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Rya Inman / Staff Photographer

For better or for worse, the Tree Lighting Ceremony is one of Columbia’s only school traditions that people attend. And the only reason people even show up is because of the T-shirt giveaways at the event. School spirit? Who is she? Apparently, Columbia students just want free stuff for the sake of hoarding, not because we actually love our school. The event ran out of T-shirts—fast—and many students walked away empty-handed and bitter. I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit to feeling the same.

While it’s common to hear people complain about these small administrative mishaps, it’s not as common to see people bring these concerns to administration. I constantly hear that the administration is a bureaucracy and a logistical nightmare. This is a legitimate concern—I by no means think that Columbia’s administration is perfect—but this disdain toward the administration has led to a general reluctance to actually push for substantial change.

However, I did not know about Columbia’s bureaucratic administration when I complained to them for the first time as an overeager prospie. In April 2017, I came to Days on Campus with three main goals in mind: score hot chicks, finesse some free merch, and decide if Columbia was where I wanted to sign my life away for the next four years. As it happened, I achieved none of said goals during the weekend, so I decided to do something about it.

After the weekend, prospies were given a chance to provide feedback on how to improve Days on Campus. After texting a few newly made friends and staring at my computer screen for a good 10 minutes while contemplating what to do, I decided to shoot the administration an email, which I then posted a screenshot of in the Columbia Class of 2021 Facebook group.

New Student Orientation Program coordinators and members of the administration messaged me, saying that they had heard my and my classmates’ requests and wanted to find ways to give us more free merchandise. When I got to campus on August 27 I was told that the administration was giving out shirts to all first years—I damn near ran to Lerner to finally cop my precious, hard-earned, #Pantone292 tee.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m an entitled cheapskate. When I sent the email, I was pretty much only thinking about how it would be nice to get some merch—I wasn’t really expecting anything. But it turned out that my email was more than a wistful afterthought—it was a post that allowed my classmates to rally and tell administration exactly what we wanted. Even as a first-year, it’s no secret to me that the Columbia administration is perceived as a pervasive bureaucracy, so the fact that one simple social media post can get them to provide T-shirts to nearly 2,000 kids is something very, very special.

T-shirts aren’t huge, systematic overhauls; they don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things. But they brighten up someone’s day and show that the administration, at least, has taken the time to consider what students might want.

Why not do something similar with the Tree Lighting Ceremony, or any other events going forward? I’m pretty sure the only reason why my email and Facebook post were able to actually get T-shirts for the incoming class is because the administration saw so many of my fellow classmates agree. With upcoming events going forward, we can all do something as simple as sending an email or a quick DM to Columbia College Student Council to let them know that we all really want free shit. At least this way we know that we have put in the effort in trying to get what we want.

Asking for merch isn’t really something consequential. It’s nothing like advocating for the rights of DACA students, or protesting Columbia University College Republicans’ decision to invite controversial speakers to campus. What it is, however, is a plea that actually got answered by the administration because of the sheer number of people who backed it. And hey, I’m all for scamming the system for those goods, but we shouldn’t hesitate to relentlessly ask the administration to take action on more important issues as well, like protecting the rights of our classmates.

We all know that our voice matters. Hell, we go to a school that is known for an especially vocal student body. It’s our thing. But we can’t just speak up loudly—we need to speak up smartly. I can’t say that I know all of the struggles that Columbia students face when dealing with the administration, but I can confidently say that the administration listened to my email and the hundreds of prospies who agreed.

I gotta admit, it’s kind of weird being dubbed the “merch girl” and having classmates recognize my name just from some dumb social media post born out of my own stinginess. But it’s nice knowing that I’m not the only stingy college student around here. And it’s nice knowing that an email and Facebook post can score free merchandise for all of my classmates, even if I didn’t score any hot chicks.

The author is a first-year in Columbia College. She likes long walks on the beach at sunset. Once upon a time, she asked for free merch, and now she helps Columbia College Student Council make it as their graphic designer. Started from the bottom now we here.

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Treelighting Administration Campus Traditions