My first week at Columbia, I walked into the Spectator office and met Christian Zhang, the city news editor at the time. Christian immediately took me under his wing and sent me across the Upper West Side, Manhattanville, and Harlem to chase stories and develop relationships with sources.
Thrown into the life of a local journalist, I was hooked. Without much formal training, I learned on my feet—while climbing up the stairs of the Frederick Douglass Houses, I learned more about housing inequity and New York’s socioeconomic disparities as a reporter than I have from a dozen history classes. At one community meeting of the West Harlem Development Corporation, I learned more about the complexities and conflicting narratives of Columbia’s expansion into West Harlem than I have in the four years since.
A bit lonely and unsure of my place on campus, Spec became my home in my first year. But over winter break, after I had already become a deputy news editor, the new editor in chief called me and told me that he was dissolving the city news section.
Although I stayed on staff for another semester, Spectator was never the same. When Spec cut city news, Columbia students moved further away from our neighbors; from then on, we cared ever so slightly less about the world around us.
College is not only about engaging with the world, but also about learning on the job—about making mistakes, about finding your place and then starting all over again. Columbia should not be about over-committing yourself and getting burned out—my first semester as a deputy, the majority of the news editors left within the first two months of the job. Perhaps this has changed for the better since then, but we have to make sure that Spectator is not just another club that students have to go through rounds of applications and interviews to get into.
After my disappointing first year spring as a deputy, I took a year off from Spectator and focused on student theater. However, I soon realized that there was more I wanted to say, and that on our campus, Spectator is the most visible platform for student voices. And so last semester, I found myself back at Spec, this time as a columnist.
Because of Spec, I’ve learned how to fight for my beliefs, when to push back, and when to cut my losses. For helping to teach me these lessons, there are three people whom I’d like to thank: Christian Zhang, Hannah Barbosa Cesnik, and Octavio Galaviz. I’m grateful for your advocacy, energy, caring, and professionalism.
And to the future leaders at Spec: I hope you strengthen Columbia students’ ties with our surrounding communities, take chances on new students, and support writers who want to voice valuable opinions about our school and the way it is run. Like college as a whole, a club like Spectator should prepare us for the difficulties we’ll face after we graduate. It’s never too early to take a stand for what is right.
Aaron Fisher is a senior in Columbia College studying history and religion. He was a deputy news editor for the 139th volume and was a columnist for the 141st volume.
Senior columns are pieces in which members of Spectator’s graduating class reflect on what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown from their time at the organization, and are part of Spectator’s 2018 Commencement Issue. To respond to this senior column, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.