Last night, ESC discussed possibilities for LGBT and People of Color spaces in Lerner Hall. Despite detailed plans for the creation of free spaces, ESC and the future of this proposition remains uncertain.
The premier discussion at this week’s Engineering Student Council meeting involved a proposal by CCSC 2017 VP Brennon Mendez and 2020 Representative Grant Pace to pressure Columbia administration into transforming the two large spaces left from the removal of the Lerner mail space. These two spaces, according to VP Mendez, can be transformed into dedicated spaces specifically for LGBTQ students as well as “students of colour.” The LGBTQ space, at least, would take the place of the Donald Stevenson LGBT lounge in Furnald, a former utility closet granted to the LGBT Columbia community in 1972. For 45 years without change, the LGBT lounge has stored historical Columbia documents dating back to 1967 and has provided a reputedly small and dark, non-residential space for Columbia’s LGBT community. When queried about transitioning into a LGBT lounge area, the Columbia President at the time allegedly stated that “the university does not owe a lounge to gay students for their ‘cultural activities.'” VP Mendez made sure to note the irony of providing a former closet to the “out-of-closet” community.
Besides providing some sort of community space, this proposal included a centralizing effort to bring the administrators who work with LGBT students and “communities of colour” into more permanent, more centralized, and larger spaces. Although the degeneration of Lerner Hall into a bureaucratic complex may have originated in such hybridizing plans, the CCSC proposers relied on experiences of the bogged down and enclosed offices of administrators placed in Columbia property such as the Intercultural Resource Center (IRC) to push for this bureaucratic recentralization. Pace concluded the presentation with anecdotes from newly matriculated students on campus who would appreciate such a space for their personal growth.
ESC 2017 President Cosmas Sibindi first inquired about the role of the Malcolm X Lounge in Hartley in the context of a new “people of colour” lounge, particularly whether other student groups should be prioritized. Mendez responded that the Malcolm X Lounge—which occupies otherwise available student space in a private manner such that its accessibility relies upon the permission of the Black Students Organization—serves specifically the African American-Black Columbia community, and that the establishment of a new “student of colour space” has nothing to do with the Malcolm X Lounge. In a similar vein, Campus Affairs Representative Benjamin Barton asked about the role of communities such as the Q House and the IRC, both of which serve as community centers for the Columbia community. In response, Mendez related his experience living in the Q House, stating that the community desires a dedicated space as opposed to a residential space. He particularly noted the problematic nature in using the Q House as a community space during times of turmoil in the LGBT community. Finally, First Generation & Low Income Issues Representative Amanda Jimenez inquired about expanding the superstructure of the bureaucracy behind the communities, to which Mendez responded that they hope to be able to support the community through providing jobs and work study via the spaces.
Without launching into any further discussion on the issue, a failing in our eyes given the possible issues arising from bureaucratic creep, the folding of new student space into communities which may arguably already have sufficient relative space—especially given Mendez’ appeal to “ESC as representative of the student body”—, and the framing of this new space as a financial opportunity specifically for these communities, ESC voted unanimously in support of this initiative.
Also of note in yesterday’s meeting was the removal of press from the room for a closed discussion between ESC and Dean of Undergraduate Student Life Cristen Kromm. Although routine in specific circumstances where ESC is discussing something of a sensitive nature, the closed meeting with the administrator draws attention given the current state of student life at Columbia. We were saddened to be unable to provide any news of tangible administrative or student council initiatives in response to the cycle of tragedies which have impacted Columbia in the recent past.
Lerner in its wild habitat via Tschumi.com