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Community Building and the Curious CUE Quandary

Debunking the sleep space myth

CUE, that community service pre-orientation program, is facing some unwanted changes. The school cut the group from 84 students last year to 54. Historically Barnard subsidizes dining, but this year they’re providing a “small, kind donation” and office supplies. The biggest change, though, is housing. Typically, CUE lives together in McBain, taking up two to three floors. This year, all participants must live in their permanent, academic year dorm (i.e. John Jay, Carman, etc.).

The reasons are not far-fetched: according to Scott Wright, VP of Campus Services, it was  to ensure that people living in those McBain rooms will be able to move in early, if need be, and so those rooms will be ready. Moreover, there have been complaints by participants’ parents about not being able to immediately move into their full-time housing. Fair enough, right?

Unfortunately, not really. It appears as though we’ve run into another situation in which those in charge don’t fully understand the effects their choices have on students and programming. “Logistically,” Devin Choudhury, CC’15, CUE co-coordinator explained, “it’s challenging.” Leaders will have to run from building to building to make sure people are up  at 7 am before leaving for service projects around the city. Additionally, CUE is a physically demanding and strenuous program, leaving participants exhausted at the end of the day.  The trek back to a dorm on an unfamiliar campus might be difficult.

But it’s more than logistics: “CUE is valued for the sense of community that it builds, and that’s largely dependent on having shared housing. … It allows students to spend the first week of college in a very intimate environment, in which they build connections that they normally wouldn’t,” Devin said. The program typically involves complete group togetherness including meals, work, break-out sessions, and nightly hang-outs, so students are only alone when they need to immediately drop to sleep.

“Our biggest concern,” said Kyoko Yamamoto, BC’15, CUE co-coordinator, “is that if you’re a student wanting to do a pre-orientation program, that automatically assumes that you’re probably not very comfortable with coming to college, and this pre-orientation program offers an opportunity to really get acclimated into the city and university.  … When everyone was in McBain, we had leaders on every single floor, so if you had an issue you just had to go down the hall. … Now these students are stuck in rooms, floors, even buildings completely alone, and that poses a lot of psychological issues.”  This is especially true for Barnard participants, and worst for the few JTS participants–who will be in a more or less empty building up on 122nd.

Still, “it’s not something we can’t work with,” Kyoko insists. But the administration did not inform them of this change until months after the decision was made. Some people in the administration, namely Todd Smith (who just took over from Dean Martinez), have been helping to make do, and Barnard is trying to put their participants on the same floor for the week, but CUE is still upset that there was this initial lack of communication.  If they had been given a voice while the decision was being made, they could have explained how harmful this decision could be.

“It’s the fact that they have no real understanding of what our program is, and didn’t think to ask people who were actually involved whether this would positively or negatively affect it,” Kyoko said.

“I mean,” Devin expanded, “the people who were telling us about the decision didn’t know the schedule of the program. They were just like ‘well we’ve made this decision, now tell us about your program.'” Regardless, Devin and Kyoko are moving forward to make CUE as good as possible for the year. “If you cut off my pinky finger, I could still write,” Devin shrugged. “But why would you do that?”

From Scott Wright:

“In year’s past, during their pre-orientation, First-Year students and leaders participating in the CUE program lived in a residence hall reserved for upperclass students. This in essence meant two rooms were prepared for CUE students: the pre-orientation room and the academic year room. The pre-orientation rooms used by CUE were then flipped and cleaned for the academic year resident.

Housing’s primary goal is to allow all students in early arrival programs to move directly into their academic year room. By assigning students in the CUE program to a temporary room during the pre-orientation program, Housing cannot allow the academic year resident early arrival if needed and/or runs the risk of not having the room ready in general for check-in.

The time needed to prepare for early arrival and check-in is greatly compressed by the number of renovation projects conducted by Housing and Facilities during the summer. There is a very short window to do this critical improvement work before the academic year begins. This has recently been shortened even more by the way current academic year falls with one less week of summer than usual.

In order to be ready for all early arrival students, Student Affairs and Housing jointly decided to move CUE participants directly into their academic year rooms.

