Nov

15

Mixed messages

Written by

anti-strikeLow Plaza became a peaceful battlefield this evening as a sizeable crowd of people convened by means of the now 700-member facebook group “We do NOT support the hunger strikers” gathered by Alma Mater just half an hour before the strikers’ nightly vigil at the sundial. Formally, the group stood there for only about 20 minutes, carrying signs with such ironic slogans as “I AM BEING SILENCED.” By and large, those Bwog talked to didn’t have problems with the specific demands themselves, but rather the methods used to achieve them. Also, many of them hadn’t ever been to protests before–but then there they were, standing awkwardly in the cold.

Speaking to the group, organizer Josh Mathew, CC ’09, said: “I feel that in general what’s brought us together is that we haven’t had a voice, and we’d like to have a voice now. We’d like people to know that our presence exists, and we exist outside a facebook group.” Aga Sablinska, CC ’09 and creator of the Facebook group, stood watching.

Earlier this afternoon, members of the strike support team had e-mailed Mathew and Sablinska suggesting that the anti-strike gathering become “a space on Low Plaza for students to engage in open and constructive conversations.” Because of the logistical difficulty of making a collective decision to change the nature of the event, the anti-strikers went on as planned.

Bwog noticed a few Columbia boldface names in attendance, including Hillel President Josh Rosner, Chris Kulawik (no introduction needed), and former Dems president Mike Nadler, CC ’07, who currently works for Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and who opposes the strike.

“Regardless of the value of the demands, I just don’t believe this is how you go about achieving those aims,” he said, noting that none of the strikers tried running for any representative Student Government post. “Those are the people who have the legitimacy to speak on the students’ behalf.”

But it wasn’t all a late night tea party. A ghostly Professor Dalton materialized as Bwog heard one student calling the strikers “idiots.”

“I’m Dennis Dalton, and I haven’t eaten in seven days,” he said. “Am I an idiot?”

“Yeah, I’d say they’re idiots,” said Paul Stamm, GS ’08.

“I’ve been here for 39 years and never been called an idiot.”

“Well, there’s a first time for everything.”

The discussion, which had grown to a circle of male students around Dalton, proceeded more civilly. Meanwhile, the action had shifted to the Sundial, with the now-familiar succession of speeches and negotiation updates. Representatives from Take Back the Night read a follow-up statement of support, and asked everyone present to take a moment of silence to “think about what makes you feel safe.”

strikers

The formally off-the-record expansion meeting this afternoon, Bwog was told, did not go well. “Nothing of substance was offered,” said negotiator Andrew Lyubarsky, CC ’09. “The response was completely unsatisfactory.” The strike committee had tried again to move forward on their six main points–to which the administration responded in writing–and added two more: that the University establish a committee of faculty members to oversee planning for the new campus, and that the currently planned biotech level three facility not be elevated to level four. Executive Vice President Maxine Griffith conceded this last point, which has never really been in question.

The strike negotiation team has posted their account of the meeting here.

Hunger striker Victoria Ruiz, CC ’09, on her tenth day without food, had harsh words for the bureaucrat. “Maxine Griffith said she had a really happy feeling about this meeting,” Ruiz told the candle-holding crowd of about 30.  “The only reason she said that is because she thinks that she silenced us, that the negotiations are over. But this is the beginning.”

At the end of the vigil, seven strikers and supporters joined hands, leading the same call-and-response chant they had used at last night’s heady events, the crowd yelling back in a noise that echoed. “It is our duty to fight! It is our duty to win! We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

That last part was muddled; a few people said “fear” instead. On the second recitation, everyone did. 

– LBD

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70 Comments

  1. confused  

    by the counter-rally. it consisted by and large of people who support or are indifferent to the strikers' demands, but disagree with the tactics? what exactly were they rallying for then? what did they want to actually happen?

    • for

      all the strikers asking opponents to read their demands you certainly don't give a shit about people who disagree with you huh?

      They're rallying so that a small fascist minority doesn't hold the university and their peers in the student body hostage by acts of coercion. They're demanding that quite comically, those who claimed to be oppressed realize they're are being oppressors

  2. chains??  

    what the fuck are these people talking about? what exactly do they mean by chains? who the fuck is chaining you!? you can strike, but please keep the rest of the real world in mind while you do it. you are as far from in chains as it gets in this fucked up world. jeeeeezus!

    • karl  

      clearly you didn't pay too much attention in CC. the line is famous, and the author believed we're all in chains.

      • you read

        assata shakur in CC?

        I didn't realize that your prof. liked to glorify extremists who murdered a new jersey state trooper.

        • Karl

          The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

          • idiot

            “It is our duty to fight. It is our duty to win. We must love each
            other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains”- Assata Shakur

            pretty sure this is it

          • and

            I'm pretty sure the last part was stolen from Karl Marx. The core is irrelevant?

          • yeah

            a lot of people say things that contain bits of thought from the past. however we don't credit their influences when the original source is taken from them verbatim

            you've been proven undeniably wrong after coming across like an arrogant asshole. deal with it

          • huh

            98% of people who hear that line will only think of marx. that's all I'm saying. you don't even need to credit him - you need to credit the person none of us recognizes.

            I mean, it's really not a group of words remembering or quoting anyway, apart from the bit taken from marx.

          • wrong

            you're talking about the bryan mercers, karina garcias, frances cokers, christien tompkins of columbia here

            they are familiar enough to know major 'martyrs' of the black panthers

            they were the audience adn they and their ilk were those who comprised that audience

            and i agree this particular shakur is not worth remembering, except as a murderer

          • Anonymous

            "you're talking about the bryan mercers, karina garcias, frances cokers, christien tompkins of columbia here"
            forgive my ignorance, but who are those people? I knew a sociology professor at Millsaps College named Frances Coker...but surely you are not referring to her.

          • they are  

            the extremist who have taken it upon themselves to deliver us from our ignorance.

