It is easy to indulge in the myth that Columbia lacks community. Some students feel isolated after noticing the increasing irrelevance of a social life during the academic semester. Others conclude that the city streets that splinter through Columbia's topography fragment our campus. Those who feel disengaged from campus often embrace the delusion of independence, a romanticized autonomy supposedly concomitant of residing in New York City. They mistakenly believe that they, unable or unwilling to participate fully, do not impact campus culture. They imagine themselves uninvolved in a community recently proven to include discrimination, rape, and suicide.
The assumption that shared experience does not exist at Columbia is troubling, as it perpetuates the image of a select few shaping our culture. Rather, every student affects our community, even the most disinterested. We attend class together, live in the same dorms, and shop in the same neighborhood. We're surprised by the turnout of familiar faces at snowball fights and Bacchanal, reminded that we're more than just classmates. We feel an acute absence at our sporting events, because we sense those who belong are missing. Our involvement with the University implicates us in the dynamics of our culture, regardless of how unimmersed we feel in the community.
Perhaps many students forget their role in campus culture because they believe that our community is largely shaped by institutional policies and problems. If that's the case, whether students believe we have a community no longer matters. Rather, some of us hold policymakers responsible for the status of our culture. To them, administrators are culpable for the community's worst attributes: stress, microaggressions and racism, sexual assault, and the consequential risks to our classmates' welfare. These students disengage because they believe the community is someone else's responsibility.
Of course, a significant group of students hold themselves accountable for campus culture. Activists rightfully address administrators for mishandling student issues. They naturally expect the administration to provide care for survivors, educate the ignorant, and justly punish or remove the violent. Yet they also neglect student impact on campus culture.
The prevailing narrative—a battle with the administration against systemic threats to safety and equality—omits those most responsible for our community. For example, Spectator depicted "#Business as Usual" as solely a protest against "a lack of administrative response to recent grand jury decisions." However, the demonstration at Midnight Breakfast also targeted every student, including myself, who preferred ice cream to disputing a tradition apparently apathetic toward racial violence. While activists certainly recognize the benefit of their allies, they do not take full advantage of Columbia's greatest resource—their classmates.
Students at Columbia, no matter how passive about any given issue, contribute to campus culture. We each bring our own talent, insight, and values to Columbia. Unfortunately, many of us also arrived with potentially harmful flaws. If we're to recognize and change our community, we need to accept ourselves as we are, even if that means we're privileged, ignorant, or susceptible to depression. Taking charge of our flaws will enable us to comprehend the community in its entirety. Moreover, we'll be empowered to manage both the consequences of our contributions and the nature of our community.
Currently, a select few debate the nature of our campus culture. Direct dialogue with the rest of our classmates occurs too infrequently. Student gatherings that intend to address our most pernicious problems do not welcome classmates who disagree, feel confused, or are only timidly supportive. Activists seem distinguished from us in their supposedly isolated causes.
What they truly contend for, however, is a different kind of campus culture, one that would affect all students. Given that we're part of the Columbia community, no matter how disengaged some of us are, it's imperative that we address each other more effectively and create more inclusive gatherings. Students must collaborate further, recognizing that, at the very least, they share a stake in the Columbia community.
Laura Allen is a Barnard senior majoring in English. She is a former associate copy editor for Spectator and the president of the Barnard Outdoor Adventure Team. Laurem Ipsum runs alternate Thursdays.
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