CCSC Interviews: Stand Columbia
Written by Bwog Staff
Rounding off our CCSC executive board interviews is Stand Columbia, comprised of Learned Foote, Andrew Nguyen, Karishma Habbu, Brandon Christophe, and Andrea Folds.
How would you evaluate the job done by the current student council? Especially the current executive board?
Learned Foote (President): I think that the current council has been very impressive. And I think that the council has pretty much improved since my first year. And Sue Yang is a very dedicated worker with a great attention to detail that I’ve never seen from CCSC. I’ve seen it from other groups on campus but never from student council.
I think that there have been times, though, when, in the past year, depth has sacrificed breadth. If you look at the sort of policies that have come out over the past year, there aren’t quite as many as there were mentioned during the beginning of the year. So in the policy committee we sat down at the original meetings and we just had this giant chalkboard full of ideas that were absolutely amazing. And I know that given enough time in the world and enough hours, the executive board could have dealt with all of these issues. Unfortunately, we don’t really have all the time in the world. We seek to counterbalance what we’ve learned from Sue Yang’s ticket … and we’re seeking to improve on what we’ve seen.
Andrew Nguyen (VP Policy): I’ve been on the policy committee the entire year and enjoyed it, but as the VP policy candidate I do kind of hope to increase the breadth at which we address the issues. This year we’ve already worked on gender neutral housing, and we will continue to move forward with that, but there are other issues we want to focus on as well, such as the lawn hours, course evaluations, and so forth.
Karishma Habbu (VP Communications): One thing I appreciated about this current executive board – they were so accepting and they reached out so well. And they did such a phenomenal job of really enabling all of us to do our best too. And to be really accessible and really include all of us in all that they were doing, so even as a freshman I was really involved in several university-wide initiatives, because they allowed me to do that. I think that our ticket really represents that – we have a sophomore, a junior, I’m a freshman – and that’s important, being able to reach out to different types of grades and viewpoints. Bringing people together and looking at different viewpoints and really enabling different constituents.
Brandon Cristophe (VP Funding): One of the great things about this year’s student council that I hadn’t seen in the past is just the fact that they reached out to so many students through surveys and polls, even when they were campaigning and uncontested, they really reached out to see what students wanted. They tackled some of the larger issues that students thought needed to be addressed as a whole. And we will continue to work on that but maybe one thing that can be improved, expanded a little more, is things that focus on maybe a smaller group of students, but affect everyone of us.
In light of the struggles over the academic calendar, gender-neutral housing and other issues, what sort of relationship do you envision for your exec board with the Columbia administration?
Brandon: I feel like the relationship between CCSC and especially our executive board and the Columbia University Administration is pretty clear. Although we tackle these large issues where the administration or faculty members or staff, our job as Columbia College representatives is to represent student issues and specifically to bring those forward to the administration. What that looks like a lot of times in our interactions with the administration is cooperatively working towards a goal that is at the same time being true to our constituency. That is sometimes very difficult, sometimes very easy, but either way, we’re both aiming for the betterment of the whole community.
Learned: I think that there has been a pushback, especially in recent months, from the administration in the way that CCSC has operated, which I think has been awesome. Especially on the Senate floor with Senator Applegate, we have a sense of opposition and I think that’s good to develop in certain circumstances. I think there is room to express disappointment with the administration, for them to live up to our standards if we’re living up to theirs. During the smoking ban that was proposed last year, I was in a couple of meetings – those were probably the most intense meetings with the administrators – where they were suggesting things about the way we should live our lives and the control that should be placed over us that was just completely unacceptable to us as students. So it’s important to recognize that when the administration is trying to direct you too strongly, that you really need the advocates who are in student council to not bend over to that, to say, no, we’re adults – most of us – this is our campus, this is where we live. That’s something that we’ve done in the past and are looking to do in the future if it’s necessary.
What campus life events do you plan on holding next year?
Learned: There’s a sense that sometimes CCSC adopts student life proposals that overlap with what other student groups do. There’s always a level of competition as to how many people you can get to an event at one time and there are only so many events that can happen on campus in any given space. So we’ll be looking at the events that other campus groups won’t have all of the funding to be able to do or all of the equipment to be able to go for, so not overlapping with other student groups so much as supporting them in what they want to do and have our focus as being more large-scale. I think I’ve felt most connected to the campus during Ahmadinejad, Obama’s Inauguration, the Obama-McCain Debates, and I feel like the things with the jumbotron that’s really expensive and hard to put together, that’s the sort of coordination where CCSC can bring the things to campus that other student groups can’t that bring out thousands of people.
