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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer Liz Jacob profiles Phillip Dupree, SEAS ’11.
For many Columbia students, December 19, 2009 marks a night to remember: the biggest campus-wide snowball fight in recent memory. The man responsible is Phillip Dupree, SEAS ’11. What began as a simple desire to ease finals stress turned into a snow battle of epic proportions—by the early evening on December 19th the Facebook event boasted nearly 600 attendees. Dupree climbed onto Alma Mater as the throngs gathered on Low Plaza. As if parting the Red Sea with his staff, he commanded his followers to vacate a central space and form two teams. To his surprise, they obeyed. And with a “3-2-1 ATTACK!!!,” the battle began. As Dupree’s friend Katie Lupica, CC ’11, describes the snowball fight, “Other than Holi (the annual Hindu festival on Ancel Plaza), it’s pretty much the only campus event I’ve been to that was so genuinely joyful and irony-free. I think that’s pretty descriptive of Phillip as well.”
Whether describing an ornithopter for an engineering project or explaining his interests in Parkour and longboarding, Dupree radiates that irony-free enthusiasm. Take a random day Dupree spent in the city during the summer of his junior year: he had originally planned to check out a music video being shot near the Queensboro Bridge, but he returned home late that night as both a music video star (the original actor never showed up) and the proud owner of a new longboard (won in a competition while waiting for a costume change). Despite the adventurousness of that day, Dupree doesn’t think intrepidity is necessary for a fun time. “You don’t have to search high and low for something crazy to do,” he says, “but you do have to put yourself out there, make tiny, interesting choices, and watch where they lead you.”
As an RA in John Jay for the past two years, Dupree has done his best to share these attitudes with his residents. He thrives on the excitement freshmen bring to his life. “It’s like having 45 younger siblings,” Dupree says, and he is always happy to play the role of the thoughtful older brother. In his first year as an RA, Dupree went to his friend’s kitchen in Hartley and made pancakes for his residents every Sunday. This year, he and his residents like to gather to chat over tea. But free food is secondary, in Dupree’s mind, to the advice he offers his residents whenever he gets a chance: “It takes time to really find where you want to be in college. I didn’t really find my place until junior year. Chill out.”
Indeed, two years before his junior year snowball fight glory, Dupree was just like any other freshman—a little lost and looking to find his niche. He cites the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as the first group on campus to really make him feel welcome. And though cynical atheism often seems to dominate the student body, participation in the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship plays a large part in Dupree’s life. “It can be un-cool at Columbia to be religious, but being Christian is the foundation of who I am.” An active member of the IVCF, Dupree spends his Thursday nights at St. Paul’s Chapel rocking out on his clarinet in praise of God. Dupree and his fellow club members are currently in the planning stages of organizing a week of events, scheduled to take place in April, to raise awareness of human trafficking and slavery. Perhaps Dupree puts his views on faith and social justice best: “It’s about love, plain and simple.”
It is this attitude that seems to fuel Dupree’s incredible humility toward his adventures. “Having cool stories to tell about snowball fights and Parkour are fun, but I think that when I leave, I’d rather be remembered for being devoted to social justice and raising awareness on present-day human slavery or being a great RA. I don’t pretend that anyone’s going to remember the snowball fight in a couple years, but someone who works toward social justice? That’s someone people might remember.”