While the disaster in Haiti has prompted initiatives across campus, for some councils and student groups, joining together in a unified effort is not always a simple task.
Several campus groups are taking their cues from an umbrella organization, while others say say that cross-club coordination can be challenging. For some students though, this kind of major global issue is an opportunity to connect otherwise disparate campus groups in a meaningful way.
Since the 7.3-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti on Jan. 12, killing tens of thousands and decimating the country, campus groups have spearheaded aid initiatives. An umbrella coalition—formed by the Haitian Students Association, the Caribbean Students Association, and the Columbia-Barnard chapter of GlobeMed—has been leading the way with for many with forums, meetings, and initiatives including a table for the coalition at Glass House Rocks to promote donations and awareness.
According to Student Government Association President Katie Palillo, BC ’10, the cause has united class councils, which are “in almost continuous contact.”
For other councils, the coalition itself has served as a source of guidance for the Engineering Student Council and other groups—the ESC, said President Whitney Green, SEAS ’10, has been following the umbrella group’s lead in planning initiatives.
Sue Yang, CC ’10 and Columbia College Student Council president, said that CCSC is trying to increase communication between the coalition and administrators.
But piecemeal campus efforts may need a push to effectively work together.
“It seems like each group is acting independently and it might be nice to do something collective, so we’re exploring that,” said Marita Wright, GS and student life delegate-at-large for GSSC.
Trisha Gill, GS and vice president of student life for the General Studies Student Council, said that GSSC is working on coordinating a large outdoor event to raise funds for Haiti and said that GSSC is working on coordinating a large outdoor event to raise funds for Haiti, and is also interested in sizing up how all the schools are participating.
“But it would require student groups to be involved in one project,” she noted. Gill and others also worried that the immediacy of the cause would fade before disparate initiatives could be incorporated into one initiative.
“It seems like the American attention span is very short,” said Wendy Carlson, SIPA/Social Work ’11 and a member of SIPA’s Human Rights Working Group. “There’s always a great rush to aid, which is fantastic, but it always tapers off.”
Greek organizations have also been getting involved. Sigma Chi fraternity is hosting a video game competition in which the winning team will take home 20 percent of the money and the other 80 percent will go toward buying supplies for Delta Gamma’s fundraising drive or the American Red Cross.
“As far away as we are, and with as little money as we have, we want to do whatever we can,” Sam Cecil, CC ’12 and a Sigma Chi member, said.
At a coalition meeting last month, members discussed choosing one charity that the entire university could support, but most groups have been donating to charities that suit their organization’s interest.
Felicia Pappas, CC ‘11 and a member of Delta Gamma sorority who is coordinating the sorority’s Hope for Haiti Challenge, said it was important to her sorority to support a charity that would help women and children.
Sorority members have been going door-to-door on Frat Row asking Greek organizations to collect medical supplies and clothing for the NYC-based non-profit MADRE that delivers goods directly to women and children in Haiti.
Groups maintain that it was the earthquake’s impact on a diverse set of people that called for a team effort.
“People tend to rally around those things,” Green said. “I don’t think that’s unique to Columbia.”
Maya Cohen, BC ’10 and President of GlobeMed— a national student organization that works with grassroots organizations to improve health amongst the impoverished—said that the issue has brought GlobeMed together with both humanitarian groups and other groups on campus.
“Working together through Haiti has allowed us to forge relationships with different groups,” Cohen said.
But Yang stressed that the large number of groups on campus with specific goals in mind makes working together challenging.
“I think there’s a lot of partnerships that occur with the fewer number of groups and groups that are more aligned,” she said. “We have 450 student groups that all have specific goals and objectives.”
She said that the only opportunity for groups to come together is “when something instigates or when some event occurs on the outside” but admitted that “it certainly is something that would be great to see more of.”
“Everyone’s on different schedules. ... It’s typical, you can’t coordinate the entire university,” Gill said.