For the majority of my time at Spec, it was a place of infinite possibility. I was given countless opportunities to do impactful work, the people around me were supportive and brilliant, and I had a ready-made social circle at Columbia. While the work was difficult right off the bat, I was given enough encouragement so that the only obstacles in my way were my own—things like learning how to conduct a solid interview or better manage my time. I thrived in Spec’s competitive but community-focused environment, and I hungrily chased down stories and applied for higher positions.
But as I climbed up the ladder in the news section and ultimately became editor in chief, additional obstacles were heaped on top of my personal ones. And while this is to be expected when you come to manage a staff of over 250 people at the age of 21, it was still shocking and overwhelming when I slowly came to the realization that so many of these new obstacles stemmed from an undeniable, pernicious sexism.
While this was, of course, not the first time I had encountered sexism directly, I was experiencing it in a completely new way. It’s quite a different thing to compete with or learn from men here than it is to fulfill my duties as the leader of the organization.
I was called a “bully” for enforcing standard rules. A male staffer spread rumors about me as revenge for not reciprocating romantic feelings. Male staffers chose to scream at me in public rather than attempt to have a productive conversation. A particularly telling moment was when someone submitted an anonymous post to the public (and absurd) “Columbia Crushes” page stating: “JJ Spitz your bitchy tone makes me so wet I can’t control myself.”
As a female leader, my authority is construed as bitchiness, and I am constantly sexualized in a way that is totally irrelevant. And it wasn’t just the men—I faced pushback from women who were also more inclined to question my decisions and the motivation behind them. These factors sometimes made the glass ceiling feel more like concrete.
But it was usually more insidious than these incidents. It often felt like I was climbing a mountain in a blizzard—a constant, exhausting battle that my male counterparts didn’t even realize existed. There were the never-ending questioning of my authority and my credentials despite the hundreds of hours I devoted to Spec, the resistance to edits or initiatives that I tried to implement, or people who wrote me off because I didn’t fit their description of what a leader should look like. And trying to explain how difficult this is to people who don’t get it? Exhausting. And if it’s exhausting for me, a white woman from a privileged background, I beg you to take some time to reflect on how much more emotional labor women of color have to undertake.
Through these experiences, I gathered whatever empathy, courage, and analytical skills that existed inside me—many of which I do believe to be uniquely feminine—and fought for the values of Spec, which I believed in and still believe in, so deeply. In the moments that it felt most impossible to do my job, I approached the situation in the way that strong women always do: with an intense determination and an ever-thickening skin. Being the leader of an organization like Spec requires you to be mission-driven at all times and to feel so certain about the positive work you are doing for the community that the sexism just becomes another obstacle that you can overcome. This mentality has given me the confidence of knowing that whatever problems come my way in the future, I have developed the tools to face them head-on.
And while I feel it is important to acknowledge this sexism—so that other women know they aren’t alone, so that maybe everyone will take some time to reflect on how they treat the women around them—it was just one part of my Spec experience and something that I know is not unique to Spec. Dealing with a sexist environment is, unfortunately, the daily reality for women in similar organizations. What was ultimately so much more important to me at Spec were the people who would lift me up when I was at my lowest of lows, when I felt like I just could not climb that mountain for another second.
From the moment I stepped into our old office at 2875 Broadway, I met some of the most brilliant, passionate, and empathetic people I could ever have dreamed of meeting in college. They taught me, from day one, what it meant to hold people accountable, why spending my time here doing something real would be so gratifying, and what the true meaning of mentorship was. But more than anything, my friends at Spec knew me down to my core and accepted that person. And they helped me figure out what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be.
What we do at Spectator is so unique and so powerful. We’re barely entering adulthood, yet we have the ability to create conversations and forge our own seats at high-powered tables. My happiest memories at Spec will always be the mania of being a news reporter, trying to balance breaking news with enterprise stories and mentoring younger staffers. I never slept, but I was also never bored. And with every mistake, I would be built back up again by my mentors and colleagues. It was incredibly challenging at times, but so incredibly rewarding.
Because it really comes down to the fact that the adversity I faced was just so inconsequential compared to what I gained. So many people devoted their whole beings to making me better, and those people instilled in me the drive to do the same for any staffer at Spec.
At the end of the day, there was nothing more gratifying than looking around the newsroom and soaking in the sense of promise and excitement exuding from younger staffers. I loved coaching them through their first print nights and watching them proudly share their work on social media. I loved cringing at our voices in interview recordings, commiserating over battles with PR, and inhaling heaps of junk food to sustain us through print nights.
Near the end of this semester, a group of wildly talented Speccies published an investigation into how the University handles cases of tenured professors being found guilty of sexual misconduct. I had nothing to do with this story. When the writers and editors sent me the link after several all-nighters, I had to resist getting too sappy because I was so intensely proud. Passing on the Spec values of hard work, holding institutions accountable, and pushing ourselves to to be as insightful and critical as possible is such a privilege, and it hit me very hard in that moment.
