Last month, we had our first “WTF, Columbia” post, detailing intricate complaints about the school. This time around, Bwog Editor Alexandra Svokos (#transparency) divulges on an interesting experience. If you have a story you’d like to share about Columbia pushing you around, email email@example.com or use our anonymous form. Anonymity guaranteed.
I love this school. I wouldn’t be dedicating all my time to clubs, classes, and–of course–Bwog if that wasn’t true. Like a beloved brother who always leaves the toilet seat open, though, Columbia has room for improvement. Last week, I was invited to a focus group to “better assess Columbia’s campus culture.” Participants were nominated by advisors and were highly active students in various sections of the school. About 35 were invited and split into four groups based on our organization association.
Deans Martinez and Shollenberger explained that this initiative was started by Student Affairs in reaction to student outcry about the culture of high stress that permeates campus. Community Development reached out to a faculty member at Teachers College, a national leader in consulting with institutions about their social culture. The people working on the project are TC students in their last semester (at least those I spoke with). According to Martinez they are all working toward becoming consultants; this is easy experience learning to work with clients–so, yes, we’re being used as their guinea pigs. The TC leaders I talked to said this initiative should continue on for “years,” with new people taking it up after they graduate.
In my group for Performing Arts and Publications, we were told that the major complaint they were examining is that we identify with our student groups rather than Columbia as a whole. We were then asked to go around and say what group we’re from and what that group does. Being split based on our group associations and asked to identify ourselves by that association did not help much in changing this.
In introductions, I started seeing the major fault in the initiative–a common theme at Columbia–that the people we were supposed to be getting help from had no idea what we were talking about. Our TC leaders asked for clarification on nearly every acronym and abbrev: from easy stuff like SEAS and Spec to the more intensive SGA, ABC, UEM, SACBO, etc.
Ours was an interesting group–all from performing arts (particularly a capella) with the exception of myself and two members of another publication (we’re under confidentiality). The performing arts groups have a whole mass of problems completely unrelated to publications’; the other publication guy and I kept looking at each other and shrugging, nothing to add. It was a marvelous listing of the ridiculous myriad of problems performing arts groups face; hearing what they’re against, it’s a true testament to their dedication that we even have shows.
In the course of our conversation, we reached the conclusion that a lot of the stress derives from lack of help from the university. Rather than help us, in fact, the university tends to throw up roadblocks. One person stated that he felt lied to in applying to Columbia: all the wonderful opportunities he was promised exist only with extreme personal effort to make it happen.
We’ve become so discouraged by lack of help that we stopped looking up–instead we look to each other. Nearly everyone in the room cited times they’d reached out to each other or CCSC for a boost up when, once again, something stupid got in the way and the administration was not there to support. Watching the discussion unfold, I had to chuckle to myself. This initiative is precisely emblematic of the problem it aspires to eradicate. Instead of solutions, we are given more people to complain at who don’t even understand what we’re talking about. Largely ignoring the prepared questions from the TC leaders—who were overwhelmed by the complaints and jargon anyway—the students took over the conversation.
I’m willing to make a slap bet that nothing useful for students will come of this initiative. Given past experience, the only way to make life easier for ourselves is to continue working together. It would be much more efficient and effective to have students form groups comprised of leaders from across the spectrum, discuss amongst ourselves what would make life easier, and present solutions to Student Affairs–but we’re all too busy straightening out forms in SACBO and arguing with UEM.
Bwog’s feelings via Shutterstock