      • Good Point Retard  

        Great job dumb ass, it wasn't karl marx who said that but Rousseau. Next time at least wikipedia the quote

      • nooooo  

        i did pay attention in cc. i'm just saying that line is completely irrelevant. i don't even think rousseau would stand behind that line if he had been confronted with american college students.

  3. on one side

    silent protestors of diverse ideologies who together ask to have their opinions heard

    on the other mob chant and exhortations to fight until unilateral demands are met

    at least the line in the sand is a clear one

  4. *sigh*  

    Terribly organized. The people in the middle never do anything right.

  5. comment

    as someone who actively supports the strikers, i also very much respect the right of students to organize in opposition, and i hope the rest of the supporters will as well. at the same time, i do think it would have been constructive to engage in the strikers' movement and let them know what you think and why. you should do what you say you want and take up the offer for dialogue. the demands won't go forward to completion without other students' voices, and i even think that's been said. i hope we can all work together on this and be honest and open. and to those who have it to offer, save the cynicism, please.

    • honesty

      you preempted any debate by holding the university hostage and demanding ultimatums without ever carign about your peers opinion until campus opinion and your public image blew up in your face

  6. joke

    How many Columbia students does it take to change a lightbulb?

    Seventy-six. One to change the light bulb, fifty to protest the light bulb's right to not change, and twenty-five to hold a counter-protest.

  7. response to 8  

    i agree that there needs to be a dialogue between the two groups, but it needs to be organized. this is difficult because there are so many different reasons on the "not in support of the strike" side. unlike you guys, we don't know each other and we actually don't have much (if anything) in common other than that we disagree we some of your demands or with the method of the strike. it's hard to structure a dialogue when there are 700 separate voices. tonight was the first step in getting these voices to talk (at least around 120 of them) and we'll see where it goes from there.

  8. ARRR  

    WHEN WILL YOU REALIZE WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS STRIKE? WHAT DOES TAKE BACK THE NIGHT HAVE TO DO WITH ALL OF THIS?
    PEOPLE, THINK.
    PLEASE.

  9. cc'er  

    Did anyone actually read anything in CC? Shakur stole her line from the radical who started them all, JJ Rousseau: "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains."

    The core is not irrelevant, and if the strikers succeed in making us take racism/colonialism class at the expense of reading Rousseau, they won't even know where their own ideology came from or what they're rebelling against. Now that's what I'd call irony wrapped in supreme ignorance.

    • fothermucker  

      Irony? You idiot, they don't want us to take a "racism" class instead of reading Rousseau and all the other dead white men. They are not calling for the core to be replaced, but amended--contextualized in a more global approach. You can't contextualize anything by removing it entirely. I'm not even in agreement with them on a lot of things but at least read their shit before you look like a dumbass that completely misses the point.

  10. hahaha  

    maybe about 25 people at the 'anti-striker' rally. and they've been saying ranting about the 'minority' status of the strike-supporters

  11. are you kidding  

    READ the article or LOOK at the facebook group - over 700 members.
    and there were at least 100 people at the rally. and the fact is, it was organized really last minute and not really organized at that.

  12. red  

    "While we have been willing to compromise from our original position, we have not seen a similar commitment made by the administration" ~ the negotiators

    This is how it works, folks - propose extreme demands under extreme circumstances, amend demands slightly, reinforce extremism when the action is not reciprocated from the other side. Although, in this case I'm pretty sure the compromise they're talking about is having two strikers "volunteer" to drop out after they were threatened with leave.

    Ironically, the same can be said about the tactics used by the federal administrations with policies such as torture and privacy.

  13. Proudhon

    I commend this counter-strike. We have to smash these shakedown artists.

  14. Assata Shakur  

    most definitely did not murder anyone.

    Also, why is referring to "chains" stealing? Of course it's related to previous thinkers, like Marx and Rousseau, and I feel like that's ok , and Assata and the strikers realize that.

  15. surprised  

    i'm surprised that the administration lets them sit on the lawn all day every day. i mean, clearly no other student group would ever get that privelege [one thing we know: columbia LOVES its lawns]...other groups would have miles of paper work to get to do ONE activity for two hours, and they'd probably be forced to pay 40 bucks an hour for a security guard and clean up crew.
    i guess columbia doesn't want to give them ANOTHER excuse to claim they're being silenced and ignored...
    i guess you have to congratulate them for getting their opinion out there so effectively. i just hope they are fair-minded enough to REFRAIN from whining and crying foul when they ultimately get kicked off the lawn, and find their opinions treated as nothing more than the 1/40000th of school sentiment that each striker/negotiator actually represents.

  16. Student Council  

    "Regardless of the value of the demands, I just don't believe this is how you go about achieving those aims," he said, noting that none of the strikers tried running for any representative Student Government post. "Those are the people who have the legitimacy to speak on the students' behalf."

    ...anyone else see this as a bit silly? I'm not sure when Student government has ever been in touch with reality...

  17. counter-protest  

    was stupid. nothing happened. am not a supporter of the strike but those fools just stood awkwardly around for 20 minutes and didn't even try to talk to the strike people.

    • Nothing  

      was supposed to happen. The goal was to establish the presence of a large number of people willing to assemble to express resentment of the current state of affairs.

      The most significant aspect of the counter protest was the fact that Deans Colombo & Shollenberger were there and watched us for a while, and the strikers (hopefully) also became aware of the fact that they do not speak for a large number of the Columbia population, and that we are willing to go beyond a fb group to challenge them.

    • uhh

      what did you think was supposed to happen? did you think the anti-strikers were going to start screaming slogans and attacking pro-strikers? the event was exactly what was advertised--a silent gathering meant to show that there is a sizable number of students at Columbia who do not agree with the strike. their aim was to show that this group exists, which they did.

  18. Exactly

    How much acid has Dalton swallowed in his lifetime? I know the man hasn't eaten in a week but damn if he doesn't have the Telegraph Ave. 1,000 stare going on.

