzhets)

Dec

4

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These doors will never open on a Sunday night again...

These doors will never open on a Sunday night again…

This semester, Barnard’s late night dining moved from Hewitt Dining Hall to Diana Cafe. Many of the students who visit the dining halls between 8:30 and 11pm are the same, but has the very nature of late night become intrinsically different while they were celebrating the new uses of their meal swipes? Senior staffer Betsy Ladyzhets reflects on the changes she’s seen.

Once, in a bygone era (i.e. last year), you could always find me in the same place on Sunday nights: Hewitt late night.

Sundays were often the most stressful days of my week; I would wake up panicked about how much homework I had to do, procrastinate on that homework by taking an extremely long time to eat breakfast, attempt to get through a lot of it (and fail miserably), go to a string of evening club meetings, then find myself exhausted, overwhelmed, and above all else – hungry. That hunger would without fail take me to Hewitt for a late dinner, at which I would tear through three or four pieces of pizza while getting very slightly less behind on reading.

The dining hall, with its trapezoidal trays and piss-colored tables, always seemed to me like an oasis of comfort within a school that was often too much for me to handle. Hewitt has almost a homey atmosphere – maybe it’s the small tables, or maybe it’s the friendly staff, or maybe it’s the vaguely yellowish haze that always seems to hang over the place, like a nostalgic filter in a romantic movie. And if you’re a Barnard student, especially a first-year, there’s a very high chance that you’ll run into someone you know there – especially during late night, when it seems as though everyone wants to delay doing their difficult reading just a little longer.

Delay doing your difficult reading with the rest of this post?

Nov

20

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How much does Columbia spend trying to get you to trek all the way up to 215th Street?

How much does Columbia spend trying to get you to trek all the way up to 215th Street?

Yesterday, the Columbia football team pulled off a surprising (and not particularly notable) win against Brown in the last game of the season. Senior staffer Betsy Ladyzhets reflects upon the past season by examining how much money the CU Athletics department spent on promoting the team – and whether or not that investment was at all worth it – in Bwog’s latest Back of the Envelope calculation.

  • Facebook posts and the people Athletics pays to develop them: $50 per game
  • Promoting tweets and Facebook posts: $50 per game
  • “Pump-up music”: $10 per song x 24 songs per game = $240 per game
  • Free T-shirts: ($15 per shirt x 12 per game) + ($25 per T-shirt cannon x 2 per game) = $230 per game
  • Free beer (at “Beer O’clock”): $1.50 per beer x 2 beers per person x 150 people per game = $450 per game
  • Gift cards to local restaurants: $15 per gift card x 3 gift cards per game = $45 per game
  • Complimentary tickets (for football players, cheerleaders, band members, etc.): $10 per tickets x 40 comp tickets per game = $40
  • Roaree’s slick dance moves: Roaree is paid $20 per hour x 4 hours per game = $80 per game

All of the above costs are spent each home game; this brings the total home game cost to $50 + $50 + $240 + $230 + $450 + $45 + $40 + $80 = $1,185. There were five home games this semester, so the cost of all home games is $1,185 x 5 = $5,925.

But wait – there’s more…

Nov

4

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Is there a hidden goat in this picture?

Is there a hidden goat in this picture?

You may be familiar with the recently established campus organization Columbia Satanic Students. You may have seen their posters around campus, or their strange goat photos on Instagram. But what you probably didn’t know is that Columbia Satanic Students … doesn’t really exist. Their website, Instagram, and posters are, in fact, all part of a publicity stunt to raise money for “East Hell”: a horror comedy short film about Satanism written, directed, and produced by Columbia MFA students. Senior Staffer Betsy Ladyzhets sat down with Callum Smith, the film’s writer and director (and the man behind the Columbia Satanic Students Instagram) to learn more about this unique project.

Bwog: Can you explain the real purpose of the Columbia Satanic Students society, for people who might not be aware?

Callum Smith: I’m a film student in the Columbia MFA program, and my degree is in directing and screenwriting. To graduate from that, as a director, you make two thesis films. One of mine is a comedy that I’m fundraising for right now. And we wanted to try some different stuff with the fundraising – one way to do that was to start this Columbia Satanic Students society, and put flyers up, and do the Instagram account, and do the website, and all that jazz, and see if it got any attention. Because realistically, a lot of student Kickstarters just get money from other students. So anything that makes it stand out a little bit when every other film student is trying to raise money at exactly the same time helps.

Bwog: Would you say that it’s been successful?

CS: I would say that on the scale of film student fundraisers, yes. Because, frankly, the fact that even a few people noticed it … is very pleasing. It will probably get us only a small portion of fundraising, but it cost me very little to put up flyers and do the Instagram account. And I think that kind of stuff is funny.

Bwog: What’s the movie about? Can you give a brief synopsis?

CS: It’s about two teenage goths living in rural upstate New York who try to summon a demon using a ritual they found on Reddit. And one of them has a devoutly religious little brother who tries to stop them with hilarious consequences. It’s a ten-minute horror short.

More on the film, Satanism, and goats after the jump

Oct

30

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At the late night double feature (Rocky Horror) Picture Show...

At the late night double feature (Rocky Horror) Picture Show…

Last night marked CMTS’ fourth annual shadowcast production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Senior Staffer Betsy Ladyzhets was in attendance, and writes about the show in conjunction with details of its process that she learned in an interview with its director and producer.

