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It’s Time We Address The Myths About Columbia University

Senior Staff Writer and History Major Victoria Borlando debunks some common misconceptions about campus and Columbia’s profound history (as well as talks about Vampire Weekend…again).

Columbia University is a name that definitely sparks emotion inside the soul of anyone who hears it, whether it’s fervent pride for the 292 or blood-curdling rage from a person who didn’t get in. However, with a name with a weight like this, there is bound to be a range of information to be spread around the world for many, many years. And with such a spread of news about a single university in the world, it becomes harder and harder to decipher between the fact and the myths about our school.

Thus, using my talents in the field of historical research (did I mention that I’m a history major?), alongside the extremely helpful WikiCU (welcome back!), I decided to compile a list of common mistakes about the reality of Columbia University, as well as the fact that debunks them. Now, let’s dive in!

Columbia’s History

MYTH: Columbia University was founded in 1754 via royal charter by King George II, becoming the oldest institution of higher education in New York.

FACT: Contrary to popular belief, Columbia University was not founded in 1754. In fact, this university was deemed a “real” institution with actual relevance in the spring of 2006, specifically when the members of Vampire Weekend officially formed their band and participated (and won) in the annual SEAS Battle of the Bands competition (of course they would; this was when the ultimate bangers “Walcott” and “Oxford Comma” made their official debut). Before then, it was just a bunch of buildings in New York teaching people cool stuff. However, after Vampire Weekend officially formed and went on to create four, absolute masterpieces of music? Now we’re on the map, baby!

MYTH: The underground tunnel system connecting many buildings on Columbia’s campus was built during World War II to provide confidential, safe nuclear bomb research for the Manhattan Project.

FACT: While the tunnels were built in that time period, they were not for the Manhattan Project. Instead, these tunnels were constructed for future generations of college students to fantasize about throwing goth/punk-style basement raves with their closest friends. The nuclear bomb thing was just a cover-up for the real weapon Columbia helped to create: false promises.

MYTH: The famous Broadway composer/lyricist duo, known universally as (Richard) Rodgers and (Oscar) Hammerstein (II), met at Columbia University and found their beginnings in writing for the annual Varsity Show.

FACT: All Varsity Shows composed/written by famous composers (or soon-to-be famous) were actually composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who was acting as a ghost writer, and all of them, when you think about it, served as inspiration OR were inspired by his powerhouse of a musical, The Starlight Express. BONUS FACT: Andrew Lloyd Webber lives in the secret room above JJ’s and releases the cats onto Butler lawns in the middle of the night to kill all the subway rats.

Statue Lore

MYTH: The sculpture named the Three-Way Piece, known better as The Tooth, was created by a professional artist and was donated to decorate East Campus on the bridge crossing Amsterdam in 1967.

FACT: The Tooth is an all-powerful entity that wishes to manifest itself as inanimate so long as a single student is within 500 feet of it. It was not created but rather formed out of thin air, choosing its final resting place and allowing to be spun by a group of young adults. With each spin, it releases a cloud of serotonin that makes every student fall in love with it despite the fact that its shape is really weird to look at and not really a tooth at all. It is the most beloved statue on campus.

MYTH: There’s no real reason why The Great God Pan is placed in front of Lewisohn.

FACT: So, before I debunk, let me just set up a small timeline. The Great God Pan was created in 1899 and placed as a decoration on a fountain that used to be where Mudd currently is. It was then moved to Lewisohn in the early 1900s. HOWEVER, there IS a reason why he was placed there, and it all has to do with uplifting student morale as they leave the Mathematics building. What is a better way to make you forget about the fact that you’re taking a Latin American history class in a building named after a completely different class, further affirming your belief that the world is a simulation? A half-naked man-beast with abs that don’t quit! He’s placed on Lewisohn to distract the public from this dada hellscape we call reality, and he deserves a medal for it.

MYTH: The statue on top of the Law Library campus-side entrance known as Bellerophon Taming Pegasus is cool because it is a metaphor on how the Columbia education tames the ‘wild’ undergraduate freshmen into responsible, well-educated world citizens and civil servants. In other words, it is a triumph of man (reason) over nature (chaos).

FACT: Bellerophon Taming Pegasus is a cool statue because there’s a horse! With wings!

Campus Life

MYTH: There are many yearly traditions within Columbia’s campus that, when experienced, give the student a sense of completeness. In other words, things like Bacchanal, the tree-lighting ceremony, going to the Varsity Show, Orgo Night, pulling an all-nighter in Butler before a final, eating at Tom’s, going to Homecoming, participating in Scream Night, etc. are considered unspoken Columbia rites of passage.