  19. dalton = hard core  

    dalton was there with the abovementioned stare going on. I heard snippets of his conversation with the white males referenced above. Their grievance was with the lack of a vote, and the fact that apparently one (or more? didn't hear) was not only unelected, but was actually a DEFEATED candidate. Can anyone confirm this? Nadler apparently did according to the Bwog article above, but I haven't heard this until now. Anyway Dalton responded that Gandhi wasn't elected either. The WMs responded that, unlike CU, it was impossible for Gandhi to have had an election, and that if it were possible, Gandhi would have agreed. Dalton agreed, and started rambling on for several minutes without rebutting the point, when I had to leave for a study group. I'd have loved to hear what he came up with... did anyone get it? He's an impressive speaker and I respect him.

    Anyway, the difference it seems is that we CAN had elections at Columbia on these issues, unlike Gandhi. So these guys need to get legitimacy before unilaterally taking student opinion hostage.

    (And if it's true that we actually HAVE had elections, and the guy was defeated, this makes me really skeptical about the validity of their hunger strike. Should Kerry go on a hunger strike? Again, personally, I would support the guy but not the methods.)

    • Anonymous

      1) That was one part of a roughly 45 minute discussion with Professor Dalton. The "snippets" you overheard represent the entirety of the conversation

      2) I said that, as far as I was aware, none of them had run for any student government position, nor had anyone else on a platform remotely resembling theres. That is the case as far as I know, and don't know of any of them who ran on such a platform and were defeated, though I think if that were the case, it only strengthens the argument that they don't speak on behalf of the student body as a whole.

      3) The "White Males" that you keep mentioning weren't all male, nor all white... There were (at various times) 5 or 6 of us speaking with Prof. Dalton, including a female. Two of of the people you're characterizing as "White Males" were Hispanic - one from Puerto Rico and one from Mexico.

      • Anonymous

        Sorry, typo.

        "The snippets you overheard DONT represent the entire conversation" is what I meant to write.

        I also apologize for making it seem as if #35 wrote that those arguing with Dalton were all male. Upon rereading the Bwog post, it was Bwog that made that assertion. #35 added that it was all WHITE males, which was still incorrect.

  20. There are

    Too many people I feel the need to respond to here.

    To #31 Saying that because they don't want to obliterate the core but rather amend it excuses their obvious reference to Marx is kind of ridiculous. The strikers' platform is based on many ridiculous things, but one of them is that it is pointless to read these stalwarts of Western thought at a WESTERN University, and that they are outdated. It kind of muddles their strength a bit if in rallying their support, they quote one of these writers. And trying to attribute the chains argument to someone other than Marx is equally pointless. We can't trace back every single use of the word "chains" in writing of note since the beginning of time, but the one everyone remembers is obviously "you have nothing to lose but your chains," from Marx. It is a phrase that is quite brilliant in its nuance, and has been oft-quoted and oft-repeated since then. I think the strikers' use of it was more to evoke the idea of a world where everyone supposedly can have a voice, even the lowly and downtrodden (a la Communism, in its purely ideological form), but it becomes ironic when you realize they probably learned that phrase in CC.

    To #29, yes none of the strikers tried running for student council (or according to conflicting reports, one might have tried and didn't win), but this is still relevant. Sure, student council may be out of touch with reality, as you say, but that doesn't mean they don't have a right to be there for being elected through (semi-democratic) process. They ran on their platforms and were elected on them; everyone who bothered to give a shit knew what they stood for, and voted for them because they felt their views lined up with their own (the people voting). Sure, maybe only 10% of the undergraduate population vote, but a pathetically small percent of the American population votes as well, and the president still gets elected. At least if these strikers have been voted into office, they could actually officially claim to represent the majority of the Columbia student body in some way, and there would be no way anyone could say anything against that.


    To #35, if the best Dalton can do to convince the anti-hunger strikers is to bring up Gandhi (and LOSE the argument) then he shouldn't be a professor here. That one I'm sure you'll agree with.

    Oh and you (probably involuntarily) made a LOLicism: "Anyway, the difference it seems is that we CAN had elections..." I CAN HAS ELECTIONS!?

  21. Okay  

    There are two ways to create change. You can work within the system or work outside of it. Both are equally as important and both should be used at particular times. You're right, sometimes it is more important to go through the correct channels to get change but sometimes there's just no time to wait.

    After the string of bias incidents/hate crimes that happened at our school and affiliated schools, people needed change NOW. Asking students who felt incredibly unsafe and threatened because of such violence to WAIT seems ridiculous. WAIT MEANS NEVER. These students organized and did it well--they had goals, they had a means of attaining them, they had a plan throughout the entire process and daily plans. No, it was not perfect in every aspect but they've already created change.

    OMA Expansion, Student participation on various councils, new hires, and reworking of major cultures--even if you don't like these changes, they're happening as a result of working outside the system. Hopefully large changes WILL happen for the most part through student government, or official groups. But there's a time when you can no longer ask people to WAIT for what they cannot see them ever getting.

    • right

      i agree with what you say about change, but who is to say that the change you want is more legitimate than other manifestations of change? for example, giving more money to ethnic studies out of columbia's finite amount of money--why is that somehow more morally right than giving money to similarly under-funded academic departments where there might even be more student interest? Or spending $50 million on the new MC format--who is to say that this idea is morally better than spending the $50 million on (as someone has suggested before)free tuition for 1000 worthy students who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford columbia? it could be argued that the usage of $50 million on financial aid would bring more diversity and social justice to columbia than a MC seminar ever could. the problem is not so much the fact that the strikers are working for change outside the system, but that they assume that their idea of change is somehow better, more enlightened, and more correct than anyone else's.

  22. invisible_hand

    oh well, NOW THAT YOU SAID IT IN CAPSLOCK i know just how reasonable your point it, and i capitulate completely.

  23. really?

    I would suggest you inform yourself before publishing such embarassingly ignorant comments.

