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On Ivy League campuses, student-athletes are often targeted with jokes about “deserving to be here.” However, the Ivy League was founded as a sports league, and Columbia athletes have long been an important part of our community. What does it mean when students disparage athletes as “not deserving” to be here? How does this reflect our notion of “deserving” to be here?

Jemima Fregene


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Personally, I don’t understand the stigma surrounding student-athletes. This nonsensical bias that we see at Columbia reminds me of an episode from the second semester of my senior year in high school. I was sitting in my IB history course, and everyone was talking about college decisions. People heard that Princeton accepted one of our football players, and the classroom was stressed about it. One girl, who was apparently friendly with him, even said that he only got into Princeton because he plays football and he’s black. At the time, I said absolutely nothing, but now I will not be mute.

It seems that a lot of the people who make comments about student-athletes not “deserving” to be at Ivy League universities are the same people who said that I only got into Columbia because I’m black. Even if it were true that both a football player and I were admitted to the Ivy League because we’re black, I just have one, simple question: What does it matter to you? Also, that’s not how affirmative action works, but OK!

This spot at Columbia belongs to me, and that spot at Princeton belongs to him. Taking “other people’s spots” doesn’t actually exist, and that is not something that’s up for debate. I refuse to argue about this topic because it assumes that there’s any validity to the idea that I or the other people I’ve mentioned are somehow stealing from someone who actually “deserves” to be at the Ivy League. I extend the same argument to student-athletes, regardless of race.

In response to the age-old debate about who deserves to be here, I would argue that no one does.

I know, the controversy.

Applying to an Ivy League university is like playing the lottery. You can buy 1,000 lottery tickets—which I would equate to attending an elite private school, doing meaningful, long-term extracurriculars, and having a good GPA and perfect SAT/ACT score—to stack the odds in your favor. It might help, but it might also be pointless.

Meritocracy is a myth because there are certainly students who did much better than those who attend Columbia that were not offered admission. Admission to Columbia or any other Ivy League school is luck of the draw. Who knows, if I had applied to Columbia in the 2016-17 cycle as opposed to the 2015-16 cycle, would I still be attending this university? Especially with the acceptance rate lowering every year, I wonder how many qualified students get turned away.

I’m not discounting any of the hard work that I or anyone else did to get here. The majority of us did not pay off anyone to get into this university. Many of us are also not legacies. But don’t confuse what it takes to get into this school either; it isn’t just about working hard and having a good academic record. There’s quite a bit of luck involved.

No one really “deserves” to be here, per se. This is why the people who say that “student-athletes don’t deserve to be here” genuinely piss me off. Many people who share their irrelevant opinions about other students’ “deservedness” project their feeling of unworthiness onto the easiest scapegoat. Is what I’m saying bordering on psychoanalysis? Yes, but I believe it’s true. All I’m saying is that if those people felt secure within themselves and their abilities, they wouldn’t feel the need to single out other people to make themselves feel better. They remind me of that girl from my high school. That high school mentality and its implicit discriminatory attitudes are absolute bullshit.

The author is anticipating the end of this semester and wishes everyone good luck on their finals. We will all be fine.

Kayla Abrams


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The first trophy I ever won was for reading, which I think was why everyone was shocked when I was recruited for athletics. For the record, I was recruited for rowing, which is more about pure strength of will than any type of innate coordination—as I often remind my friends when they ask me to perform some feat of athleticism (i.e., catch a ball). I didn’t realize when I committed to this journey that a consistent aspect of my life would be proving that I deserved to be here, that I was “good enough” for Columbia.

Why do we make student-athletes prove their worthiness when we would never ask the same of other skilled students—like talented musicians—who also have an advantage in admissions? We would never tell a student in the Columbia-Juilliard exchange program that they do not deserve to be here, so why do we tell this to student-athletes? It is true that there are different stereotypes built about a brilliant young violinist and a brilliant young football player. In our societal structuring of intelligence, musical ability ranks above athletic ability. However, once they get to Columbia, student-athletes do just as well or even better than non-student-athletes. So why do we still claim that they “don’t deserve to be here”?

Every single day, student-athletes prove why they deserve to be here. When I was on the rowing team, we would wake up at 5:45 a.m. five days a week for practice. Afterwards, we would hurry back to campus for our classes, work, and other Columbia activities. And at the end of the day, we would have more practice. This doesn’t even take into consideration the days lost to travel both during the week and weekend. And, by the way, imagine trying to add sleep to this equation. Do you sleep so you can better your performance, or attempt to actually finish all your work? It often felt like we were being pulled in opposite directions: being the students our professors expected, the athletes our coach recruited, the employees our bosses demanded, and the friends, classmates, sisters, and daughters that we wanted to be.

Being on a team is very much a privilege, but it is also a job. It’s hard and often overwhelming, and yet we still have to show up and be our best everyday. If we don’t, then we impact our entire team.

