The sea of chairs is coming in handy

The sea of chairs is coming in handy

For once, reporters weren’t the only audience members in the room—join Bwogger Nadra Rahman in the Satow Room, where CCSC got a little heated last night. 

Last night’s meeting of the Columbia College Student Council (CCSC) was “the most populated student council meeting” seen by USenator Jay Rappaport in two years—for once, the audience seats were packed. The audience was mostly motivated by the proposal that CCSC co-sponsor Israeli Apartheid Week at Columbia (described by its organizers as “a week of programming meant to educate about Palestine, its history and struggles, as well as how it intersects with other indigenous struggles around the world”). The audience, which included members of Columbia/Barnard Hillel and Aryeh, were against any CCSC involvement in the controversial event series. The other main event of the night was the brief question and answer session with Deantini and Dean Kromm, which addressed the usual themes: student wellness and space.

“Zionists are Racist” or “Complete Content Neutrality”?
Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) had asked CCSC to cosponsor Israeli Apartheid Week, which is to take place from Monday, February 27 to Friday, March 3. This cosponsorship could be nominal only or financial ($10-30) and could be for the entire week or a single event.

Pre-Professional Rep David Mendelson started off the discussion by saying the role of CCSC was to represent all of its constituents—and that endorsing such a controversial stance would constitute a failure to fulfill that obligation. He cited the “problematic” event titles (which include “Zionists are Racist”) and added that a cosponsorship would be particularly inappropriate because Jewish students are “facing discrimination on campus.” Other council members, including 2019 President Sophie Broadbent, USenator Jay Rappaport, 2018 President Ezra Gontownik, and Student Services Rep Ethan Park echoed these sentiments, calling the events “divisive” and citing rising anti-Semitism around the country.

VP Finance Anuj Sharma led the opposition, although he prefaced his statement: “I can see the reasons why people would disagree with me.” While he agreed the event was divisive, he advocated for cosponsoring the event while withholding endorsement—calling it the “most neutral stance we can take.” In previous instances, the Council had approved funding for pro-life groups and events with unapproved scripts and lyrics, and of course, CCSC gives to the Student Governing Board, which in turn funds CUAD; so this wouldn’t be a change in precedent. Sharma suggested the cosponsorship be completely divorced from the content of the event, dubbing it the Council’s duty to “support the ability of a group to have events.” To make clear the Council did not endorse the event, it could release a statement to that effect.

Other council members felt this was untenable. One 2019 rep said, “We are either supporting what this group is asking for, or we’re not.” A 2020 rep called complete content neutrality “utopian,” saying CCSC would never fund a white supremacy or gay conversion event—so why this? Aryeh member Aaron Fisher (CC ’18) linked the Israel divestment movement, where one’s use of money is a form of activism, to the cosponsorship, announcing that any monetary involvement would be considered a form of endorsement by the event’s organizers. He added: “Do you all want to be on the record endorsing an event called ‘Zionists are Racist’ calling hundreds of your constituents racist?” and later, “Don’t let yourselves be played into the hands of [Students for Justice in Palestine].” Gontownik read prepared remarks condemning Israeli Apartheid Week—events would “deepen divisions and hatred” and “slander and dehumanize Israelis.” He, along with others, claimed that the Week would go on with or without a cosponsorship, so the organizers’ rights were not at stake, and that the divisive panels were harmful to campus discourse.

Sharma stuck to his guns: “The only way we can protect all students on this campus is to protect their ability to voice their opinions.” He was joined by Inclusion and Equity Rep Lewit Gemeda, who said they needed to “divorce it from our own politics.” When she added that the viewpoint of the event’s organizers were in the minority and that “it’s not oppressive,” an audience member tersely told her, “I think it’s offensive to say when a person should feel oppressed.”

It took three votes, and many more speakers, before the Council finally agreed to close the discussion. In the end, it wasn’t close at all: the motion to approve a cosponsorship, in the amount of $10, failed.