Last night at 8pm, the Diana Event Oval was packed. The room was full of students, many decked out in dazzling costumes, and all chattering excitedly as they waited for the show to begin. Members of the cast and crew darted back and forth, thanking their friends for coming and promoting the Participation Packets sold on the side of the room. To an outsider, this event may have looked like a gathering of some kind of strange, Halloween-related cult. That wouldn’t be far from the truth – it was, in fact, CMTS’ production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is a 1975 musical comedy/horror film based on a musical of the same name that focuses on Brad and Janet, a young, naive couple who become trapped in the mansion of Dr. Frank-n-Furter, an alien transvestite mad scientist. The movie gained popularity in the late seventies as a “midnight movie”; audience members returned to theaters for many midnight showings of Rocky Horror, often dressing up as the characters and calling out at the screen. Soon, performance groups were formed that put on “shadowcast productions”, with actors mimicking the actions and lip-syncing the lines of the characters. CMTS brought this tradition to Columbia three years ago, and its annual performances have only been getting more popular since.

On Tuesday, I spoke to Izzy Hellman, CC ‘19 and Nick Hermesman, CC ‘19, the director and producer of this year’s production, respectively. I asked them what the process of putting on a shadowcast production looks like. How is it different from rehearsing a traditional show? How did they cast the main actors?

More on shadowcasting and audience participation after the jump

Oct

7

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image

So on page 157 line 136 word 5 letter 666 I found it interesting that…

We’re back at it again with the Core Archetypes.  Senior Staffer Betsy Ladyzhets brings us up-close and personal with the person who has committed to memory the placement of every bracket in Sappho’s fragments.

You get to class early, but they are already there.

They sit at the precise opposite end of the table from the door (where your professor usually sits), scribbling something down in a Moleskin notebook. Out in front of them are a thermos patterned with the face of who you think is Edgar Allen Poe, and a copy of the text you were supposed to read – with little colored sticky notes poking out of what seems like every other page.

You take out your own copy. It’s much blanker, and the position of your bookmark makes it painfully obvious that you’ve only read to page twenty-five. You open it and try to skim the next twenty pages as fast as you can, but the person on the other side of the room makes it hard for you to focus. Something about their expression seems to convey that they’re judging you, and finding you sadder than an empty plastic bag crumpled on the sidewalk at 2am.

When class starts, your position doesn’t improve.  They dominate the discussion, raising their hand whenever the professor asks a question, and referring back to their (apparently encyclopedic) annotations to find a quotation to support each statement. At one point, they even pull a quote from page 157 – only a couple of pages before the tail end of your reading assignment. You didn’t even know people did the full reading assignment for classes like this! What did this person do, not sleep last night just so that they could show up everyone else?

You can tell you’re not the only one feeling frustrated…

Oct

6

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Starting from the bottom - construction of Butler's basement, spring 1932

Starting from the bottom – construction of Butler’s basement, spring 1932

Yesterday, the famous New York Public Library Rose Room re-opened after two long years of repairs and $12 million dollars, required to repair the damage caused when a 16-inch plaster rosette crashed down from the room’s ceiling. This beautiful reading room was the architectural inspiration for another reading room that looms much larger on our campus: Butler 209. Senior Staffer Betsy Ladyzhets takes this timely opportunity to explore the somewhat thorny history behind Butler.

The inception of Butler took place in August of 1927, when Charles Williamson, the director of Low Library, wrote to President Nicholas Murray Butler that Low just wasn’t working out any more. Its public spaces were cramped, there were too many books in the Rotunda for anybody to actually have space to look at them – basically, Columbia’s books needed what all high-school sweethearts tell their significant others they need over Thanksgiving break: space.

The stacks coming to life - November 10, 1932

The stacks coming to life – November 10, 1932

Williamson’s proposed solution was to complete the then-under-construction University Hall (now buried in the foundations of the Business School) and merge it with Low Library. But James Rogers, the architect President Butler hired to construct a new library, had other ideas. University Hall, while more spacious than Low, still didn’t have enough room for all of Columbia’s books – plus, the already-existing parts of University Hall included a gymnasium and a swimming pool, which would make building stacks a major engineering challenge. The eventual solution that Rogers and Williamson found was to build on South Field, the stretch of land next to 114th Street that now constitutes Lower Campus.

Still, Butler (or, as it was then called, South Hall) had a long way to go before it could open its doors. Rogers’ proposed designs received criticism from all corners: the main donor refused to fund the building unless its cost was significantly reduced, Williamson wanted room for more books, and other architects thought the building was too antiquated for the modern era. One student at Yale published an article calling a library Rogers had designed for that campus a “monument of lifelessness and decadence.” But Rogers and Williamson persisted, until they eventually finalized a design that incorporated both Rogers’ neoclassical aesthetics and Williamson’s desire for a workable library that would be able to expand with the university’s growing collection. 209, the main reading room inspired by the NYPL Rose Room, was one of the design’s highlights.

Complete and ready for student suffering - summer 1934

Complete and ready for student suffering – summer 1934

When South Hall opened in 1934, it was an impressive feat of modern technology for the time: it boasted pneumatic tubes, conveyor belts, air-conditioned stacks, and non-glare lighting. Many of these features are now obsolete, but the reading rooms remain as beautiful as they were in the 1930s – even though 209 now gets flack for being the “most imperialist” room on campus. But whether or not you’re a fan of 209, the newly remastered Rose Room is worth a trip down to 42nd Street. And who knows, maybe you’ll even be able to snag a good study spot there.

 

Early Butler via CU Library Archives

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