Additionally, the Student Affairs team has heard concerns voiced by past participants and their parents regarding having to move into two rooms and not being able to settle in upon arrival. The change was also in an effort to address those concerns and provide the opportunity for students to feel immediately welcomed into their permanent space.

The student planners of CUE are working with their adviser to ensure that the quality of the program is not affected by this change and that the experience remains a positive one for participants. Together, they are identifying ways to enhance community building activities within the program.”

Bunk life via Shutterstock

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  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous CUE honestly changed my life, and was one of the most educational parts of my Columbia experience. I say this straight from the heart. It is a damn shame to see these changes made without regard to the value this program has for incoming first years.

  • Khan says:

    @Khan The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

    1. no says:

      @no This worked for years no problem. Scott Wright is a lazy asshole. CUE students moved on their own into the rooms that housing told them they could move into (and occasionally changed rooms midweek) no problem. There was no additional prep needed to turnover the rooms at all, and you can’t make decisions without consulting the chief stakeholder.

    2. Alumn says:

      @Alumn This sounds good on paper, but since when are any of us allowed to move-in early without a series of beuracratic documents and hundreds of dollars (unless of course we are athletes)? I guess this can be possibly beneficial if any McBain resident can just show up two weeks early and move their stuff in no questions asked, but who are we kidding.

  • lord says:

    @lord As a former CUE member, I remember what a TERRIBLE ordeal it was to have to move my stuff across the street from McBain to Carman. Thanks Scott Wright for being so thoughtful and really giving students a say in the matter as always.

    1. lololol says:

      @lololol you clearly did not do CUE. We move one small bag across the street. Housing often screws up the rooms and we then moved that bag to other rooms. Moving in and out takes ten minutes. Scott Wright is ridiculous and taking claims from parents completely out of context because last year their PERMANENT rooms were not ready at the last minute so they had to move tons of bags around. Way to not address the problem at all.

      1. lololol says:

        @lololol you clearly can’t read sarcasm

    2. Seriously? says:

      @Seriously? He didn’t even talk to the people involved in the program? I liked your post cause it made me laugh. Hoping the irony was intentional.

      1. Lord says:

        @Lord It was sarcasm. I am a CUE lover, sorry for those confused.

  • What? says:

    @What? Is Kyoko’s assumption anywhere close to correct? The idea that pre-orientation programs are only for wilting wallflowers who aren’t ready for a fast life is the big city is totally ridiculous. I signed up for my program because it just seemed like a hell of a lot of fun, and I know many others did the same. CUE and COOP aren’t about social remediation or life skill-building. What is this girl talking about? Does she know her program participants at all?

    1. Misinterpreted says:

      @Misinterpreted I honestly think her quote was probably just taken out of context. Plenty, if not most, people who do pre-orientation programs (myself included) were not doing it because we were uncomfortable with school or socially inept, but because it was a good way to ease into the insanity of orientation and freshman year while meeting people in a smaller group setting (and not only that, but especially for CUE and COOP, meeting like-minded people and doing something you really enjoy doing). I think what she meant to say is that pre-orientation and orientation is a very difficult transition for anyone, not just wilting wallflowers, and no matter what you’ll be vulnerable going into it. What the administration is doing is unnecessary and taking away elements of community building for no real reason.

  • CUE 08 says:

    @CUE 08 Best program. It started my college experience on such a positive note. Thank you Sarah B. and Sarah W.

  • Amanda says:

    @Amanda This utterly disappoints me. Once again the administration is neglecting to listen and respect the voice of the students. CUE fosters community (CUE-munity) and every part of the program is integral to achieve full impact and success.

    I think what Kyoko was getting at is that participants will now be living isolated on their dorm floors and this poses a strong chance that students will not have the visible support that’s inherent in CUE’s program. Just like any orientation program, there will be students who are nervous, unsure about their decision, and might even be experiencing bouts of depression. If students are living drastically separated because of the housing selection process and don’t have easy access to their leaders, they may feel lonely and unsupported in a new environment. Separated housing just doesn’t make sense.