When I was on the rowing team, did it make me a worse classmate? A worse student? A worse friend? I would actually argue the opposite. I think it made me even better. The ability to start every morning with the calm of the water made me more focused in the classroom. The time commitment forced me to have even better time management. The balance made me a better, more patient friend. The dedication, organization, maturity, and balance it takes to be a student-athlete is remarkable. It made me the Columbia student that I am proud to be.

At the end of the day, we are all here sweating next to each other in the Pupin basement, chugging copious amounts of caffeine in Ref, pretending that the granite steps of Low are comparable to real sand, and getting far too excited about Wu + Nussbaum’s return. We can and should discuss structural inequalities in education, but we can do that without diminishing each other. At the end of the day, to quote the pinnacle of 2000s media, we’re all in this together.

The author is a sophomore at Columbia College who is proof that being an athlete does not mean you are athletic. You can catch her messing up everyone’s Low Beach pics by falling on top of them. If you have any tips on throwing things, catching things, walking, etc., please pass them on to kayla.abrams@columbia.edu.

Lana Awadallah


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There is most certainly such a thing as a stupid opinion. Smart people can and do respond to situations stupidly. Many smart individuals suffer from an overestimation of their abilities and the belief that their viewpoints are unquestionably correct. This manifests on our campus in various ways, but most prominently in the Columbia students who feel resentful towards athletes, otherwise known as the Columbia Student-Athlete Complex.

The majority of students at Columbia, myself included, have spent most of their lives devising ways to ensure their acceptance. As a result, we have self-identified with our stellar academic performances. That is not to say academics are our only forte, but more often than not, they are our main forte. After my arrival at Columbia, I felt like I was dropped into a simulation: Everyone is “smart.” The most vital component of my identity was no longer enough to differentiate me.

For this reason, I, like many others, longed for anything to reinvent my edge. I thought up storms of projects, initiatives, or interests that I could pursue. Please take a moment to reflect on the amount of times someone here has introduced themselves as either a project or internship as though it were their last name.

Hi, nice to meet you, I’m John summer-intern-at-Deutsche-Bank Smith.

I don’t particularly blame people for feeling this need to prove that they, too, deserve to be at this university. However, we were accepted due either to chance or circumstance, so please adopt a new introduction.

In my search for a distinguishing quality, I found myself wishing that I was a student-athlete. Brace yourself for this hot take: I believe that the people who criticize student-athletes probably wish they were ones too. Hence, the aforementioned Columbia Student-Athlete Complex. Individuals who feel inadequate hold student-athletes to different standards.

If a person who participates in the Columbia-Juilliard exchange program decided to pursue statistically unlikely success in the music world, students would offer praise. However, if another person who is both an athlete and a student decided to pursue their statistically more likely football success, people claim that they are committing career suicide. Furthermore, if the second person had transferred from Michigan to Columbia, people would claim that they committed athletic suicide. There seems to be no winning.

But our athletes are winners. The fencing team are national champions, our baseball team won the 2018 Ivy Title, our football team just had their first back-to-back winning seasons in 56 years, and one of our first-year wide receivers, Mikey Roussos, was featured on ESPN SportsCenter for his 87-yard kickoff return. 2018 was a 99 percent year, with Columbia athletes leading the nation in 99 percent graduation success rates and with 99 percent of graduates securing a full-time job or making postgraduate plans—far exceeding the statistics of regular students.

This success is not limited just to seniors, as 334 athletes were on the Dean’s List—66 of whom achieved a perfect 4.0 GPA.

Also, let’s not forget the hours that athletes have spent on buses, commuting back and forth not only to Baker, conveniently located on 218th Street, but to games and competitions as well. Let’s not forget the 40+ hours spent at the facility each week. Let’s not forget the expectation to complete an identical workload and identical courses as other students in their respective majors. The NCAA promo video, “A Day in the Life of a Student-Athlete,” didn’t receive backlash for no reason: It is simply not that easy-breezy to be an athlete, let alone an athlete at an Ivy.

I am not trying to paint Columbia athletes as superhuman, but they’re damn close. In fact, the Columbia athlete is arguably nearer to the ideal Columbia student than anyone else. They are the Ivy poster child.

So instead of bitterly stating that “she only got in because she’s an athlete,” realize that she was intelligent enough to use her athletic abilities to get in, and she’s intelligent enough to continually excel at being here. At the end of the day, we’re all graduating with the same degree and similar opportunities (granted, the athletes may be in better physical shape). It’s about time to stray away from an Us vs. Them mentality, and instead adopt an Us and Them mentality. This campus is better with them, and better from them.

The author is not—and I cannot stress this enough—an athlete, but can be found hyperventilating on a Barry’s treadmill roughly four times a week. She would like to take this opportunity to thank the editors and the contributors for an amazing semester. If you find yourself missing her very many opinions, feel free to reach out to her at lna2116@columbia.edu.

To respond to this installment of Discourse & Debate, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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