Illustration by Maddy Kloss, CC '12

Claire Sabel introduces you to the life and times of former Spectator Editor-in-Chief Sam Roth. Look for this and more in the upcoming April issue of  The Blue & White.

Sam Roth, CC ’12, hopes for a future in politics. He doesn’t plan on running for office, but rather “would love to be the guy that that guy turns to.”

While Roth has made his undergraduate career as the Editor-in-Chief of the Columbia Daily Spectator for 2011-12, the Westchester native dabbled in various political organizations and publications before winding up at the helm of the newspaper.

Yet even Michele Cleary, who worked with Sam as Spec’s managing editor, didn’t know that he made several attempts at writing the Varsity Show script, earning accolades from the show’s managers before being ruled out in the advanced rounds. He admits to keeping a file with bits and pieces of humorous sketches, though he insists—with typical modesty—that “there are way more talented people at Columbia.” While Sam presents himself with remarkable composure, his friends unanimously emphasize his keen sense of humor, described variably as “subtly intelligent” and “pretty dirty.”

But what strikes you when you first meet Sam is his seriousness, immediately apparent when he describes his relationship to the University. “I fell in love with Columbia very quickly,” he recalls, “I still am in love with Columbia…but it’s become more complicated.”

Looking back on his time at the College, he speaks reverently of the faculty—noting Alan Silver and Andrew Delbanco as particularly inspiring—who “embody the virtues of what we think of as the greatness of Columbia.” This admiration does not come without expectations. Roth recently published an open letter to the faculty in Spec, calling on them to engage more seriously with the Core, and to “get involved in students’ lives and problems.”

Roth is also in love with his girlfriend of a year and a half. The couple recently decided to raise a mini-dachshund together, whom they named Robin. Sierra Kuzava, a friend of the couple who occasionally puppy-sits, notes that even though “Sam was openly not a dog person before this puppy adventure,” he has grown to care deeply for the pet. Nor does Sam take commitment lightly. For a long time, he was wedded to the idea of triple majoring, in History, Political Science, and Economics, the latter of which he eventually dropped out of necessity, given his full-time engagement at Spec. He doesn’t deny that he was attracted to the prestige of such an accomplishment, but sees it as a question of fundamental engagement with a subject. By satiating oneself with an intro course, he contends, “you’ll probably end up more ignorant, because you think you know something.” Sam qualified this with the concession that his life has been considerably enriched by taking Shakespeare I and II.

Statements like this reveal the surprising quirks in Sam’s ostensibly conservative façade. Yes, he frequents Mel’s and The Heights—“I was never really a Campo guy”—but he once coordinated a “Peep Week” during which he and his girlfriend garnished every food they ate with Peeps marshmallows. He worked for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2008, and supported the return of the ROTC to Columbia in 2011. From his pet to his politics, Roth applies himself with impressive intensity and self-confidence to everything he cares about.

“He’s passionate about equity, politics, and promoting social justice,” avows his EC suitemate Vighnesh Subramanyam. When asked about his own impressions of his reputation, Roth responds with typical self-assurance, modesty, and sense of institutional history, invoking the words of a former campus paper EIC, the venerable Nicholas Murray Butler: “I am, at best, a medium-sized man on campus.”