    Your facebook discussion thread is FULL of us "engaging the strikers and letting them know what we think."

    The last thread on that discussion is christina chen's as yet unfulfilled promise to get back to us. She has emailed a few select students to ask them to debate. But they don't represent the anti-strike group (in the same way they argue the striker's do not represent student opinion). Thus if Christina Chen really wants to get back to the *anti-strike group* she needs to do it not by inviting Matthew and co. (no disrespect to them) to debate them on their terms - but by *posting on our wall* the response to the questions we have posted on the pro-strike group's discussion thread. This so that we can *ALL* see what Christina has to say.

    Got it?

    • #41

      haha, thanks--i figured the comment wasn't for me.

      also... i hope i'm not being overly sensitive here, but am i the only one bothered by the pro-strikers' suggestion that the silent gathering be turned into an open discussion? not that i'm against open discussion in any way, shape or form, but the fact that the pro-strikers tried at the last minute to "hijack" a planned event that wasn't theirs and turn it into something other than its original intent (to show that there is opposition to the strike, and that these voices are being silenced) is disturbing. if they were so committed to dialogue and debate, they should have suggested turning one of their own numerous events into a discussion, not cut in on someone else's plans.

      the spec also quotes christina chen as saying that she was "disappointed" that her suggestion for a discussion last night was not taken. i'd like to give her the benefit of the doubt and wait to see whether she was misquoted, taken out of context, or referring to some other failed negotiation with anti-strikers, but if she is referring to the idea of turning the silent gathering into a forum... well christina, you can't just try to force last-minute changes on 100+ people's plans and expect them to agree.

  24. sorry #41

    last post was in response to #8 - I thought it would be posted directly under it but no.

    #41 - you're right and you are most definitely not embarassingly ignorant.

  25. wow  

    Paul Stamm, GS '08, is immature as hell. i don't care what his viewpoint is, calling someone an idiot like that is bullshit. i hope paul stamm gets the shit beaten out of him (i dont care how hypocritical that is) because he disgusts me

    • Pardon

      When someone does something stupid, the word "idiot", by definition, applies. (Unless you're using the archaic meaning, but nobody does that anymore). There's a strong case to be made that what the hunger strikers are doing is stupid. Therefore, it's fair to call them idiots. A bit rude, yes. But certainly fair.

    • Put your money

      where your mouth is. My email is [email protected] if you would like man up. Anytime, anywhere just name it and I'll meet you there.

  26. For the record  

    $50 million would only pay the full tuition (approximately $125,000 for four years) for 400 students, but I still think that's pretty worthwhile. Based on the $750k annual cost of an endowed named scholarship, $50 million moreover would pay for the cost of admitting 17 students EVERY YEAR IN PERPETUITY and never having them pay a dime in tuition.

    That's 17 new protestors every year!

    Also, there are a ton of other things it would pay for -- read up here: https://giving.columbia.edu/

    How about endowing

  27. oops  

    How about endowing...

    I hit return by accident, but why don't you fill in the blank? There are a lot of places I would prefer $50 million be spent, but no one asked me. That's what pisses me off.

  28. #42  

    Exactly #42.
    The strikers continued calls for Matthews and Sablinska to go to their tents are absolutely useless.

    We want a *broad* and *transparent* discussion, which every student can participate in. One of the easiest ways to do this would be a written response to the excellent questions which have been submitted to the strikers over and over again, still without a written reply. Matthews and Sablinska don’t need to go to the tents, although I am hope they do, only to shut down Christina’s Chen’s ridiculous claims that the anti-strikers are not engaging in debate. They know that that would not constitute the kind of broad campus dialogue that everyone wants, and which the strikers have so far only claimed to want, without responding to the logical and effective measures proposed by the anti-strikers – namely written arguments in public forums which every student can access and participate in. We will put aside for now the fact that most students will be too scared to participate, because their fellow students are now dying on South Lawn and they know they will be labeled racist bigots if they want to have their opinion heard.

    Part of the problem with the anti-strike movement is that it is they are the loosest of coalitions which has had to come together for the first time, without any organized group structures or leadership selection processes. Clearly, the spontaneous and unilateral nature of the hunger strike is responsible for this: it gave no time for student opinion to form and coalesce into effective groups with representative leaders. At this stage the anti-strikers are really nothing more than a facebook group, with the one person who somewhat randomly created it becoming the leader of a student movement, basically by accident, along with some like-minded students who have got involved of their own accord. Matthews and Sablinska are aware that they do not have any particular authority to lead this movement. That is why Sablinska wrote in a group message: “Also, if this group does become the basis for some future negotiating party, we will elect representatives at the earliest opportunity.” Legitimacy is one of the *fundamental* problems with the strikers and the anti-strikers are doing their level best to ensure that they too can form into a legitimate and representative student body. At this stage, people need to keep their expectations low. The leadership has done an a damn good job to get the counter movement running, and they deserve massive respect, in the face of such difficulties.

    On the other side of the sundial, all Christina Chen can say is “Come and talk to us”. This is inadequate for at least three reasons: 1) these discussions are personal and unrecorded – they do not reach all students and cannot be quoted, and 2) many, many students will not have the courage to join a counter-protest or go to the tents because of the climate of fear and ostracism which the strikers have created, intentionally or not, and 3) many Columbia students are exceptionally busy and do not have time to spare to go and talk to a bunch of kids who should have come to them in the first place (not the other way round after the event).

    Why the strikers cannot simply produce a WRITTEN RESPONSE is simply beyond me. They have been asked for this for 5 days. At this stage I can only presume that they do not have any response, because if they did, it would only have taken half an hour to write it up. Or that they are too arrogant to bother with half an hour for the 700+ students who want answers… thereby revealing their true colors that they actually do not want broad, transparent and effective debate which every student can see and participate in.
    Strikers: just write a broad and full response and post in on our facebook group’s wall… please… is that so hard??

