Yesterday Brian Wagner sat down with some CCSC candidates to grill them on the most controversial and pressing issues du jour. They said funny and serious things! But first off, because they’re all down to earth, fun-loving, patriotic Columbians, the candidates also agreed to spend some time in Bwog’s recording studio to sing Roar, Lion, Roar together. We asked, and they delivered. Hit play to listen and read the whole interview below. Enjoy![audio:http://images.bwog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Fight-Song-BetterCU.mp3]
Quick note: VP Policy candidate, Ganiatu Afolabi, unfortunately couldn’t make it to the interview.
How would you evaluate the job done by the current student council, especially the E-Board?
Steele (VP Funding): Learned’s E-board has done a lot of good things. They’ve passed 14 resolutions, whereas the council before them passed 4. I think that’s a lot of progress, and I think that shows a lot of action on the part of the Council. But I think that all sort of stays within the same culture that Better Columbia is all about changing. They didn’t do nearly enough to make the events the Council puts on responsible fiscally or very good at building community, like Casino Night.
Wilfred (VP Campus Life): Funding is really important to us, but I think that one thing everyone can relate to is that CCSC doesn’t really have a lot of presence on campus. We don’t believe in creating a CCSC presence through really big events, like the tree lighting. It’s not that we don’t want tree lighting; instead, we’re all about reaching out person-to-person with smaller events. Unlike our opponents, we think that the study breaks are a good idea because we can interact with people on a one-on-one basis and let them see the personal side of CCSC. As a student, the fact that CCSC has never personally reached out to me individually is very telling.
Barry (President): I didn’t even know during all of my freshman year that CCSC meetings were open to the public. And I really think that the lack of involvement is due to a lack of communication and outreach.
Varun (VP Communications): As a freshman, I have that perspective where all I see of CCSC is Learned’s e-mail. Early in the year, me and most other people I knew got the impression that CCSC is just a party planning committee, and Barry explained to me about how that’s a misconception that lots of people get. It’s more than just planning parties, and we want to present a front for the students, gather their opinions, and present them to the administration. Right now CCSC is acting like a club, and we want to reach out to people by doing things like moving the meetings around campus. We also want to update our website, increase transparency, and provide more information.
Barry: If you look back to the race last year, and you look at what is happening now, it would be very easy to predict what would happen. I think the Spec got it right when they endorsed Learned and said that Learned has what it takes, but has a weak ticket. It was short on experience, ideas, and abilities. They passed 14 resolutions, but none of those resolutions have, honestly, been very important. I think the JJ’s take out window was important, and the new space allocation one was important. But things like putting sign-up sheets for the McBain treadmills really aren’t that important. Learned said last year in his Bwog interview that he thought that the council had sacrificed breadth in pursuit of depth, and this year, it seems that the council sacrificed depth for breadth. And I think that we can fix that. With issues like security, space, funding for groups, swipe access, these are things that are important to students.
Steele: If the council tackles big issues, it will gain credibility.
Barry: And it has to tackle them well. Like Gender Neutral housing. These are the big issues that need to be tackled. And that’s what we’re about. That’s why we’re called Better Columbia.
A big issue lately has been this elusive beast known as Community. Do you think that Columbia has a Community problem? I know what you said about communication issues, but what about Community as a whole?
Steele: In a place as large and as diverse as Columbia, it’s not going to be like your high school, and I think that comparing it like that is invalid. Certainly, in terms of some things, if you look at our school compared to some others, there is a lack of certain longstanding tradition. But we do have some fantastic things. We have Varsity Show, X-MAS!, Primal Scream, Orgo Night, and I think the more that we can do those, the better. I don’t think we have a community problem. I think we are very focused on building our community, and it shows that we have a great desire to do that. The trick, I think, is to have student council harness that desire, and I think the council in the past has tried some things, but I think that Barry, in choosing his ticket, assembled a group of people with strong backgrounds in community-building events.
Wilfred: I think that community can be improved. Yeah, we have a culture, yeah we have an identity, but there’s a sort of vague dissatisfaction that we can’t quite put our finger on, a sort of “X” factor that’s missing. The solutions have been sort of half-baked, like Casino Night, to which almost no one went. We have to get back to the nitty gritty, start by building personal relationships one at a time, and that’s what I’ll be all about—bringing the human back to CCSC.
Varun: I come from a really big high school, and we had a lot more community. Yeah, it was very high-school-y, but I think that Columbia can improve. Where we fall short is communication, and we really want to focus on that.
