For our second Senior Wisdom of the semester, Nikki Shaner-Bradford shares her thoughts on researching, impostor syndrome, and non-existent tension between sex- and cheese-positive ideologies.
Name, School, Major, Hometown: Nikki Shaner-Bradford, Barnard College, English & Economics and Social History, Bethel, Connecticut
Claim to fame: Probably somewhere within The Columbia Review, Columbia Against Gun Violence, my brief notoriety in ubiquitous Shia LaBeouf WBAR show posters, and accidentally spilling Cheerios out the Sulz window freshman year, but who can claim their own fame? I’ll leave it in the hands of the people.
Where are you going? Hopefully forward, and staying in NYC for now.
What are 3 things you learned at Columbia and would like to share with the Class of 2022?
1. If you email enough people you can answer any question you’re vaguely curious about. Related, the librarians and archivists here are your best resources. Go to Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, or check out the Barnard Zine archives. Also, download Zotero right now, automated and customizable citations are a modern day blessing.
2. Every single person here is intimidated by everyone else, and we all want to be asked rather than do the asking. Invite people you find interesting to coffee or lunch, even when it seems weird and you have to do all the talking. Go to events on campus with random organizations and learn about them, even if only for the food. Some of my favorite people are nothing like me, but we’ve created wonderful friendships. The addendum to this is, stop going to events that are clearly not your cup of tea after a couple well-intentioned tries. You don’t have to like all the same activities as your friends.
3. Columbia/Barnard is a space of incredible privilege, to a degree that is difficult to articulate or comprehend at times, especially when you arrive here fresh from high school. Every single person around you knows something you don’t. Learn your blind spots, work to correct them, and try to engage in conversations that make you uncomfortable. All while also being honest with yourself about your needs, and your place within that conversation, of course.
“Back in my day…” Hewitt had paper cups to smuggle cereal and coffee into class, Cannon’s existed, JJ’s was forbidden, Barnard Bartending was real, and I thought I was going to major in Classics.
Justify your existence in 30 words or fewer: Seems a little late for that.
What was your favorite class at Columbia? If you can choose a single favorite, you did something wrong in your time here. I took a lot of classes that challenged me and introduced me to fields of academic inquiry that continue to excite me every day. Off the top of my head right now, in no particular order: Tragic Bodies with Professor Worman, Fiction Writing with Professor Matar, Slavery & Finance in the 19th Century US with Professor González, The Politics of Crime & Policing in the US with Professor Vaz, Surveillance of Women in Renaissance Drama with Professor Roberts, Modern British and American Poetry with Professor Sharpe, US Labor History with Professor Roll, and my thesis research seminar with Professor Weiman. I would audit these classes for years on end if I could, and many more.
Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? The premise of this question demands I choose between ideologies of sex positivity and cheese positivity, which will never be opposed in real life, and the suggestion that they might offends me in the first place.
One thing to do before graduating: Write a thesis, even if it’s not required for your major. You’ll hate it, and then you’ll have accomplished something wonderful.
Any regrets? Everything and absolutely nothing. Who would I be otherwise?
Photo via Nikki Shaner-Bradford