  29. Dabney

    I spent over an hour last night talking with strikers (a catch-all term I use here for both actual hunger strikers, and their supporters) after the anti-strike rally, which I stood as a part of. The conversation was intense but polite, but what was most interesting—even before the strikers came over—was that the unifying theme, the subject that rankled most among anti-strikers, was method. The issues themselves almost never came up. Those are long debates, many of which have gone on now for years. But what brought about such a widespread and vehement backlash was clearly one thing only: that this strike is not only inappropriate, it is a direct assault on the rights of the wider student body.

    Those strikers who did cross Low Plaza last night to speak with the anti-strikers met a group of people not only willing to discuss the issues, but eager to do so. Eager because we feel that our case is strong, and our objections more than valid. And though concessions were few, as they always will be in such a tense and entrenched debate, I believe that the two people I spoke with genuinely realized flaws in their methods which they had been unaware of, and are perhaps today questioning whether the grounds they have stood on are all that firm.

    After these talks, I felt I understood enough about where the strikers had come from, step by step, to where they are now, that I could offer some comprehensive case for why I feel this strike has been misguided from the start, purely on the basis of its methodology. Without saying more:

    1. Voice and body. The strikers claim their voices have not been heard by the administration, that their requests have been ignored and deferred. They say their opinion is a valid one (which it is), but by the very nature of their protest—whereby they are demanding that their opinion become university policy, or they will starve themselves, effectively holding a gun to their own head—the strikers dismiss every other student opinion as invalid. How can any other student group have a say in their closed negotiations on core curriculum or departmental reform? We have no access to their negotiators, and talks on the lawn are clearly too late to dissuade them from their ideas. Either we come around, are “educated about their goals”, or we are “narrow-minded and prejudiced”, with discussion construed as attack, or heckling. They have set themselves up as the self-elected leaders of the student body, and any dissent is rejected or dismissed. No margin has been left in their plan for other voices to be heard, though they pretend that a willingness to chat constitutes such. There has been no evidence that any ‘chat’ with a dissenter on the lawn has produced any material change in their opinions.
    2. Representation. A defense the strikers have claimed is that they do represent the student body. Yet no referendum was conducted, nor were they elected. They went to a town hall regarding the “atmosphere on campus” (which had an attendance that according to my discussion partner was possibly 200, then 100, then in fact “you’d better ask Rachel because she knows about these things”), felt they weren’t being heard, and began planning the strike. In secret, because the university would have shut it down if they heard about it. So after one evening’s town hall, with a tiny fraction of the student body there—a fraction that would have been composed entirely of those dissatisfied with the environment on campus, as those satisfied with things generally don’t feel the need to be activist about saying so (protest in favor of maintaining current dining arrangements at John Jay, anyone?)—the strikers decided they represented the student body. I told my conversation partner that I knew a lot of people who dissented. She said she knew a lot of people who agreed. I explained that this was what we have a thing called “voting” for. So that we know which “lot” is bigger than the other.
    3. The System. The strikers I spoke with felt that the university’s established methods of interacting with students had failed them. Ergo, they protest. A valid conclusion. However, it also appears that they never even tried to employ these established methods in the first place. One striker told me she thought student council was pointless since no party lasted more than the year they ran, apparently unaware that CC ’07 had the same class president and party for all four years they were here. There is word that one striker did run for council, and lost. This should perhaps be taken as an indication of student majority opinion being against the platform he ran on, particularly relevant now if it had some overlap with the strikers’ demands. Instead, the strikers have dismissed the system as broken and useless, and launched out on what is effectively small-group coercion of university policy. No petitions were created, no forums held by the would-be strikers. Their conclusions emerged out of justified anger, but without thinking that perhaps others had come to conclusions as well, which merited being heard before the strikers began declaring how ‘things will be’.
    4. Communicating. The strikers want their voice to be heard, but they made no attempt to do so before engaging in these extreme measures, nor did they attempt to hear other voices. The group agrees with itself, and it was only that group that was consulted as their plans and demands were made. There was no public sounding of opinion outside their circle of friends and supporters, no discussion of what core reform other students would like to see. If the strikers felt that such a discussion was too difficult to enact, how do they claim the right to jump the gun with their agenda and force everyone else to accept it? Certainly from—or through—an elected position such as CCSC, they would have had the tools to ask these questions.
    5. Scope. Analogies have been made to the 1985 protest divesting Columbia of apartheid investments, and not without cause. That was an example of protest being used to achieve a noble end, operating outside the system to force the university’s hand when going through the system had been tried (note this) and failed. However, the result of this protest is not going to affect South Africa. It is going to affect the student body. A body who, unlike the South African people under apartheid, both have and use a democratic outlet for voicing their opinions. That fact is the root of the sudden vehement opposition to the strikers’ methods today, when in the past hunger strikes and barricades have been employed with widespread support, and opposition focused on the issues rather than the method. The anti-strikers object to this group most powerfully because they are making decisions about our life as students, about our classes and our education, without consulting us, without listening to us, and without even being able to make a valid claim representing the ‘majority’ of us. What right would we have to use coercive political methods to force a turnover in the Mexican election, or to force Brazil into a free-trade agreement? The people of these countries elect their politicians, are heard and given voice through them, just as we do with our elected bodies. What right has any faction, however just they believe their cause to be, to overrule both those bodies and the students as a whole, and declare that their agenda will be the agenda, which determines those very students’ lives at university? In this context these methods smack of fledgling fascist parties (what difference if the gun is pointed at your head or someone else’s?), and so does the rhetoric that the strikers’ rallies have evolved into using. Cries of “by any means” and “it is our duty to fight, it is our duty to win” do not sound like an interest in carefully constructed consensus opinions. Rather, they seem more appropriate to hailing Mussolini, or Moqtada al-Sadr, than a group who claims to represent the popular ideals of progressive liberalism.

