The sandwich ambassador ballot initiative has never been a joke. I would know—I co-wrote it.
In late February, I ran around Lerner with a clipboard, asking people to sign a petition to put the creation of a sandwich ambassador position on the Columbia College Student Council ballot. My pitch was brief but serious: We want to establish a position that will help make student discounts more available and accessible, and we want to make student government relevant to students.
Popular support for the creation of the sandbassador attests to the potency of these arguments. Ninety percent of the Columbia College students I approached signed the petition. Then, two weeks ago, 88 percent of voting CC students approved the measure.
But the sandbassador bill should not be dismissed as solely a means to bring these goals to the fore. Rather, it publicly broaches important issues we ignore too often—mainly, that Morningside Heights is a "college town," but only for those who can afford it. Most of the fare available on Broadway simply costs too much for an undergrad. Sandwiches that cost more than $10 are emblematic of this basic unaffordability. Calling attention to this absurdity is what lies at the center of the sandbassador bill.
For sure, no student will actually vanquish the high-priced hero. But by pointing out the unacceptable cost, we challenge the notion that prices like these are accessible, a false norm that student media often perpetuate. For instance, when Dig Inn opened, Spectator praised it as "affordable," but for many, its prices, ranging from $7 to $14 for a "marketplace" meal, are not.
And the University itself makes little provision for students eating on a budget. For one, despite the fact that Columbia Dining is meant to cater to a diverse student body, it somehow outprices many neighborhood options: The smallest upperclassman meal plan, with 75 meal swipes and 75 dining dollars, measures out to about $12 per meal swipe, even more than a container of prepared food at Westside.
Even if slim profit margins necessitate these costs, the University might as well help guide students to more affordable food elsewhere. Peer institutions do so by providing information on student discounts. Columbia doesn't. The sandwich ambassador's function would be to help fill this void in resources. She would work on the very concrete task of giving students, as the bill reads, "any and all relevant information on local eateries, their pricing, selection, and other useful consumer data in a convenient and accessible manner." Additionally, she would reach out to businesses to secure more discounts for students and publicize them so that the businesses in turn could better tap into the student market.
I imagine that the significant 12 percent of voters who opted not to create the position of sandbassador found fault not with the position's function but with its presentation. Many parts of the bill definitely sound silly, but none lack reason. This concern relates to another aim of the sandbassador bill: to inject a bit of collegiate spirit into an institution that sorely needs it—CCSC. Student council members often take themselves much too seriously, and, by doing so, they obscure the real purpose of student government—representing college students. Electioneering and ego replace student advocacy, and the institution becomes irrelevant—if not boring—to outsiders.
Perhaps most important in improving CCSC's transparency is the bill's provision for the "State of the Sandwich" speech. Once a semester, the sandbassador will stand on the Sundial and frankly report on her work. The first of such addresses will mark the most honest and transparent act by CCSC in my time at Columbia. No such accountability is currently demanded of any other council members. CCSC's semesterly progress reports merely enumerate achievements and crack inside jokes. The speech would also bring the council to the students: If CCSC wants anyone other than student media to come to their meetings, it needs to move its meetings to more accessible locations.
The sandbassador cannot resolve these issues of affordability and council relevancy on her own, but she will no doubt bring them to light. At the April 6 CCSC meeting, Bwog's Joe Milholland reported, "Some in the council wanted the name to be changed to something like 'Corporate Outreach.'" Ironically, changing the name will only affirm impressions of CCSC's self-important attitude. Students want more accessible sandwich prices, and they need someone just as accessible to bring them.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore, senior editor of the Blue and White, contributor to The Lion, and former Spectator associate design editor. He co-authored the Sandwich Ambassador Bill.
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