Just an appetizer of the recent history of our school.
Deep in the crypt of a long-forgotten monastery on campus lived a monk (not really, but stay with me). His name was Barnumbias. Pious and devout, his calling was to write—to be scholarly. So the monk lived, observed, and recorded the long history of the monastery and the surrounding institution affiliated with it.
On the first page of his epistle of events, he writes a near-incomprehensible letter. In a mix of prayers, psalms, angelic alphabets, and legible pieces he writes a single phrase that articulates the entirety of his philosophy: Be Watchful Observing the Grounds. Throughout the rest of his entries, this was limited to the four key letters: B.W.O.G. In the tradition of Barnumbias—since canonized as St. Barnumbias—Bwog has taken to being watchful by observing the grounds of Barnumbia. Now, for incoming first years, this is a partial guide to some of the major events that upperclassmen on campus may mention in passing conversations.
2021 Graduate Student Strike: Starting first in March 2021, graduate students went on strike (although this stopped three weeks later when parties agreed to mediate). Striking activity picked up in September 2021 when the graduate student union voted to authorize a strike that would last through the end of the semester. Many students no longer had class. This was especially common for first-year students taking University Writing or in certain humanities fields. With several rallies to bolster and assert support and an eventual shutdown of campus, the graduate students reached a satisfactory contract. However, due to a near-entire semester without work, many students were left without official credit. For first-year students, this included having to take a make-up University Writing course during the Spring semester or during the summer. Memories of this are mostly positive and undergraduate student opinion seems in support of the graduate students over administration.
129th Varsity Show Plot: The 129th Varsity Show, Transfer of Power, followed a year on campus after the drop to 18th on the US News College Rankings. The theatrical reason? Rampant cheating. After exposing the lack of integrity amongst students, the board of trustees removes electricity from campus so students can prove their smarts without the aid of tools like AI or Chegg. Notable characters include a farm boy who falls in love with his RA, Michael Thaddeus, and so, so many references.
PrezBo: Lee Bollinger was president of Columbia University from June 1, 2002, to June 30, 2023. Bollinger is an American lawyer who is considered one of the leading scholars on the first amendment and a notable defendant in Supreme Court cases about affirmative action. At Columbia, Bollinger had a mixed reputation in the student body. He’s gone now, and we’re intrigued to see the early stages of his legacy. For undergraduate students, sentiment grew to dislike as many felt his policy ignored student needs for profits.
PrezBei: Sian Beilock was president of Barnard College from July 1, 2017, to June 11, 2023. Beilock is a cognitive scientist who investigates topics like Math anxiety. Throughout her tenure, she oversaw impressive growth at Barnard—like the creation of facilities that garnered some envy from Columbia undergraduates. Always seen with a bright smile on her face and with a killer Instagram presence, her departure for Dartmouth came as an unexpected shock. Feelings are mostly positive.
Deantini: James Valentini, the beloved dean of Columbia College from 2011 to 2022. Originally—and now back as—a chemistry professor. A fun guy with a really nice reputation. Has done a few fun things: kissed a horse, got lost, and was the guest star of some student theater.
2022 Tree Lighting Fiasco: Tree Lighting is one of the only traditions Columbia currently has. After Thanksgiving, students gather to see the trees on the college walk illuminated for the first time. This is accompanied by a series of performances from student groups and merchandise from the undergraduate student councils. While those festivities are set up, the vital event is seeing the lights turn on for the first time that academic year.
Unfortunately, this year was met with some confusion; the four student councils all communicated different times for the time of the actual lighting (ranging from 7:00pm to 8:00pm). While the time was seemingly settled at 7:30pm, the student council seemingly on a whim to light the trees at 7:17 pm while many students were en route to college walk. It was messy, annoying, and just felt like another sign of unnecessary rushing across all levels of the institution.
Columbia Housing’s Descent: As incoming students, many were sold a mythos that housing is a straightforward process. Prior to COVID-19, the story was that Juniors and Seniors can absolutely get singles and could pick into nearly any building they want (although Hogan and East Campus would be almost entirely Seniors). For Sophomores? Sophomores get the worst housing picks, but students with good numbers can snag singles in Schapiro, Wein, or Carlton Arms (and maybe Harmony). This was equilibrium, the way the cards fell and there was peace. Maybe a few students groveled. However, the last two housing selection cycles have been anything but peaceful.
In Spring 2022—the first year of regular selection since COVID-19—rising sophomores at Columbia University found that nearly 20% of their class was unable to pick rooms during regular selection; their lottery number was too bad. This meant that by the time their appointment time arrived, all available beds were selected. Students would receive a random assignment over the summer. This seemingly overlapped with discussions about increasing enrollment by 10% and an almost sinisterly comedic questionnaire about whether your dorm room (many barely over 100 square feet) could fit another bed, desk, and drawer unit. It was a messy selection year.
There was the sweet taste of hope in the air during Spring 2023. Surely the kinks of last year were resolved over the past year. But as selection began pacing along, a realization was dawning on many rising juniors: some of us will not get singles. This was breaking was seemed to be natural law. A day came when all singles were selected and nearly 10-15% of the junior class was still waiting to pick. At the same time, an email arrived informing groups of one, three, and five that they would be put on a waitlist because the housing software would not allow rising juniors to half-fill doubles as it allows rising sophomores to do. While students were given priority pickings over the weekend between junior and sophomore selection, the housing process was cemented as unpredictable and awful. Sophomores fared even worse, with somewhere around 20-30% on the housing waitlist.
The consensus is that the housing lottery is an awful time during the spring with unaccounted-for horrors and the ability to scorn everyone.
Tents: During the 2021-2022 school year, the most notable eyesore on campus was a giant white tent on Low Plaza. Ruining nearly every photo of the main quad, it served as seating potentially for dining or just lounging around. Most people found it cumbersome to move around and disliked how it blocked the prime-time evening sun from warming half of Low Steps. It was, thankfully, taken down in Spring 2022 (although some students mourned) The Low Plaza tent has made a few brief appearances during last year’s NSOP and at a few points where additional seating is needed. It serves as some reminder of a more difficult time on campus and is met with much hate.
A longer tale is on Barnard’s campus, where a tent over Futter field—the main grassy lawn on Barnard’s campus—survived the Low Plaza tent by over a year. But students wanted it gone, badly. Even when removed in Spring 2023, the field was so incredibly dead that it would not be able for student use until Fall 2023. Students watched as new grass slowly rooted itself in the soil, visible but never sittable. Much like its sibling, it is incredibly hated.
Resident Advisor Unionization: Following the graduate student strike, there was an air of labor activism on campus. One notable manifestation was the efforts of resident advisors on Columba and Barnard’s campus to form unions and rally for better treatment and benefits. Over the course of the past school year, the unions have rallied PrezBo for better compensation, fought for university bargaining, and officially received recognition as an official union of workers.
Columbia Dining: Dining at Columbia is a mix of struggle and the most hope of any department. Many students were sold a lie that Columbia dining is 24 hours. While this was true prior to COVID-19, no existing class has experienced something close to it until this year—we’re having 22-hour dining now! There is a brewing excitement about it. However, the last two years have seen an issue of overcrowding and long lines that plague student food with negativity. However, Columbia Dining has acted swiftly to open up several new dining halls in order to improve awful waits and improve this aspect of the student experience.
A Wicked Cool Drawing of Campus via Bwarchives