To help ease your woes on the first day of finals, we bring you yet another Senior Wisdom from former CU Dems prez Sejal Singh.
Name, School, Major, Hometown: Sejal Singh, Columbia College, Political Science. “Hometown” is always a tough one for me, because I moved around a bit – I was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and mostly grew up in Florida and Singapore.
Claim to fame: I’ve done some work I’m really proud of on campus sexual assault, mental health, food insecurity, disability accommodations, and financial aid, and consider myself #blessed to have been President of the CU Democrats. But I’m probably better known for never being seen without a pair of heels and sneaking into fancy donor cocktail hours (Columbia tip: if you act like you belong there, everyone will assume you do).
Where are you going? I’ve been to a lot of cities, but New York’s where my heart is. I’m here to stay, at least for a while.
What are 3 things you learned at Columbia and would like to share with the Class of 2019?
1. Columbia is an amazing place to get an education, an incredible hub for research and innovation, and the home of many brilliant young minds (including yours). A lot of people say that, since Columbia’s so great, student activists shouldn’t complain or bring us bad press. Well, Columbia is a great place, and this school could be a source of opportunity and education for everyone lucky enough to be here. But a lot of people aren’t thriving here, because they’re depressed, or because they’re low-income students juggling classes with two jobs and student loans, or because the vision they had of college life was torn apart by a sexual assault, or for a hundred other reasons. Loving Columbia means holding it to our ideal of what it should be. So when you hear that students of color or queer students feel unsupported, no one’s getting their paycheck on time, or workers are being treated unfairly, don’t get defensive – ask how we can make Columbia do better. Hold Columbia to a higher standard. Sign a petition, join a protest, or start your own. You might be surprised how far a polite email to an administrator can get you. Every admin’s email is on the columbia.edu directory, so go wild. But don’t forget that, while there are plenty of nice people at Columbia who will listen to and act on student concerns (special s/o to Health Services, CPS, CSA, and the OMA), most of the big, institutional changes at Columbia are the result of sustained, brave, loud student activists and the embarrassing media coverage that followed them. Think full-need financial aid, the creation of the Rape Crisis Center, CSER, and divestment from South Africa. None of those would exist without students fighting to make them possible. Some admins will be great; others will string you along, push you in circles around Columbia’s byzantine bureaucracy, give you an inch and stop when you really need a mile, or just refuse point blank and not tell you why. Figure out who’s interested in student input, and work with them in good faith – and figure out who’s not, and think about what it’s historically taken to bring them to the table. No matter what, don’t forget that fellow students are your team. A united student body can change the way things happen around here. It’s happened before.
2. Women: there are sexist assholes at Columbia (and everywhere else) and they may try to tear you down. Don’t ever let that intimidate you or stop you from speaking up, because you prove them wrong every time you’re right.
3. Learn not to be a dick. Don’t worry, all incoming students are dicks – being pretentious, overly self-aware, and hyper-competitive is probably what got us all into the Ivy League in the first place. But the most important thing you can leave Columbia with is more empathy. For most of you, Class of 2019, Columbia will be the most diverse and difficult place you’ve ever been – it definitely was for me. Over the last four years, I’ve seen myself and my peers learn to love, respect, and go to bat for people who are vastly different than themselves, and do so more kindly and thoughtfully than we ever could have as first-years. When you’re older and less of a dick, try to forgive people who aren’t there yet. It’s always a learning process.
“Back in my day…” Commencement was cancelled by a hurricane. Student activists weren’t as organized or outspoken. Bernheim & Schwartz was Havana Central and you could get these, and I didn’t have to worry about my DumbPhone being stolen. I thought the worst thing that could possibly happen was a B on a paper.
Justify Your Existence In 30 Words Or Fewer: During the 2012 DNC, I talked my way into Biden’s after-party by convincing a pair of delegates that I was Julian Castro’s niece. Also, there’s a #FreeSejal Bwog comment out there somewhere.
What was your favorite class at Columbia? PrezBo’s Free Speech & Press.
Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? Well, you can’t chip a tooth on cheese.
One thing to do before graduating: We pay Columbia a lot of money. Before you graduate, try to get as much as you can back.
Students spend so much time talking about the (very real) gaps in Columbia’s resources that sometimes we forget that there’s a load of healthcare, financial support, and academic programming that we can take advantage of at no (additional) cost to us. Take advantage of all of these free-ish resources; I know that I, for one, won’t have a lot of this next year in the “real world”. Here are some major ones:
When I was an underclassman, there was a pretty prevalent belief that CPS has a 10-session per student cap – this is absolutely, definitively not true. If someone tries to push you out after 10 sessions, push back, because that’s not a real policy and you have a right to that care.
Of course, you might need to talk to a professional earlier and the phone can feel impersonal. If you feel like calling the appointment line isn’t for you, there are also drop-in hours at different dorms (deets on when/where here: http://tinyurl.com/mu2cu95). If it’s too late for that, you can call their after-hours services (212-854-9797) which will put you in touch with a trained counselor to talk to.
Any Regrets? Not going to office hours more. Not exploring new disciplines early enough. That one very embarrassing time I got locked in the library. Still having to check myself to make sure I don’t fall into the who’s-more-busy-and-stressed-humblebrag competition. Letting stop-and-chats turn into 90 minute coffees about research interests, activism, and which texts have been unjustly left off the LitHum syllabus, when I really should be doing homework instead – although now that I’m on my way out, I’m not sure that I regret that last one after all.