Wilfred: Bwog has done a really good job of that. It has a really good sense of the pulse of the campus. CCSC can do that too, but right now it just feels like an alien bureaucracy, removed form the average student
Barry: I do think that there is a problem with community on campus. I think that Wilfred stated it very well when he said that there is just one vague dissatisfaction, or “X” factor. I really think it’s because after NSOP, you’re not really together anymore as a school. And one of the things that has grown out of that is a lot of strong smaller communities, like athletes, COÖP…We’re from very different small, but strong communities. Right now I’m hosting a Queer, Inter-Faith dinner, so that the Queer community can reach out to other groups. I think we should really encourage student groups to work with each other. Also, I really think that you can promote community by just having fun shit that people want to do. I think that Casino Night is awful—the fact that you have to bribe people to get them to attend. Honestly, CU Assassins is brilliant—
Wilfred/Steele: It’s just awesome—
Barry: They get people to pay to join their community events. And I think that if we have large scale, fun events, if we have a super-soaker war, water balloon fights, pillow fights…You just need to have fun events that are worth going to. Glass House Rocks works because student groups put it on, and CCSC provides the structure. That’s something we want to build off of. Leave the details to student groups. They do amazing jobs. Their events are great. But council events aren’t.
Varun: Events that really bring people together aren’t always events in the traditional sense, like the eclipse this year, or the snowball fight that night. I realized then that there are people here who really get along, and that really resonated with me.
Barry: It’s a really big question for Columbia. It’s something that people grumble about that nobody has solved, and I think it’s something that we have a shot at, or should be given a shot at, solving.
What do you guys think, aside from community, are the major concerns of students? And which of these are your top priorities?
Barry: Student groups are our strength. I’m chair of the Student Governing Board. And student groups face a hellish time getting anything done here. You have to fill out tons of forms, deal with Public Safety…it really sucks to be a student leader here sometimes, because it’s just so much bureaucracy to work through. I think we’re actually getting a new administration who is wondering why we do things like this, and who will work with students, as long as they seize on it and do it. Giving groups P-cards, making space, putting up public wait lists, these are all simple things that should be done. And permanent student advisory boards should be set up for some things, such as CUIT, Lerner Space, and public safety. CUIT is focused on Manhattanville right now, when we still have Cubmail! We still have Courseworks! They shelved Sakai in 2008! We’re still using technology from 2002 because they don’t know what students actually go through.
Varun: I have plenty to say about dining. As a freshman, I wasn’t here last year, but I’m told that they completely changed how everything works, and the meal plans just aren’t working. It becomes a waste of money. And we’re paying a lot already, so that really has to be changed. JJs used to be a hangout, and now it’s just that place that serves not-so-great foods and makes you swipe in to get in, which kind of sucks. And if I eat a really late lunch, I can’t swipe in for dinner, which is really inconvenient.
Barry: It’s just nonsensical. Policy didn’t really allow students a chance to work with this, they just dispatched someone to deal with it. You need students involved to come and say, “This isn’t working. It really sucks. Please fix it. We will be upset until you fix it.”
Varun: Ferris is clearly not meant to be a dining hall.
Steele: Look, we’re paying ludicrous amounts of money, and look at the services we’re getting. That’s something that’s very important to us. We want to be transparent and say, “Look, this is what we’re doing with your money.” CCSC is one part of a much larger group in charge of allocating student life fees, but I think it’s important to try to control your money and see where it’s going. We want to make council events have public budgets.
Barry: Last thing, the lawns. The fact that they’re closed for the majority of the year for no real reason….Scott Wright is one of the most student-friendly administrators on campus. Certain people are really willing to work with students. Changing the default state of the lawns to open, and making facilities give a reason for why they’re closed. If there’s a reason, then that’s okay, but make them give us a reason. Lots of space is also underutilized, like Ancel Plaza and the EC courtyard. We want to ask students “what would Columbia look like in your wildest dreams.” And then we want to do it.
Steele: And I think you’ll see that reflected in our platform, from viewable wait lists to the most visionary things we want to strive for.
Wilfred: It really starts with getting the campus invested. We’re four guys and a girl. We can’t do this single-handedly. It starts with building relationships with the student body. We need them on board.
Varun: And we don’t want to do this alone. We want to have the student body involved.
What sort of skills, personalities, and experiences will you each bring to CCSC?
Steele: My interest in running came from my involvement in the theater community, which deals with every aspect of Columbia bureaucracy, from the higher-up about future theater space to e-forms to pay for a $50 Westside purchase. The big experience that pushed me to do this was producing X-MAS!, which needed to raise $7,000 dollars without any Columbia money. Recognizing that struggle, really taught me that I could negotiate at that level, and I want to make it easier for people coming after me. That’s where all of my goals come from. And producing that show gave me experience needed to monitor the budget.
Wilfred: As for me, I’m a writer for Spectrum, I do a bunch of posts, I have my weekly series, but I do read Bwog everyday.
We’re still non-patisan; you can butter us up all you want.
Wilfred: No, I do read it every day, and being in Spectrum, and being attuned to these campus blogs has gotten me invested in campus life—that’s what we’re blogging about: how students feel, so I feel pretty in touch with how things are going around here. As for leadership experience, my biggest struggles have come from being president of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. We have to put on a ton of events during April, and it’s just a struggle to get funding, to fight the bureaucracy, and all of the things they do, it’s so frustrating. I think that’s where I feel like there can be some changes. As a part of Better CU, we want to give more back to the clubs who are putting on these community building events.