There’s not one single, overarching message to this column. I can’t possibly distill my Spec experience into a few hundred words. But damn, do I feel lucky to have been a part of this.
Now, to thank those people who ensured my survival:
Aaron: We joke about how we just would not have made it through if we didn’t have each other, and I know for a fact that this is true. I could never have predicted that I would meet someone as ridiculously smart, hilarious, and loyal as you. You have been a true partner to me over the last four years, and I am so, so grateful to you. I always knew I could rely on you for anything, from staying late in the office if I simply needed to get out of there, to the endless commentary on the absurd situations we were thrown into on a daily basis, and the snarky jokes that would help me laugh all the way through them. You are also a stellar journalist who constantly pushed me to question my own beliefs and hold myself to a higher standard. Truly, what would I have done without you?
Tai: We’ve been through a lot together. And through it all, you’ve remained intensely reliable. I was definitely apprehensive when I became editor in chief and was tasked with overseeing our business operations, but you were always game to help me through it step-by-step, without once being condescending. I hope you know how much I appreciated feeling both respected and supported by you.
Catie: While your mind-blowingly good journalistic brain is something I will always associate with you, it’s frankly pretty low on the list of reasons why I love you so dearly. I love that you’re intense and hardworking, but what I love more is how compassionate, caring, and understanding you are. I’ve come to you with a million problems that you’re always willing to talk through with me, and you’ve been insanely patient when I’ve needed it the most (I was always such an easy person to mentor, right?). I love talking about Sex and the City with you, treating ourselves to fun nights out, and, of course, rewriting my intros ten thousand times. In the wise words of Charlotte York Goldenblatt, you are my soulmate.
Brad: From Spec Crush to boyfriend of two years (!), I am so wildly lucky to have you in my life. For so much of the last few years, I’ve been too exhausted to do anything other than sit around all day, and you were the ultimate comfort to me. Often, I would come to you after an ordeal in the office, completely sure I was right about everything. And while I like to think that I’m right most of the time, you always helped me cool down and expand my perspective. There’s a lot I don’t know or consider, and I’m thankful that you remind me of that. You have supported me so thoroughly through every trial and tribulation, and all I can say is: thank you and I love you.
Michael: It’s pretty insane to think that one semester at the tail end of your time at Spec would turn into a friendship that has affected me so deeply. When I talk about the values I’ve learned at Spec, so much of that has come directly from you. In terms of spending time on other people, you are clearly the gold standard—you have always given everything you have to the people around you, and I was just lucky enough to cross paths with you. I know that our relationship will last a lifetime.
Katherine: You are brilliant, tenacious, and deeply kind. During my year as EIC, I would often need to step back and take a moment to appreciate how blessed I was that you came into my life. If I was ever spiraling or overwhelmed, one conversation with you would often anchor me back to Earth and remind me why we do what we do. I am so wildly lucky that I got to pass the torch to you, and you have been doing me so proud ever since.
Rahil: When you first joined staff as a young newsie, we joked that you were like a teddy bear (did I ever tell you this? If not, now you know): sweet, funny, and just a joy to have in the office. Those things are still true, but you have grown into so much more than that. You are a formidable leader with an insane work ethic, but also have the ability to be a remarkably empathetic friend whenever the situation calls for it. You are a lovely human being, and I know you’ll succeed in whatever you choose to do.
Nima: What a freakin star you are! You owned revenue from the moment you got to Spec, and I was so lucky to be able to depend on you so entirely. Your charisma, thoughtfulness, and work ethic are so impressive to me. As publisher, you have carried on these values and changed B&I forever. Thank you for always being there.
The Newsies who came after me: You are all the lights of my life. Even for those of you whom I only got a semester or two with, I am so grateful for that time. You inspired me and kept me going every day.
The ladies who came before me, Catie, Caroline, Clara, Sam, Abby, and all of the powerful Women of Spec: thank you for staking a claim for me in this environment of ambitious and wild 18-22 year olds. Thank you for letting me vent when I needed it. And thank you for the endless advice.
Priscilla, Jordan, Anna, Nikky, Amber, Chelsea, Sydney, Hannah, and my friends from home who have no reason to care about Spec but are still completely invested, thank you; to my roomates, thank you for tolerating my noisy reentrances to our teeny doubles at 4 a.m. My friends, thank you for forcing me to be social when I claimed I was too tired. To all of you, thank you for making me so happy.
Jessica Spitz is a Columbia College senior majoring in history. She was a news deputy editor for the 140th volume, a news editor for the 141st volume, and the editor in chief and president for the 142nd volume.
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