FACT: Yeah, yeah, all those events are fun and awesome, and I hope everyone gets to experience them. BUT, this list should be disregarded because I have published the official ‘Columbia Rites of Passage’ below:

  1. Seeing the chandelier in St. A’s that is on the cover of the self-titled Vampire Weekend album (Bonus points if you stop by the falafel shop on the corner of 103rd and Broadway beforehand).
  2. Throwing up in every dining hall.
  3. Listening to “Campus” by Vampire Weekend while walking across campus (it’s very fun!).
  4. Making fun of NYU while sitting on the grass in Washington Square Park.
  5. Screaming at the 1 as it whizzes by.
  6. Have a strong opinion about McBain, all the dining halls, Hamilton (the building), and every statue on campus.
  7. Meeting the most unbearable human being in a core-required seminar.
  8. Getting rejected from a club/program with absolutely no reason or empathy from the board.
  9. Getting a shoutout on Columbia Confessions, proving that you are attractive to at least one (1) person on campus.
  10. Meeting Bottle Flip Man!!!!! See that man in a morph suit flip bottles with his feet on Low steps while you walk to class!!!!

MYTH: According to one (tragically deleted) Columbia Confessions post I saw in August (which was incredibly funny to a point where I’m kind of jealous, by the way), Columbia’s student body is slightly ‘lacking’ in the attractiveness department.

FACT: There is hard evidence that this is a myth because I exist and go to Columbia. But in all seriousness, you know who also exists and goes to Columbia? The person reading this :)

MYTH: Columbia clubs usually schedule their application process in the first week of September to have their incoming freshmen fully join by the middle-end of the month.

FACT: Applying for clubs actually starts and ends on Days on Campus, and if you weren’t sure if you were going to Columbia and/or didn’t want to make a commitment to a club you didn’t know much about, then good luck trying to find a community! What might seem like a rare, outlandish phenomenon that no reasonable person would do because the new school year didn’t even start yet actually makes perfect sense because our already selective clubs want to start with business a quickly as possible, and they only want committed new members. If you missed your chance to apply and/or had no idea what was trying to get you to apply, then…well, it’s your fault, I guess :/ They were perfectly clear on their Instagram story…

The Buildings

MYTH: The Teacher’s College complex makes perfect sense and is easily navigable, especially when you are a first year.

FACT: It is not :)

MYTH: The elevators in Hamilton are really scary, produce long lines because max capacity/weight is equivalent to three 12 year olds, and make odd noises when they rattle, causing everyone to fear a single trip and take the risk of ruining a good outfit by walking up four flights of stairs.

FACT: The Hamilton elevators work, you just have to accept the fact that we live in Tristan Tzara’s nightmare (or dream) of an explosive, unintelligible, ball of Dada chaos, and that the only thing we should fear is the rage nestled deep within our souls that will one day consume us if we arrive late to the discussion section. Riding the Hamilton elevators is not only possible but a welcoming challenge to those who stands on the other side of the opening doors. Once inside, you will be comforted by the fact that any path this machine decides to take will create a win-win situation for you. On one hand, you’ll get to your class on time. On the other, you’ll end up somewhere, meeting quite a few characters on your journey. There is nothing to fear when riding the Hamilton elevators because the Hamilton elevators don’t even care about you or your emotions!

MYTH: Lerner Hall has a layout issue when it comes to the tables on the 45-degree angle ramps, making it well-known amongst the students that those tables are less than desirable for studying.

FACT: Columbia University is all about giving you a good challenge to make you a better and stronger world citizen. On your journey, you will learn how to tackle many issues at once, finding the balance within yourself AND your surroundings to be able to do it all. So, why not throw plastic tables exclusively on uneven ground at you? If you can’t save your Ferris salad bowl from sliding off the table while also maintaining balance on your wobbly chair while finishing your essay due in ten minutes, then why are you even here?! These tables are training you to become, essentially, a superhuman being, and if you don’t learn to appreciate that, then just return your EcoReps water bottle to the front dek, honestly…

Above all, during my time not at Columbia, I have learned that many of the iconic elements of our campus, culture, and history have been mere fabrications of the truth, falsely advertised to us for no reason at all.

My point: are we any less prestigious if we believe the lie that we existed prior to 2006? That some elevators may fail safety check due to having a design dating back to whenever elevators were invented? That, despite having an architecture program, we don’t know that tables and chairs—and all things with even legs, for that matter—require flat surfaces? That a sexy, half-naked half-man isn’t a necessary part of our décor? That our favorite statue symbolizes three locations on a map instead of an all-knowing alien? No!

For too long, we have tried to shape our history. However, it is time to embrace the truth, letting  history shape us. Happy first week back, everyone. May you enter the next with even more knowledge!

Literally the Biggest Lie (but Funniest Confession) Ever via Screenshot

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8 Comments

  • Hayden says:

    @Hayden I work here at Columbia and this gave me wuite the chuckle mate.

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  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous The slanted tables in Lerner : )

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous No other school is different. Columbia existed-maybe not the way today but it did stand way before. And yes many of us come here because we want connections and the “name”. So we pick-I am happy I picked this school. Just because this is my way and my instinct, others may have to change school if they are not satisfied. It happens and it is ok.

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    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous u good my guy?

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Genius.

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    4
  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Dumb.

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    4
  • Horace Jimlinson says:

    @Horace Jimlinson Yawn

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  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous eh

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    5
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