Andrea Folds (VP Campus Life): Also another side to that is facilitating events for smaller groups. We have a lot of complaints from people about red tape, bureaucracy, getting space requests, just really simple things and should be easy to get – so facilitating between groups and the administration and between groups to work together and maybe bring together different audiences.
Brandon: We’re also looking in these large-scale events towards things that reflect our constituency. This year the council created the Honorary Lecture Series, and we’ll continue it if it’s successful and expand it, specifically so we get more speakers who are notorious and large-scale and to get College students involved in that. Right now we have a lot of large people coming in for World Leaders Forum – Bill Gates and Warren Buffet – but access to them is so limited
Learned: Also, I read this on Bwog and I don’t know how accurately it reflected the situation, but I read that one of the reasons they couldn’t have Obama as a class day speaker this year was because of all of the coordination that would have to go into security… If we were elected, that would be one of the first things in the first one or two days – how feasible is this, what do we have to do to make this happen, to bring him to campus, because I’m sure people have tried this a lot in the past, but if the reason is to coordinate security, we’ll coordinate security. We’ll do whatever it takes.
Karishma: All year long
Learned: Exactly, because that would be friggin’ sweet!
Andrew: I just wanted to add that with these large scale events… tend to be one-time things, and we need to focus on recurring events to help continue building Columbia’s sense of community in the long run.
Learned: I’ve always had an urge also to have not a roller coaster but one of those spinny machines on the south lawn. So if that could happen during College Days, that would be sort of…
Karishma: What is a spinny machine?
Like a Tilt-o-Whirl?
Learned: Yeah, exactly!
Karishma: We could get that for days on campus, they’d do anything for days on campus.
Andrew: I just want to do tug-of-war again.
Brandon: Also we’ve done some good things over the past year with the councils helping out student publications that are just like one or two students that I’d like to continue with. And I don’t want to give away any events that are coming up, but you’ll see in probably the coming weeks some interesting things on campus that are happening because students were interested and CCSC was able to help make that happen. Oh, and space and the kinds of things that we don’t have the ability to reserve as individual students, those are the kinds of powers we have to help students.
Besides issues that are already being discussed by this year’s council – smoking ban, gender-neutral housing, etc. – what would be your board’s top new policy priority?
Learned: I would say the top is community service initiatives. You’ve got Community Impact, which has like 25 organizations involved with it, and you do your 4 hours of community service and say, okay, I’ve done my community service, that’s it. For community service, I’d just like to see it more fully integrated into students’ lives. In an academic context, I’ve talked to some professors about having community service integrated into classes, where say if you have a bad score on a quiz you can make it up with three or four hours of working somewhere, so… you really realize that you don’t have to dedicate 20 hours a week to do community service or go way out to Queens and you can do it in the subway ten minutes away for three hours.
Andrea: A lot of people seem to see community service as an interruption of their life, so to change that mindset would be a priority for us.
What experiences do each of your ticket members bring to CCSC’s executive board?
Brandon: I represent a lot of groups I think. I’m a minority student and a student on financial aid, I’m a student heavily involved in the Greek community, I’m a pre-med student, and a student pursuing a degree in social sciences, I’m a student from the south (Texas), and I’m also a student who’s heavily involved in student mentoring in the Bronx. These different things, especially as a VP of finance – being able to look into the finance gap not only between different groups but between different individuals, and come up with some ideas for next year, one of those being student leadership grants. We’re looking at the idea for students who qualify, students on financial aid, because as you know it’s sometimes difficult for a student on financial aid to get involved in student life and leadership if they’re doing work study or working a part time job or, you know. And sometimes say an Art Hum class will need to go to a concert and that’s a cost that can’t be anticipated easily and isn’t covered so subsidizing that cost maybe through tuition or through a grant allocation.
Andrew: I’m a transfer student from the University of Florida… I think being involved at UF and then being on the policy committee here and never missing a meeting and learning about issues on campus, I’ve really been able to gain a good perspective because students at UF are generally conservative and at Columbia we’re generally liberal, so I think it’s been great to help find a compromise. So also I’m a student of minority status… also in the Econ Society. I think I also bring a practical approach as well. I really appreciate how Sue Yang has been able to technical analysis and also get some concrete examples and statistics that back up student sentiment and that’s something I would love to continue.
