When Natalie Telson, GS/JTS '15, formally resigned as Jewish Theological Seminary representative for the General Studies Student Council in January, she described the position and placement of JTS students in the School of General Studies as "somewhat skewed." "I understand that JTS students are placed in GS due to our unconventional path of education," Telson said in her resignation email. "However, many of us have differing interests and goals than that of our other GS peers." Though their cross-enrollment in GS permits them to take classes other than those offered at their own school, JTS students say they feel out of place among their peers at GS. JTS, a center for Conservative Judaism, consists of List College—an undergraduate school—and four graduate schools. List College offers a joint bachelor's degree program with the School of General Studies and Barnard College. Shuly Schwartz, associate professor of American Jewish history and dean of graduate and undergraduate studies at JTS, explained that GS caters to nontraditional students and that joint-program students fit that description because they are earning two BAs. But students say the social differences outweigh the academic similarities. DIFFERENT PATHS GS Dean Peter Awn said that students largely determine their own level of engagement with their school's social life. "There are no restrictions, there are no limitations," Awn said. "And you will find that the different ways that people find their friends, find their sort of social engagement, as well as their simply seeking out some fun in the city—how they do that is a very individual thing at Columbia." But that process can be difficult, students said. Telson said the gap between GS/JTS students and most other GS students stems from the age difference. "I really think it all comes back to academically, we do belong in GS—but socially, there's just undeniable differences," she said. "I would much rather hang out with someone who's going through a similar college experience as I am than a 32-year-old," Hillel Lehmann, GS/JTS '15, said. "There's nothing against GS, it's just the very nature of where we are in terms of our life span and where we're going." GS/JTS students are also guaranteed four years of JTS housing. First-years and sophomores live in Mathilde Schechter Residence Hall, on 120th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive, while upperclassmen live in Goldsmith Residence Hall, at the corner of Broadway and 121st Street. BC/JTS students, instead, are encouraged to live in Barnard housing for at least their first two years. "I think for GS it's harder because they all live together in JTS housing and they don't live with other Columbia students, so it might be harder for them to define themselves differently," Hila Gutfreund, BC/JTS '14, said. Associate Dean of List College Rebecca Grabiner said she hopes the housing factor motivates GS/JTS students to seek out their Columbia counterparts. "I do think that it makes our students much more actively choose to be involved at Columbia and sometimes are much more heavily involved in Columbia activities because they want to be a part of things," Grabiner said. "I've had Barnard students say to me that they've loved the fact that they're not living in the JTS dorm, that it integrates them more completely into the Barnard world," Amy Kalmanofsky, assistant professor of Bible, said. "The Columbia students feel much more segregated." COUNCIL EFFORTS Although the JTS representative to GSSC is intended to improve JTS quality of life issues through the Columbia council, Telson said that it would be impossible to address the social gap without a large-scale effort. "It's not a job one person can do," she said. "It takes a desire from the entire JTS and GS program. Although there were many advocates, it wasn't a full-fledged desire." Telson's main goal was to get swipe access for GS/JTS students to Columbia residence halls. Despite an attempt to galvanize student support with a petition in October, the initiative was rejected by administrators. Goodman said that she and Jacqueline Thong, GS and president of GSSC, have discussed the role of the JTS position, which she thinks is flawed. "It's been filled and the person has resigned many times," she said. "I think that the goals of that position need to be rethought for it to be truly successful." Fully integrating GS/JTS students into the GS community would take a lot of work, Thong said. "It's really a long-term engagement and we really need to think critically about how we can organize things that appeal to them at the same time," she said. Awn said that GSSC has also been hurt by the resignation of three other GSSC representatives over the past year, which has brought on a "certain instability that did not allow it to perhaps do as much as it wanted to do." Figuring out a way to make the JTS position on GSSC work is important to figure out soon, he said. "If JTS students do not engage in council activities in a given year, they will find that, yes, they won't be front and center on the agenda because there's no one there to make clear what issues are important for them," he said. Thong said she met with JTS students to discuss the issue and hopes that the recent appointment of Laura Wasserman, GS/JTS, as a fourth council representative "will be able to give a new energy." Many said that GSSC caters its programs and initiatives more to the typical GS student, who tends to be older. Hannah Goodman, BC/JTS '12 and president of List College Student Council, pointed out that if a GSSC event includes a bar, it isolates the significant under-21 portion of the JTS student body. "Even if they wanted to be part of the GS community, they couldn't go to these GSSC events," she said. Thong said that the council has worked to have more dry events, like academic and volunteering opportunities. Goodman said that for the first time this year, GS/JTS students are invited to the senior cruise during Senior Week, an initiative led by Eric Schorr, a member of the senior week committee. "GS encouraged Eric to do this so it shows that the GS administration understands the difference between GS/JTS students and the typical GS student," she said. Batya Franklin, GS/JTS '15 and first-year class president for List College Student Council, said that a solution should both include GS/JTS students in the GS umbrella but still distinguish between them and regular GS students. Awn said that it is not the administration's role to address such a gap. "They're talking about people making choices, and if they made choices not to get involved with the student council to promote greater programming relating to joint program students more broadly, that isn't the administration's job to force people to do those kinds of things," he said. 'SPLIT IDENTIFY' According to Franklin, students identify themselves as List College students at JTS but at Columbia, they are known as GS/JTS students. She said that they need a label that clearly defines the program. "Labels have to be short and concise, like CC, SEAS, BC, and GS," she said. "Sort of adding on JTS to GS doesn't really do us much good." Goodman said that JTS students have a "split identity." She identifies as a Barnard/JTS student and says she feels "very connected on both sides." "I identify very strongly at both schools," Goodman said. "I'm List College Student Council president but I'm also very involved on Barnard's campus." On the other hand, Gutfreund said that despite being heavily involved in activities at List College, she identifies more as a Barnard student. But last semester, she felt more tied to JTS because she spent more time studying there. "It's a weird program because you have to navigate between two schools and you have to figure out where you belong," Gutfreund said. She acknowledged that it is harder for GS/JTS students because the dorms are relatively far from Columbia students. Lilli Flink, BC/JTS '13, said that while her sisters preferred the GS/JTS program, she realized that she could get "the best of both worlds at Barnard," citing its small size and academic rigor, while still being a part of the Jewish community. Flink said that living in Barnard housing has allowed her "to benefit from everything that Barnard has to offer," but that she's had to work harder to integrate with the JTS community. Still, she acknowledged the challenges GS/JTS students face due to living in JTS housing. "I think what it boils down to for GS/JTS students is that they're not in campus housing, they're not required to have a meal plan on campus, because they're in GS, which makes it harder to integrate into the Columbia community," she said. Lehmann said he would be open to efforts to integrate GS/JTS students and regular GS students, but stressed that it would be a difficult endeavor. "I would welcome the effort and I think there's a lot of value that any student can get from interacting with GS students," he said. "We have a lot to learn from them, but the reality is that I would much rather the effort be placed on integrating JTS students with the other undergraduate colleges." firstname.lastname@example.org Corrections: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Eric Schorr as vice president of external affairs for List College Student Council. This position is actually held by Matthew Renick, GS/JTS '13. A previous version of this story also stated that GS/JTS students are required to live in JTS housing, which is not correct. Spectator regrets the errors.
Columbia Spectator Staff