In this fractured university of many moving parts, students tend to get lost in the mix. For this reason, the goal of serving as a forum, resource, and voice for students has been at the top of each Spec editor’s “To-Do” list for the four years I’ve been here. But Spectator’s greatest flaw remains its ongoing struggle to connect with and fully represent undergraduates themselves.
Instead, within our student community, Spectator is perceived as insular. It’s true that Speccies form a tight crew. College is a time of shaping personal identity, of situating oneself in the world, and having a close-knit group of people to identify with enables that. The most important thing I will take from Spectator is the sense of belonging it gave me, of feeling like this was a place where I could grow as a person while contributing something meaningful to the people around me.
But because Spectator’s self-stated mission is to be a forum and platform for all students, not just its staff, it’s in a slightly different position than other student groups. There are a finite number of points that those in power pay attention to, and use to take the pulse of the undergraduate student body—and for better or for worse, Spectator is one of them. In March, a trustee had an op-ed published in our Opinion pages. Administrators, alumni, and neighborhood residents regularly comment on and submit articles, and again, the paper is perceived as an authoritative student voice.
So it troubles me when I hear that different groups on campus feel they are not represented in Spectator’s pages. The worst I’d ever heard was an acquaintance referring to Spectator as Columbia’s “Fox News.” And that’s not the only statement of its kind. How can this be? The people Spectator most wants to connect to are, literally, our next-door neighbors, students in our classes, residence halls, and extracurriculars. They are our peers. But a dividing line remains between Spectator and the rest of the undergraduate community.
To a certain extent, I think it is in the nature of student groups at Columbia to exist in their own bubbles. Our university can have an alienating effect, and developing smaller, close-knit communities is one way of alleviating that effect. But to reconcile the goal of community dialogue with each individual staff member’s desire for personal development, Spectator should cultivate an internal culture of external engagement.
This is not a new idea. I have increasingly seen editors make appearances at campus events and discussions, trying to indicate that Spectator cares and is paying attention. So as my own small contribution, I’d like to take a line from one of the CCSC tickets this year (The 212) and suggest that Spectator should not just reach out to students, but turn itself inside out.
I will present two examples. First, there should be as few questions as possible about how Spec operates internally. We call for transparency from administrators all the time, and Spectator can benefit from its own transparency. Consider Opinion’s recent series on how its op-ed process works—having things like that permanently on the “About” page would be great.
Second, in spite of the fact that I have hugely benefited from using it as a private study room, the office should be treated as a more open and accessible space. Spectator hosts a lot of internal events, and while these are for the benefit of the staff, I don’t think anything will be lost by inviting other people in.
I said earlier that a sense of belonging and contribution defined my time at Spectator. Readers should also feel that they have the access and ability to contribute to the direction of the paper, and the current culture does not encourage that. If Spectator can change this, then maybe those outside the organization will feel something of what I, inside the organization for so long, have felt for it.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in political science. She was a design associate on the 133rd volume, design editor for the 134th managing board, staff director for the 135th managing board, arts & entertainment training editor for the 136th volume, and is a member of the editorial board.