Have you ever been treated differently for being a member of your college? That’s the tough question students from all four undergraduate schools discussed on Monday in a forum dedicated to working out the relationships between Columbia’s undergraduate colleges.
Nearly 50 students at Monday’s University Unity Forum discussed “Obamanard”—the fallout resulting from the announcement last spring that President Barack Obama, CC ’83, would speak at Barnard’s Commencement and would force the School of General Studies to reschedule its Class Day—as well as the stereotypes associated with each undergraduate college and the administration’s activeness in encouraging unity between the schools.
Derogatory jokes about Barnard women or students’ general ignorance regarding GS’ mission are some of the most divisive parts of undergraduate life, students said.
Katharine Celentano, GS ’14, said she appreciated the extent to which the other colleges assisted GS seniors when Class Day was moved in the spring.
She asked, “Should we blend the colleges together, or emphasize their uniqueness?” To be truly united, she said, it is necessary to do both.
Aliza Hassine, president of the Barnard class of 2014, said in an email after the forum that celebrating differences respectfully was the most important lesson of the forum. “We should all be proud of the uniqueness of each of our undergraduate schools while at the same time be respectful of that uniqueness and individuality,” she said.
The forum’s organizers said that the flood of negative online comments in response to Obama’s decision to speak at Barnard in May should not be ignored. Hassine, one of the organizers, said “the inspiration behind this event stemmed from the fact that many council members felt the controversy that erupted in May was just swept under the rug.”
Conan Cassidy, president of the Columbia College class of 2014, said that the tense relationships between the colleges date back much longer than a semester and are difficult to define. “Whatever the relationship is between the colleges, it outdates me—it outdates everyone else in this school,” Cassidy said on Monday. “I think nothing will change unless a discussion is started.”
Ashley Wagner, BC ’14, said that she wasn’t aware of any interschool tension until Obamanard played out last semester, but after that, a conversation like Monday’s was necessary. “I think this discussion stemmed from that. I just would like there to be equality and respect all around,” she said.
Students agreed that there need to be more concrete goals toward bringing all four schools together.
“I believe more forums of this type are a great step to raise awareness of the unique relationship between the four undergraduate schools, as well as to dispel harmful stereotypes. It’s a necessary conversation for everyone in every undergraduate school on campus,” Joanna Kelly, vice president of the Columbia College class of 2014, said in an email.
Daniel O’Leary, president of the School of Engineering and Applied Science class of 2014, said that the four schools’ junior class councils were planning as many as three interschool events. “We are planning two formals together, one for each semester, and our council presidents meet on a weekly basis to keep up to date on junior concerns,” he said.
“I don’t think this level of communication has happened before on a class level,” O’Leary added. “I think we’re taking major steps toward more cooperation between the different undergraduate schools.”