    I welcome rebuttal, and will respond to critiques as I can. The greatest tragedy of this now, however, is that those of us who thought we did not need to speak—that such tactics would yield no more result than they deserved—have been woken to action too late, by the capitulation of the administration and a wave of student groups terrified of being labeled “the bad guys”, or as one old friend of mine recently called another old friend of mine, “racist”.

    • hear, hear

      you ought to publish this in the spec, or get it out into more public forums where EVERYONE can read this. send this to the strikers. seriously, this is great.

      thank you.

    • The Dink  

      Replying to a few points:

      1. Negotiations were supposed to be open to the public, as the strikers wanted, but the administration rejected this proposal.

      2-3. The strikers don't represent the student body. Neither did SEEJ when they briefly occupied Low Library last year (quite a drastic action) against university involvement with sweatshop labor. CCSC barely represents the student body anyway, considering the incredibly low voter turnout. ESC is appointed, not elected. The "process" here, while democratic on paper, are effectively not democratic due to general apathy or simply because of bureacracy.

      4. I agree.

      5. Recently EarthCo. (a student group I coordinate, and which as an entity has no opinion on the strike, nor does what I say reflect upon EarthCo.'s opinions or Community Impact's opinions) met with administrators to remove certain unsustainable seafood items from John Jay. EarthCo. in no way represents the student body. The administrators agreed to all of our demands, and I'm sure there are some students who will be unhappy to see their favorite seafood dish go away. I'm only half advertising for my group (ok, more than half)...the other point is that we could have gone through CCSC to accomplish this, but it would have taken a really long time and would have probably failed because the democratic process here, though democratic, is simply not effective, as I stated above. I seriously doubt that you believe our student government to actually be an effective means of change at Columbia, or to be truly representative of the students' opinions. Yeah, rhetoric sucks. I agree. That's why I chant "nonviolence" instead of "by any means". meh.

      Basically...the strike was poorly organized. There wasn't enough public discussion of the issues beforehand. The demands--and the reasons for hunger striking--were not, still are not, made clear enough nor accessible enough. I completely deplore throwing around the term racist. The strikers and the organizers completely alienated most of the students. But good change has finally been made here...and so I'm just not that upset.

      Can we talk about the demands please?

      • hmm ok

        If you want to talk about the demands, please refer to Nina Bell's questions on the anti-striker facebook group. They have been up there for an AWFUL long time; they have also been sent to the strikers and have STILL not received a response.

        You may also want to look at some of the commenter's debates on the spec coverage online, and on the bwog. People definitely argue about the content of the demands there. For example, in one of my earlier comments (#41), I questioned why people believe that it is morally right for columbia's finite funds to be directed towards the CSER instead of, say for example, the Center for the Study of Human Rights (HR is not a major at Columbia, only a "special concentration"). Why not take a poll of how many students would like to see ES given more funding and more professors, as opposed to other under-funded departments? Without solid numbers showing more interest in ES than these other centers, you have got to give me some damn good moral reasons why the study of race deserves so much more of the university's money, than say, the study of human rights, or women's studies.

        Don't pretend like anti-strikers haven't been debating the moral legitimacy of the exact strike demands as well as the tactics.

        • Nina

          Below is the more tightly edited/less thrown together in 10 minutes version of the questions that I sent to the strikers a while ago, which have not yet been answered.

          An Open Letter to Columbia Solidarity,

          I am writing today because I am growing increasingly concerned by how little constructive public dialogue there is surrounding this protest. Constructive debate is one of the fundamental tenets on which Columbia is based; since the changes you propose would hold consequences for the majority of the student body, you have a responsibility to publicly respond to concerns regarding the demands of your protest. With this in mind, I have put together the following questions, which I believe are important and representative of some - though not all - of the concerns that have been voiced about your goals.

          1) In your statement, you say that you “strike to re-imagine the university as a more democratic place.” However, you have not been democratically elected by the student body to represent its interests in negotiations with the administration, nor are you are not the elected leadership of any recognised campus organisation., nor have you have not provided any data regarding general student support for your demands. If you cannot provide evidence that your views are representative of the student body at large, how do you reconcile this apparently contradictive statement or justify attempting to affect changes that will have implications for, at the very least, the entirety of Columbia College without documented majority support?
          2) In your statement, you cite recent bias incidents on campus as one of the reasons it is important that your demands be met. In the second question of your FAQ, you draw an implicit connection between the marginalisation of issues of race, gender, colonialism and sexuality in the Core and these recent events. However, you have merely offered evidence of correlation (there are bias incidents; there is no Core class dealing specifically with race any evidence of causation, merely), not causation. Can you provide any concrete proof supporting the connection you draw, or that the introduction of such a course would lead to a reduction in these incidents? Is there any information available about similar courses that have been instituted at other Colleges in the US?
          3) In your statement, you do not offer any specifics on who would have to take the new Core course you propose. Currently, only students in Columbia College are required to fulfill the major cultures requirement so it appears that only CC students would take the new course in any significant numbers.. However, there is no evidence to suggest that College students committed any of the recent hate crimes: the noose was hung in Teachers College, the swastikas were found in the bathroom of SIPA. If your goal is to affect a university-wide change in attitudes towards racism, do you believe that instituting a class that would be taken by less than 5,000 of the 24,000-plus students enrolled in this University is an effective way of doing this? Do you believe that this course should be added to the requirements for students in SEAS, Barnard, GS or any of the graduate schools?
          4) In your statement, you do not offer any specific information regarding what this class would entail, such as what texts would be read, what the selection criteria would be, or who would teach it. Since this class could not possibly encompass the entire history of racism and colonialism, what steps could be taken to ensure that it does not further marginalise students who feel it ignores related issues that they believe are equally important and equally under-represented within the Core?
          5) If the administration agrees to add your proposed class to the Core in response to your hunger strike, this sets a rather worrying precedent. Namely, that any group (or even an individual student), which feels that the Core ignores or minimizes an issue that they find important, could employ similar tactics until the university accedes to their demands as well. Consider a student who believes that anti-Semitism on campus would be reduced by the addition of a mandatory class that addresses the Holocaust and the history of Israel, or a student who felt that sexism on campus would be reduced by the addition of a mandatory class on gender. Arguably, these issues are no less important and deserve no less attention in the Core than those you are pushing for. Yet to add all these classes (and a potentially unlimited number of analogous classes) is impractical, and might ultimately interfere with student’s ability to pursue other subjects that interest them. If other concerned student groups go on hunger strikes, demanding that the University add their proposed courses, should the University capitulate? Where should the line be drawn?
          6) Regarding your demands that the ethnic studies department be given more resources and hire more faculty: the university does not have unlimited funding or resources and directing a substantial amount of money towards the CSER, as you request, would likely mean taking funding from other centers, institutes and departments. If there is more, or comparable, student interest in departments that are similarly understaffed and under-funded, should these limited resources not be distributed based on student interest and potential benefit? With this in mind, would you object to a comprehensive study being conducted regarding student interest in various departments, before any funding decisions are made, to guarantee that available resources are distributed in such a was as to ensure that the maximum number of students can benefit?

