We continue to respect our heritage/amorous affair with our mother-magazine, The Blue & White by posting each issue of the magazine online. The latest issue, available this week around campus, is a cornucopia of delights: the shockingly sincere history of Barnard’s Greek Games, a conversation with the elegant physicist Brian Greene, a strikingly beautiful account of a trek into Pennsylvania coal country. 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. This month staff writer Carolyn Ruvkun introduces us to Learned Foote, CC’11.
Learned Foote, CC ’11, seems like a bundle of paradoxes. Raised in a large Evangelical Christian family and home-schooled in rural Michigan, the President of the Columbia College Student Council has become one of the most visible people on campus. Though arriving at Columbia a confident liberal, he soon shifted across the political spectrum. Foote, an openly gay conservative and member of Columbia University College Republicans, campaigned to bring ROTC back to campus even before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, and participates actively in Columbia Queer Alliance.
Foote reconciles these apparent tensions through a dedication to dialogue. “You’ll always have gay kids born into families that are conservative or Evangelical,” he explains. “It is important to develop relationships and have conversations because even when people disagree, you’re going to be in a better place when you sit down face-to-face than when you just demonize each other.” He concedes that reconciliation is difficult, but believes it’s always “important to try that process.” He recalls the Safe Spaces forum with panelists from CUCR and CQA: “the initial sense of combativeness bled away as the conversation continued.”
Foote also stresses his belief in “working within the system,” an adherence that shows in his ROTC advocacy. Effectively addressing the military’s faults, he explains, can’t occur with ROTC removed from campus. “If you look at the military and disapprove of the way it operates, the way to fix it is not to isolate yourself form it, but work within it to change it.” Foote sees this as crucial to his own philosophy. “Conservatism is about giving people the freedom to live their lives as they see fit,” he explained. Even when Foote’s parents disagreed with his decisions, “they said ‘you’re an individual and we can’t force you to believe certain things’—a very libertarian, conservative idea.” Foote contends, “even if that takes me into directions they don’t agree with, it is still a positive process.”
“He’s very much an idealist, but with a practical bent,” praises, Lauren Salz, President of CUCR. Foote is even friends with one of the infamous students who “heckled” a veteran speaking during an ROTC town hall. Salz, BC’11, credits these seemingly strained relationships to Foote’s uncanny ability to “separate the personal from political, and talk about ideas rather than personal experiences.”
This commitment to conversation is rooted in Foote’s genuine enthusiasm for testing his personal foundations. He has rigorously revised his beliefs enough to understand that “parts of them eventually have to be jettisoned—especially ‘cause we’re undergraduates and we don’t know anything.” College should make you “feel unsafe” intellectually, he stresses.
It’s truly staggering how much Foote has been a part of at Columbia: CCSC, CQA, CUCR, Let’s Get Ready, COÖP, URC, ROTC advocacy, Spectator, Sanctum, and The Current, among others. After meeting Foote during COÖP, fellow CCSC board member Andrea Folds, CC’12, realized she needed to be persistent to steal some of Foote’s time. “I had to interject myself into his life because I wanted to be his friend.” Still, Folds insists Foote isn’t all that serious. His enthusiasm for Sarah Palin is matched by a guilty love of Battlestar Galactica and “Like a Prayer”—the Glee version. “He’s always smiling even when he’s mad,” Folds marvels. “I call it the wolf-grin.”
On his oddly dignified-sounding name, inspired by famed American judge Learned Hand, Foote jokes, “my dad has a really bad sense of humor.” He chuckles and flashes his characteristic toothy smile. “It’s really dorky.”