The Deans
Deantini and Dean Kromm came to CCSC fresh off the apparent success of the Friday community roundtable discussions on stress and student wellbeing. Deantini noted that the discussion had produced tangible action items; moreover, the Committee on Instruction is continuing to discuss counting credits, multiple programs, double counting, and other concerns raised by students—he is “confident” they will have something to report by the end of the semester.

On Credits, Mental Health, and Snowball Fights
Deantini’s remarks on credit requirements revealed that any change would be very difficult: the amount of credits per course is determined by a New York State-developed formula and the credit requirement for graduation has been embedded in the University statutes since 1969, “way way way before I got here.” What can change is the way we apply the formula so credits per class align with the actual course load, providing a clear set of expectations. He further commented that the requirement of 124 credits for graduation has “pretty much stood the test of time.” Students exceed the requirement in such large proportion that Deantini urged the crowd to remember “counting is not the way to define your experience.”

Deantini also answered questions on alumni and faculty advising. In brief, he affirmed his commitment to the goal of one day matching each student to a alumnus mentor. Such a pairing would give the student a “greater degree of security and confidence” in their future and would positively contribute to student wellness. He added that faculty mentorship would hinge upon training and incentivizing faculty for engaging with students. Students, on their part, should go to every class and to office hours if they really want to form relationships with their educators.

Other updates: NSOP will include a mental health panel, perhaps starting this year, in lieu of the Health Fair. The administration is trying to find a way to provide summer housing for the international students who fear the repercussions of President Trump’s so-called “Muslim Ban.” Talks with Counseling and Psychological Services on funding and staffing are underway but Dean Kromm couldn’t “give a prognosis.” And finally, Deantini found the recent snowball fight so magical that he is trying to dissect it and recreate a similar experience “without cancelling classes or arranging snowstorms.” He said, “we’ll all be a lot healthier and feel a lot better,” and sheepishly added, “some people had really good aim.”

Student Space
Many council members had concerns about the lack of student space for not just studying, but relaxing and unwinding. Deantini said that a committee of faculty and students was looking at how best to “maximize the value” of Uris Hall, but that plans for the building (once the Business School relocates) will not be finalized for several years. Kromm suggested John Jay as an alternative in the meantime, since housing does not begin until the fifth floor—although members correctly noted the environment in the John Jay lounge is not conducive for casual gatherings in the way that Carman is (here, Dean Kromm said of pre-renovation Carman: “It was gross.”). And yet, she agreed “there has to be a way” to make the lounge more student-friendly, even with the complications imposed by the dining hall’s needs.

Dean Kromm, student council leaders, and other administrators will meet soon to discuss the proposal of an LGBTQ center for students.

2019 President Sophie Broadbent questioned the 24-hour move-out policy, in which students are required to move out within a day of their last final, describing it as particularly unfair for international students. Interestingly, Kromm said the rule was rarely enforced unless the resident was being disruptive; furthermore, it would be unfair to impose rules unevenly, since residents must move out of Carman quickly to make room for parents of graduating seniors. Later, Broadbent brought up the late release of finals dates, which makes it difficult to book flights—in response Deantini said that classes and finals have a certain “regularity,” so he is unsure as to why the dates don’t come out earlier.

When asked about the discrepancy between CC and SEAS drop deadlines, he said he preferred to call it a “difference” and not a “discrepancy.” He explained that the drop deadline was not established to allow students to drop classes they’re doing badly in, which is news to us.

FLIP and “Meal Shares” Partnership
The Council voted on a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the partnership between FLIP at Columbia, CCSC, Engineering Student Council, General Studies Student Council, Student Government Association (at Barnard), and Share Meals, an app that “connects students on college campuses to share meals.” Last week, the Council’s main concern about the partnership was the cost of administering surveys to app users, but representatives from FLIP clarified that the $2 would be for per user (not per survey) and would be split among the student councils; additionally, responses could be limited if desired. VP Policy Abby Porter said that though she wasn’t “super thrilled,” the important thing was getting the app out now so it could be of use as soon as possible.

The motion to approve the partnership passed unanimously.

Due to time restrictions (!), there were no updates. Tune in next week!

Correction, 2/28: A quote was previously misattributed to 2019 Rep Alex Cedar.