Think back to the moment you got into Columbia. Regardless of whether Columbia was your top school, your safety school (there have to be some of you overachievers out there...), or simply one of many excellent schools that accepted you, in that moment, you realized that you were being invited to become a part of something profound.
As the flurry of emotions from that moment subside, deeper questions fill the empty space. What exactly does it mean to go to Columbia? The answer seems obvious, but in reality, there’s more to it. At a first glance, the Columbia experience can be summed up as learning from top-notch professors, completing the famous Core Curriculum, and earning a respected degree.
But there are certain obvious realities that are hard to see and talk about. We miss them because they are not what are discussed in the mass-produced information pamphlets or casual conversations about one’s school. As we find ourselves entrenched in routine, these subtle truths slip by us unnoticed. Perhaps the greatest of these is the change in the way others outside Columbia perceive—something undetectable within the boundaries of Columbia.
It took a venture out to Fordham for the Columbia football team’s season opener for me to realize the stigma that exists between Columbia and certain neighboring schools. Without actually addressing the topic with a friend who attends Fordham, the subject would have never been breached. One word stood out during the conversation at several different points: arrogance. That was disappointing to hear, to say the least.
On a personal level, I’ve come to realize that being accepted to Columbia didn’t validate anything besides my desire to succeed. Yet, when the topic of Columbia comes up in casual discussion outside the boundaries of campus, there is still a notion of elitism that surfaces from beneath the stream of conversation. This raises the question: Why is that sort of identity assigned to Columbia?
The association is a popular one; part of Columbia’s reputation is even based off the idea of elitism. The Ivy League is a traditionally exclusive cluster of academic institutions supported by impressive wealth and strong corporate connections. What’s more, there is a significant amount of pride involved with attending Columbia. That in itself is understandable, as it required a lot of perseverance to reach this point. When those factors converge together in one place, it’s easy to assume that the products of that environment—Columbia students—must at the very least smirk at those attending less demanding schools.
That perception is misrepresentative. While Columbia may belong to the Ivy League, it identifies with New York City above anything else. That much is obvious in Columbia’s official name. Additionally, the design of campus, the calm vibe of Morningside Heights, and the eclectic array of people all make Columbia unique and unlike any other school. Additionally, there are so many different backgrounds that compose Columbia’s student body that it’s difficult to determine any sort of stock identity.
But still, the perception of pretentiousness lingers. How can we change this? When you strip away all the titles, the numbers, and the rankings, all you have is a collection of motivated individuals workings toward their own respective goals, regardless of assigned reputations and identities. Why not keep it at that?
Despite our best efforts, we still find ourselves using stereotypes to better understand the people we meet and interact with. Perhaps it’s necessary on some deep, psychological level. So many different faces pass by that we rely on these subconscious shortcuts to keep up. The problem arises when those stereotypes begin to follow a pattern and then stick.
To diminish negative perceptions and false conclusions, positive stereotypes need to be reinforced. Negative perceptions do nothing but enforce divisions and encourage general resentment. Though there’s no easy solution to this issue, it’s possible to move in the right direction. With some persistence, preconceived opinions can be dissolved. We must approach situations and individuals outside the Columbia sphere with a humble mindset—something that shouldn’t be too hard to take from our experience at Columbia.
As a student body, we are collectively moving forward with the purpose of improving ourselves and hopefully others in the process. All the titles, rankings, and notions of reputation aside, that mindset falls in line with any other motivated college student, Ivy League or not.
Lucas Macha is a Columbia College first-year. Macha Man runs alternate Mondays.
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