          I would greatly appreciate it if you took the time to answer the above questions and if you also published your responses in the public domain, so that anyone concerned with the protest would have the opportunity to read them. It is my hope that this would act to facilitate further meaningful debate and discussion on both sides, and to allow for greater understanding of the issues surrounding your protest that I do not think are being sufficiently addressed at this point.

          Nina Bell, CC ‘07

  30. i agree

    strikers:
    the only thing the anti-strikers want right now is a post on our wall in response to those question posted on your discussion thread.

    That's it.

    Are you up to it?

  31. Anon Admin

    Do you students really believe there is a racism problem on campus? Or a climate of hostility toward minorities?

    • Bollinger?

      Is that you, PrezBo?

    • CLLREJ(S?)

      I am a crippled latina lesbian republican engineer jew, and possibly one-eighth smurf.

      I would like to go on the record as saying, this is not the place to post serious questions about the campus environment.

      But no, I do not feel discriminated against. Except that one time someone in my Lit Hum class leapt out at me from behind the door wearing a Gargamel mask. It's cool, though, I kicked him inna nuts.

    • The Dink  

      If there is racism, there is a problem. There is racism. It's not widespread by any means. It might be two people. But it's there.

      • Okay

        I'm more interested in the climate. Have you ever been made to feel uncomfortable because of your race? I realize this isn't a perfect forum, but I thought some of the comments above were well-expressed and sincere. Do people geniunely feel threatened? Or is this more of an attention-getting/career-launching ploy on the part of the protesters?

    • Anon Rep  

      First, let me just say that I think this is the best Bwog comment thread I've read in a long time. Lars Dabney and Nina Bell make some fantastic points.

      To respond to the anonymous administrator:

      I am part of a student government organization. In my position, I have had occasion to talk with many representatives of affinity groups of all stripes. It should first be noted that the very presence of these groups, the existence of a competent and professional advising staff, and the availability of funding for their activities is evidence of a university that takes proactive measures to encourage multiculturalism. I think one would struggle to find anyone who does not feel that the general climate at Columbia is one in which international, ethnic, religious, sexual, and even political (to some extent) diversity is actively supported and promoted. In my conversations with other students, I have found that the vast majority are concerned with addressing prejudices outside of Columbia - they worry about events around the world, and their local activism is often in the form of trying to raise awareness about issues present elsewhere in society. Because of these activities, Columbia is a place where identity is constantly under the microscope, where one cannot help but reexamine one's own biases. We are taught to think critically, and even if we are too consumed by our own priorities to act or to protest, I think it's nearly impossible to avoid introspection on any issue of race, class, or creed.

      I have yet to encounter someone who told me of anything one of their peers had done to make them feel uncomfortable because of their race. However, I have made a number of people, whom I consider more radical, who have managed to feel uncomfortable anyway. There are those who are discomfited to the point of extremism by the very existence of hate on Columbia's campus. That is, it need not be directed at them, nor anyone they know, but the fact that it is out there makes the community no longer a safe space.

      Never mind that such events unnerve everyone; there are students who because of their particular identity feel personally affronted by any affront to their affinity group. I speak generally here because it is a pattern I have seen repeated many many times. I do not, however, believe that there is widespread or pervasive discrimination on this campus. Yes, people sometimes feel uncomfortable, but I strongly question whether they were forced to feel uncomfortable.

      Finally, to answer your question of whether students have been made to feel uncomfortable because of their race on a personal level, the answer is yes: I have. As a white male, I have expressed the views I've just described, based on my experience and strong belief in the innate equality of all people, and been told in no uncertain terms that those views make me a racist. Now, you be the judge of that, but I have most definitely been made to feel that because of my particular racial identity, I am not qualified to express my feeling that Columbia is a very comfortable place to be, and indeed one of the best places in the world with regard to issues of diversity. As it happens, I have experienced discrimination due to another affinity; does this then qualify me? I hesitated whether to mention my racial identity in this post, and I consider it a shame that it is still very much relevant in these discussions. But yes, I do feel oppressed sometimes, though I'm more than happy to put up with it because I'm fortunate enough not to have to encounter discrimination elsewhere in society.

      Note that the strikers have similarly insinuated that those who disagree with their 'demands' (a foolish term) or their methods are biased. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think they genuinely believe they have been oppressed (this isn't likely to help any careers), but they fail to realize that the oppressor is not their environment but themselves.

      One final note: I had the occasion to go through a "diversity training" expertly conducted by OMA. I found it a very enjoyable experience without any form of judgment, which seemed designed with the purpose of getting participants to think about issues of bias in all forms, rather than lecturing them or attempting unnecessary behavior modification. The strikers' use of the term "anti-oppression training" is inflammatory, offensive, and incongruent with the goals of a well-conducted workshop on diversity.

      Thank you for reading.

  32. Hmm

    'tightly edited' may have been an overstatement.

