Community—it’s the magic word that we’ve been asked to talk about today. Columbia has found numerous ways to brand it, flaunt it, twirl it on its toes. When the cracks show in various offices, student groups, and even ourselves, “community” is thrown around again and again as the give-all, love-all panacea to our problems. Countless offices and jobs have been made in community’s name, such as Student Development and Activities, the Office of Civic Action and Engagement, and the Office of Residential Programs. We have these and other structures such as our clubs and academic departments that are meant to be our safety net. But maybe our expectations of being given community by these institutions prevent us from creating something more. Real communities, the communities that we’re looking for here at Columbia, don’t form because of official offices, student groups, or classes. Real communities form around these things.
As the five of us on the Columbia College Student Council executive board sat in Butler Lounge yesterday, trying to think of community’s elusive definition, none of us were able to come up with a satisfying answer. Instead, as the conversation moved from abstract to personal, one of us asked, “What has been your lowest point here at Columbia?”
Between the five of us, we talked about homesickness and depression, overloaded schedules and extracurricular commitments, bad grades, internship troubles, sophomore slump, freshman flump, getting plump, and simply not having things figured out. Laid out like this, our confessions sounded like the dark side of the Columbia admissions pamphlet. But what struck us was that despite the many hours we had spent together, none of us had even known that the others had struggled before this conversation.
This seemed representative of an all-too-typical phenomenon. So many of us shield ourselves from the questioning of others. We project who we’re supposed to be instead of who we are. We’re secure, confident, and fashionable Columbia students. We know that neon is over and we’ve read Nietzsche. We have our friend group and are on track with our careers. Our own interests are taken care of, so what more do we need ... right?
Our structures of community—classes, clubs, offices, fraternities, sororities, and residence halls—mean nothing unless we make connections with the people in them. Community is built by saying hi and caring about the people around us. It’s created by the interactions we have with friends and acquaintances in Butler Lounge, and with the classmate who just sat down next to you. It is found in those moments when, by taking the time to talk to someone, you discover who they are behind their class schedule, leadership positions, and internships. Our hope is a more connected school, where no one is too cool to meet someone new and no one is afraid to share their experiences. What we undoubtedly have, right now, is each other—living, breathing, studying, and interacting at this incredible school. What is Columbia but the potential to gain new experiences and create new relationships?
So here are a few propositions:
To our RAs: We love the new initiative to talk to and meet each of your residents for at least 15 minutes. Own it.
To our professors: Encourage us to interact with our peers in class. Discussion in Contemporary Civilization isn’t half as valuable if we don’t know each other’s names or feel uncomfortable challenging each other. Also, take us out to lunch more often.
To our administrators: Help us help you make Columbia better. Encourage us to come speak to you one-on-one. Guide us through the system. We have so many ideas—for green initiatives, for outdoor dinners, for Ruggles’ creepy basement lounge. Be our enablers.
To our peers: Introduce yourself to someone new every day. Get to know the people on your floor. We all have 101 things on our to do list. Turn to your neighbor, ask how they’re doing, and feel comfort in knowing that we will get through the day together.
And for ourselves, CCSC: Listen. Act. Push. Persist. However we can be relevant to the Columbia community, we want to know. We want to create events that will make your day brighter and to make funding a project with your friends stress-free and easy. We want to communicate with and hear from you. We can’t promise to single-handedly create community, because no one can, but we will try to create its opportunities.
So no matter what you do or who you are, embrace the multitude of random experiences that are handed to you on a daily basis—Always lose yourself in the chaos that is Columbia.
Karishma Habbu is the president of CCSC. Will Hughes is the policy vice president of CCSC. Yanyi Luo is the campus life vice president of CCSC. Jared Odessky is the communications vice president of CCSC. Daphne Chen is the finance vice president of CCSC.