Karishma: I’m also, like I said, a freshman, and from what I’ve heard I’m the only freshman who’s run for executive board at least in the recent past… And as a freshman I know that first semester things are terribly confusing. And I know, really because I just experienced it, what modes of outreach work with that. So I really think that’s a fresh perspective to bring into CCSC as Communications VP because not only am I using the great ideas in practice for the last year, but I’m using the experience of this past year to reach out more. At the same time, despite being a freshman, I’ve been on student council for a year, so I’m well connected, I know enough, I’ve been involved in several policy initiatives this past year like Honorary Lecture Series, gender-neutral housing and I can honestly say that I’ve learned a lot. So I bring a combination of fresh perspective and experience to next year to hopefully do really exciting things.
Andrea: I’m the only one who hasn’t been on CCSC before, but I have some experience in other student clubs that gives me experience in some of the obstacles that other student groups are facing, and how to improve that. And I’m also a coordinator of COOP, and also I have a job outside of school and so I know about some of the pressures that can put on students.
Learned: So I’ll try to make this not too laundry list. I’ve been on the CCSC for three years and as a class president that involves multiple different roles, so I have experience with programming, alumni affairs, professional stuff, for policies (I’ve sat on the policy committee for much of this time), for funding, for managing money, and also just to connect to students on a one-to-one basis. I know the class of 2011 very well and I’ve also had the honor to work with a lot of sophomores, freshmen, so I have experience from that student council perspective and I think that’s one thing I bring to the ticket. I also have served as the treasurer of a SGB club and an ABC club. And also I’ve been on the social chair for Columbia Queer Alliance, so I deal with First Friday which is one of the biggest dances that happens on campus … so I have a lot of experience with reaching out to other clubs, we co-sponsor with a different club every month, and it’s also just a large event with a lot of moving pieces so I have a lot of campus organizing experiences in that respect. I’ve worked with Let’s Get Ready, which is a Community Impact club that does work with SAT prep and college counseling since the summer after freshman year … so I’m very interested in community service and very passionate about it and that’s sort of where this plank comes from. I’m a COOP leader, I’m a tour guide, I helped found a student organization … which is not yet recognized by the university, so I have experience with taking a club from scratch and moving to recognition, which a lot of groups deal with. I’ve worked on The Current … and I’m a senior staff writer at the Columbia Daily Spectator so I’ve seen sort of the publication aspect of Columbia as well. … I’m really looking to unify all of those perspectives, take everything I’ve learned and move it into an extremely strong senior year for me … and move forward on everything I see wrong with this campus. I know that not everything’s going to be fixed in one year, but there’s a lot of things that can be fixed, and I know how to fix them.
What we really want to know is, if you had to steal student government funds, what would you spend them on?
Andrea: I would get a Chick-Fil-A installed in Lerner.
Learned: I’m not a big fan of the hotdog vending machine, so I’m with you.
Brandon: I would buy dinner for Natalie Portman.
Andrew: I know what I want to say, I just don’t want to say it.
Brandon: Just say it!
Andrew: I’d buy a boyfriend.
Karishma: Okay, this is so shallow. I would buy a plane ticket to Italy because I just think all the people there are so beautiful, I just want to revel in how beautiful they are. I’ve been there with my family but that’s very different form being there myself, so I’d get a plane ticket to Italy and save a bit of money to go clubbing in Rome every single night and I’d buy some clothes there—actually I’d buy a few things. And then I’d go to clubs and pick up beautiful Italian men and we’d just have a great time.
Learned: I’d probably buy food. Honestly, that’s probably what I spend most of my money on.
Karishma: That’s so practical!
Learned: But I would get nice food.
Andrea: Like what, snails?
Andrea: Steak! I love steak!
Learned: Yeah, and horse I’ve always been intrigued by.
Brandon: It’s very stringy, though.
Learned: What about bear, where it’s not been eating a lot of meat, but just a lot of vegetables, fruits and berries? Okay to incorporate Karishma’s idea into this whole new bear meat plan, and camping: I’d sort of have a little bit of a camping trip with a little bit of a gun and a little bit of a tent where we could make, like, a fire and kill a bear and skin it and wash ourselves in a waterfall. So basically to go out and eat a bear.
Brandon: I don’t support the killing of a bear?
Brandon: I mean, if it was a mean bear who attacked us. I’d be up for that, but otherwise I’m not down.
Learned: It’s a really mean bear.
Karishma: Look, I’m going to be in Italy, so you guys go ahead and kill a bear.
Learned: We can make a bear coat for you!