The November issue of The Blue & White will be arriving on campus soon. In the mean time, we’ll be trickling out the issue on Bwog. You might not know the following figure—but you should. In Campus Characters, The Blue & White introduces you to a handful of Columbians who are up to interesting and extraordinary things and whose stories beg to be shared. If you’d like to suggest a Campus Character, send us an email at email@example.com.
If you’ve ever received an e-mail from Sean Manning Udell, you’ve only seen a fraction of his ebullient personality. Take, for instance, the salutation of his first class-wide e-mail as senior class president — “Oh hay big SEEEENIOOOOOORRRRSSSSSS of Twenty Eleven” — or even just the subject line — “2 FREE PARTIES – GET THOSE PARTY HATS ON!” Although Udell admits that administrators would like him to, “tone down my emails because it seemed to suggest too much unsafe exuberance,” his capitalized cheer and long elisions are, to him, an integral part of his goals for the year: “To make Columbia a good community; a good place to have fond memories of.”
This gregarious showmanship, however, is not self-serving. His emails are not just ploys to get seniors to attends events, but rather extensions of his perpetually caps-locked personality. “It’s not a façade,” says friend and senior class vice president Alexandra Coromilas. “He always has this enthusiasm and this great attitude and it really doesn’t waver when he’s hanging out with his friends.”
Udell epitomizes gay pride. “In my life I’ve tried to be as loudly out there as possible,” Udell says. But the clash between his sexual identity and his on-campus persona has sometimes produced problems. “You do run the risk,” Udell says, “of being a one issue person, and people then just assume that everything you do is for your own self interest and for LGBT interest and I’ve really tried to separate the two worlds.”
Udell’s dual roles merge in the campaign for gender neutral housing, an initiative he spearheads as both senior class president and president of the Columbia Queer Alliance. Udell took up the issue because he recognized a flaw in the university housing system. “I wanted to live with members of the opposite sex and the policy wouldn’t allow for that,” he says. Implementation of a gender-neutral housing policy was put off by the Columbia administration last semester, news that Udell found devastating. “We didn’t really know how to respond because we had gotten so many people excited about it.” Udell is bouncing back this year with a new proposal, crafted in conjunction with housing officials. This revised plan will introduce a gender neutral pilot program to six upper-class buildings. Though Udell hopes it will assuage all parties, he admits, “it’s not perfect.”
When things don’t go his way, Udell does not admit defeat, per se, but rather reverts to Spanish curses and catchphrases he picked up from a former babysitter he had growing up in Florida. Ali Krimmer, CC ‘11, a friend from Carman 9 and current suitemate, delights in the confused stares the lanky Udell and his Spanish outbursts elicit from onlookers. “He doesn’t take himself too seriously,” Krimmer laughs. Even projects like the campaign to secure Barack Obama as Class Day speaker cannot escape his multiple exclamation points and pep. His e-mail informing seniors of the initiative asked students to “do your part! Ask not what Columbia can do for you, but what you can do for Columbia. FOR SERIOUS Y’ALL!”
This enthusiasm should serve him well in his post-graduation plans — he hopes to work as a kindergarten teacher with either the New Orleans or Denver Corps of Teach for America. His friends are optimistic about his success. “No matter what he’s doing, he puts his entire self into it,” Coromilas says.
Illustration by Eloise Owens