Varun: I’ve been very involved in campus life, I’m on the board for MBA, I’m an editor for Columbia Law Review, on the events committee for Pre-Law Society, and I volunteer with Youth For Debate. I think what differentiates me is that I’m good at communicating with people, I’m good at listening, and I’m a people person. I have a problem-solution mentality, and I think that’s very important. That’s simply why I’m here.
Barry: I had a lot of experiences. I started off thinking council was a joke, I was involved with the Dems, and I got heavily involved in Everyone Allied Against Homophobia. So I had this amazing first-year experience with lots of clubs…I felt like I was so heavily involved, and my sophomore year I felt like I hit a slump, and I was like, “Wow, there’s a lot I don’t like about this place,” and then I got to change a part of it. I eventually got involved in the Committee on the Core. I got involved in the fight to save the CUArts program. I really got sucked into all of these fights, which brought me back to Columbia, and rooted me here in a powerful way. That’s how I thrive, and that’s what it feels like to me to be a Columbian—to change things. CCSC has all of this power, and I feel like it sucks right now. Only CCSC can tackle some of these big issues, and that’s why I want to fight for students.
Varun: Being involved is what gets us going, and keeps us going.
What do you all feel is really CCSC’s part in the Columbia community as it relates to the bureaucracy, the administration, the faculty?
Wilfred: It’s a voice.
Barry: I think it is a voice. It’s a voice for students’ needs, interests. The other thing is that it’s also meant to be a facilitator. And that’s a little weird. Council is not only supposed to be a rep for the students, it’s also supposed to bring the students in contact with the admin and the faculty and these other parts of the Columbia community. And I like these Councils’ conversations between administrators and students.
Steele: I went to one of these–they’re a great thing. And only CCSC can do it.
Barry: These are all ways that the council can act as a facilitator and bring the university in contact with students on a more personal level. You don’t always need to fight. You just need to have faculty come sit down with students.
Steele: The only other thing I would add is that the Council is a facilitator, but it can also be where action should first be initiated. Like the two attacks on campus recently. Council should talk about that and go to the administration and ask them what they are doing to make it safe. Council needs to say “What’s going on here?” and report to the student body when there’s a clear interest to the student body at hand.
Barry: There was only one official response to Operation Ivy League–the town hall that was my event. It was an amazing event. Students shared what they were going through and got to talk to administrators.
If you guys could either bring one big change to Columbia or host one dream event, what would it be?
Wilfred: The types of big events that we want to have are simple. They’re lean, they’re mean, they’re efficient. One of our opponents wants to create a carnival on Baker Field. And they want to use a ferris wheel as the centerpiece. I love ferris wheels, but they can cost up to $10,000 for two days. Even $2,000 can fund five, ten, twenty clubs under SGB. Big extravagant events are not our style. We want to give control back to the people who make events the best–the clubs. In terms of what we would do: a pillow-fight, a Low Library beach party, field day, capture the flag, stuff that we won’t cost anything and will be memorable. This is a really fundamental difference in our philosophy. We’re responsible, and we want to bring it back to you guys.
Steele: My freshman year, I stayed in the city for Thanksgiving, and I had a reunion with a bunch of my high school friends. We were talking, and I was the only one who knew my school’s fight song. It made me feel awesome. Events as simple as teaching the fight song. We’re gonna get you on the lawn, play random games, and teach you the fight song.
Wilfred: That’s what COÖP is all about. It’s simple, but it’s legendary.
Varun: Flash mobs. It would be awesome if during a day with a ton of visitors, we had all the undergraduates just freeze on campus. That would be my dream.
Barry: A subway entrance on campus, like right in front of Butler! Barring that, I would say I just want a place for students to hang out. A place that’s just a student place. Because there isn’t anywhere on campus, aside from Schermerhorn, that’s open 24 hours where you can just go and chill. Lerner isn’t open 24 hours…and most other colleges have that. I would have really liked to see Lerner 6 just be a place for students to hang out. I feel like students just don’t have a place like that anymore. A permanent spot for students doesn’t exist, and that’s just really weird.
Barry: I almost don’t want to say mine. I’m a total Hillary guy.
Varun: Let’s see. I hate Reagan’s policies. All of them. Well, most of them. But if there was any politician I could be BFFs with, it would be him. He’s such a bro. There are videos of him making jokes in interviews…he fascinates me. Even though I hate him.
Wilfred: Morgan Freeman as president. He is my hero. He could convince me to do anything. I would just obey.
Steele: I worked for a political campaign back home in Colorado last summer, and I worked for Andrew Romanov.
Varun: Oh, Putin! That’s it. He was such a bro.
Steele: We just drove across all of Colorado, went to peoples’ houses. He was great. So inspiring. I want to be him when I grow up. I guess I am grown up now, though.
Barry: Maybe Nancy Pelosi. I love effective women! They’re effective!