Josh Schenk, President of the Columbia College class of 2019, has already made a name for himself on campus after securing air conditioning in most undergraduate residence hall lounges. Now that Schenk is nearing the end of his term, Bwogger Sasha Mutchnik sat down with the prez to hear his reflections and his plans for future changes.
Bwog: So Josh, give us your life story in a few sentences.
JS: I’m from Los Angeles. I’ve lived in LA my whole life, so I wanted to go to school in a really big city, so I chose Columbia. In high school I was really involved with student government as well; I was the president of my high school junior year, and in my senior year I was on the board of education for my school district, so student government felt like the right thing. It was something that I could get really involved with early on at Columbia, and ever since then, it’s what I’ve been spending all my free time on. It’s been a really great experience so far; I’ve met a lot of people, both students and also administrators and faculty members, I’ve learned how the school works. So far this year we’ve made a lot of great changes, and hopefully in the future we’ll have even more.
Bwog: You got a lot of attention in January when you worked with Housing to install air conditioning in most undergraduate floor lounges.
JS: Yeah, that was really fun. I’m glad that they were so receptive. It took a while to get done, but it’s great that they were able to help us make that happen.
Bwog: Any plans for a major?
JS: I’m studying political science and thinking about minoring in sustainable development. I’m not sure what I want to do with my future yet. I’ll probably go to law school, but besides that it’s all up in the air still.
Bwog: What inspired you to join student council?
JS: I guess it was the experience I had with it in high school. It was something I could get involved with right away, and I had experience reaching out to faculty members and communicating with other students. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, and also something that can bring about substantial change if done correctly. It felt like the natural thing to do for me; I’ve always done it and I really enjoy it.
Bwog: What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of from this year?
JS: I’d say the role of student council is kind of twofold, in terms of the way I interpret what I do. The first component of that is events and ways to connect first-year students, since we’re all new and most of us don’t know a lot of people coming in, if any at all. We had a formal dance and a Winter informal dance, study breaks where we have cookies or pumpkin painting, we have the @facesofCU2019 Instagram…all those things I think are really good ways to connect first year students. Then the second goal of student council is the policy side of things where we can actually change the way the University works. Most recently, that’s been securing air conditioning, which will affect most residence halls, but aside from the air conditioning, I started Columbia Peer Connect first semester, which paired freshmen students who chose to opt in with sophomores so they could have a casual advising relationship. We started that three weeks into the first semester, but it’s something that we’re going to expand in future years. That was something that I was really missing when I came; I didn’t really have an older student whom I could approach with questions, so I’m glad I did that. I’ve also been working a lot with administration on disability access, because that’s something I’ve been seeing a lot of problems with on campus. I mean, obviously, Low Steps is just a huge staircase in the middle of campus. It’s an issue that a lot of people think doesn’t necessarily affect them at first glance, but I think it actually really affects the climate of the school in terms of creating an inclusive campus. I’ve been meeting with the University Library to change the food policy in Butler, and there’s definitely going to be some type of change, it’s just a matter of what and where exactly. Another thing I’m really happy about is the food discounts in New York City that we’ve organized with twenty different restaurants. I posted the list a while ago, I should probably post a reminder. Food insecurity is a big issue on campus, and there are obviously on-campus resources, but for people who want to go out, New York is very expensive, so having discounts like that, I think, makes a difference.
Bwog: Do you plan to run for council next year?
JS: I definitely plan to stay involved with student government next year.
Bwog: What does student council mean for Columbia specifically?
JS: I think one of the things that’s difficult about Columbia is just how diverse the student body is. There are so many concerns, and with every issue that comes up, there are always so many different opinions. It’s the job of student council to address those concerns.
Bwog: Favorite LitHum book so far?
JS: Let me think…which ones did I read…? Just kidding. I’ve always liked King Lear. It’s a tragedy, so maybe that’s not a great choice, but I’ve always enjoyed it. I also really liked Symposium. And it was short. I think Symposium might be my favorite.
Bwog: Favorite thing you put in your mouth over spring break?
JS: Mexican food from Los Angeles.
Bwog: Favorite study spot?
JS: To be honest, I probably do way too much studying on my bed, but that’s my favorite study spot.
Bwog: Any last thoughts?
JS: I think that I’ve been able to get a lot of policy done, and those are areas where I’ve really seen need for change, but the one thing I’d say is that for anyone who’s reading this, if anyone has an issue that’s important to them, I would encourage them to reach out to me or any other members of student council. I, along with other members, would gladly champion an issue if it’s something reasonable. I think people have this conception that the bureaucracy of Columbia is really difficult, which it definitely can be; change takes a while, but there are members of faculty, staff and administration who are really willing to make the quality of life better for students through whatever means they can. I would just say that if there’s something that you want to change, just go for and find someone to talk to about it. I think it’s really reasonable to expect change.
Photo courtesy Josh Schenk