    (there are bias incidents; there is no Core class dealing specifically with race any evidence of causation, merely)

    Take out 'any evidence of causation, merely'. Whooops.

  33. Anonymous  

    In response to the Spectator's coverage of the event - "Hunger Strike Continues in Spite of Concessions" By Laura Schreiber:

    Christina Chen's comments regarding the dialogue proposal are misleading. Furthermore, I was never approached by Daniel Amzallag for a response or for a description of the conversation that occurred between Chen and myself. The Spectator has decided that while her comments are misleading and while I should have been contacted for a response, Chen's statement is ultimately factually accurate (as in, she did make that statement).

    Therefore, I would like to also respond to the following piece of text from the article:

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Christina Chen, CC '09 and a strike organizer said she contacted the organizers of the counter-protest earlier in the day to suggest that the two sides meet for a discussion. "A lot of what they've been saying so far is legitimate," Chen said. "But they turned my offer down tonight, which was very personally disappointing for me."
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Chen had contacted me via Instant Messenger at around 3 pm and proposed having a place for discussion between the striker coalition and the anti-strike gathering. I said that I would pass the suggestion on to the other anti-strike gathering organizers and that I would respond to her as soon as possible. I told her that I was about to meet a professor. After that, I had to attend an hour-long recitation section and then present at an internship panel. I know this might sound silly, but let's remember that we are at Columbia first as students.

    Chen then contacted both the Spectator and Bwog and suggested that my failure to respond could represent a rejection of dialogue. I immediately emailed Chen and confirmed that a discussion would be appreciated.

    I spoke to Chen at 7pm by telephone and discussed the evening's events. After much going back and forth, I realized that Chen wanted us to cancel the demonstration in order to have the intergroup discussion. She said that it would be awkward if there were an anti-strike gathering from 8:30-9:00pm and then a discussion at 9:00pm, which would force the strike supporters to cancel their planned 9:00pm vigil. I said that canceling the anti-strike gathering was not possible for two reasons.

    First, it would be almost impossible logistically. The anti-strike organizers' had been only able to contact the attendees through Facebook messages. A Facebook message sent less than an hour and a half before the expected demonstration would most likely not be read by those expecting a rally at 8:30pm. Such an action would be highly inconsiderate.

    Second, as I stressed to Christina, dialogue is very important, but it was important that the 70+ anti-strike attendees at least have the opportunity to meet each other face-to-face and realize that they existed outside of a Facebook group. They had to have the opportunity to discuss amongst themselves why they oppose the strike, its methods, or its process of formation. I emphasized that unlike many members of the strike coalition who already were already close friends before the strike began, most of the anti-strike attendees had never met each other before.

    Chen accepted this and asked if the anti-strike organizers could work with the strike organizers to possibly schedule a town hall meeting in the coming days (in Lerner or another location). I said that I do not represent the anti-strike attendees desires and cannot assume that they would want a town hall created by the two sets of organizers.

    Chen asked that the anti-strike organizers present the possibility of dialogue to the attendees and ask for peoples' concerns so that they could be passed on to Chen. I agreed to this.

    Chen emphasized that her group was interested in hearing our concerns and said that their had been, within the strike coalition, acknowledgment of past mistakes. She said the strike coalition was not interested in creating division. I questioned the credibility of this statement. We made some closing comments and ended the conversation.

    I apologize for the length of this letter, but considering the Spectator's coverage of the event last night and of Chen's comments about a supposed rejection of dialogue by the anti-strike organizers, I thought I should publicize the conversation between Chen and myself.

    Thanks.

    Best regards,
    Josh Mathew

    • wow

      First of all, thank you Josh for posting this. I have been wondering all day what Christina Chen was referring to in the Spec when she said that her overtures at dialogue were rejected by anti-strikers.

      I had two thoughts after reading Josh's post:

      1) Frankly, the arrogance of Ms. Chen's behavior here in organizing "dialogue" is astounding.

      "I realized that Chen wanted us to cancel the demonstration in order to have the intergroup discussion. She said that it would be awkward if there were an anti-strike gathering from 8:30-9:00pm and then a discussion at 9:00pm, which would force the strike supporters to cancel their planned 9:00pm vigil."

      If Ms. Chen is truly committed to open and fair discussion, she would have bothered to at least try and schedule a forum for a time that did not interfere with either group's activities. To ask a group to CANCEL their scheduled event, because cancelling her own would have been "awkward", is just plain rude. As I said earlier, this is called hijacking. It is a weak attempt at co-opting someone else's right to express their point of view. She is essentially saying that the anti-strikers' need to identify and express themselves is not as important as the pro-strikers' need to have a vigil. Again, this is arrogant, unreasonable, and rather ill-mannered.

      2) If Ms. Chen's last-minute suggestion had been followed through and the anti-strike protest turned into a discussion, it is not unlikely that ugly confrontation would have ensued. People need time to think about their arguments and how to present them in a clear, rational way, especially on something as serious as the hunger strike--both its tactics and its demands. People on BOTH sides of the fence will have very strong, passionate views, and if you do not give them time to seriously reflect on them, it is much more likely to explode over in hateful, ignorant language. To host a last-minute forum on such incredibly short notice (three hours on a school day is not enough notice; most people have classes, recitations, work) is unfair to BOTH anti-strikers and pro-strikers, and encourages people to speak rashly. It puts everyone at a disadvantage. What Ms. Chen SHOULD have done, if honest and meaningful debate was in fact her goal, was to suggest a different day and time for a forum, leaving both sides enough time to advertise and set expectations for their supporters.

      • Anonymous  

        To clarify, Christina Chen did propose that both group's organizers plan to have a town hall in the coming days. I said I could not yet commit to such an action without first speaking to the anti-strike gathering attendees.

        Regardless, your concern is much appreciated.

  34. lastly

    if you are reading this and disagree with my assessment, Christina, I welcome and encourage you to defend your actions in a public forum.

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