    CUE was one of the best parts of my college experience. I found a community of people who are invested in social justice and community building. Many of my friendships and relationship all stem from this program (CUE ’09, ’11, ’12). I can attest to its success and that each element is so necessary.

  • CUE '11 says:

    @CUE '11 If I may offer an unpopular opinion:
    I didn’t consider CUE to be that great. I enjoyed meeting new people and doing service in the community, but because it was limited to one week there was only so much we could do from a social justice point of view and only so much we could do to form friendships. Socially CUE promises to give you a great community of friends to belong to, but I didn’t find that true. I was told I’d meet my best friends in college, but I am still friends with only a few people from CUE and we’re not even particularly close. The leaders and administration of CUE need to realize that attempting to build a lasting ‘community’ in 1 week is impossible; rather than pushing for some unrealistic temporary shared living environment, why don’t you actually try to make the “community” continue during the rest of the year when the students will be separated by different dorm rooms, classes, schools, and interests? Give students a more realistic environment from the start and I think long-term friendships will form more naturally, even if you don’t get the same level of warm fuzzy emotions during the first week.
    I want to acknowledge that CUE does do monthly reunion brunches during the semester so they are trying to continue the CUE experience, but I think the events have to be more substantial to make the experience actually continue. I would rather reunite with the people I volunteered with to do some meaningful work again or discuss social justice issues with fellow CUE-ers, for example.

    I also don’t discount the logistic difficulties of this new arrangement for the leaders, but my point is that if you’re going to fight this decision, center your argument around the logistics, not the temporary sense of community that the students will be gaining.

    1. well says:

      @well Yea well from a logistical standpoint, no one will wake up on time, site service will be even more restricted, and basically nothing can get done.

      And socially, the vast majority do form close friendships but even your limited friendships can only harder to launch off the ground. How do you have 4 school unity for example when everyone is physically separated by scool?

    2. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Fine. Just on logistics, I hope all the service sites call Scott and Terry when Columbia proves to be late and unreliable to dozens of organizations throughout the city and parents call them when their kids don’t participate in the program and have a “true” pre-NSOP where they are vomiting all week.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous More reason to do COOP!

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous As much as I like our CUE-COOP rivalry, I did COOP and stand in solidarity with CUE that this is a imbecilic decision that should be reversed. But go COOP!

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous it’s not a rivalry, lol. that implies parity. and everyone knows COOP is superior.

  • Tastemaker says:

    @Tastemaker Did anyone else actually try to see if they could write without their pinky? No? Okay.

  • Dumb says:

    @Dumb More dumb decisions from Scott Wright, Todd Smith, and Dean Martinez. Since housing is okay with this, it really just represents pure laziness, excuses, and admins working against students and not with them, forget for them.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Can’t we just run a cheaper school with no sabotaging admins. Deantini should just fire all 3 of these people.

  • wow says:

    @wow Scott Wright’s email is completely out of touch with reality. Although the student leaders say the community building is being disrupted, he concludes with the cute “the quality won’t be affected” and “community building will be enhanced”. I would maybe respect him if he sat down and had one meeting with these students and realized his mistake, but that seems doubtful.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I’m embarrassed by our administration.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I like the quote about writing with your finger cut-off. Fortunately, all SDA does is cut off more and more fingers.

  • '16 says:

    @'16 On the positive side, thanks to all the awesome CUE coordinators and leaders over the past few years. Glad I was apart of the program in its glory days…but on the negative side, I pose this decision as an example to admins who ask why our school sucks at community building and then do dumb shit like this.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous lol makes sense cause they gave CUE a community building award and then must have realized that community building is not tolerated at Columbia a month later.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Scott’s email just sounds silly. They have a whole week of NSOP to clean 30 rooms? And I always have to re-clean my rooms anyway; they’re disgusting and probably cleaner after CUE kids live in them (and pre-clean them) anyway.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I still can’t get passed that they haven’t talked to a single person actually involved in the program and didn’t know the schedule. lol.

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