Dear class of 2023,
Little can truly prepare us for college. Though we may have siblings, cousins, or friends who’ve been through it before us, the way these next four years unfold can’t really be foretold. That’s why, for many of us, we spend the summer before our first year idealizing what we want our lives to be like: what we want to see, what we want to do, and who we want to become.
Our lives seem, for the first time, fresh. Before us exists infinite possibilities to reinvent ourselves and discover who we are free from the expectations placed upon us by our families or hometowns. We could offer you sage advice about what “reinventing ourselves” actually means and takes, or we could recount the mistakes we’ve made and advise you against them. But honestly, we don’t really know ourselves either, and we’re halfway through our time here. What we do know for sure is that these next four years (and especially this first one) are about failure. Failure is trying something new, like ultimate frisbee or the vegan chicken at Ferris, and then deciding that maybe it’s not for you. Failure may be getting a C in a subject you excelled at in high school, only to come back next semester and try again. You will find out quickly that failure stings at first, but it ultimately shapes you as a person.
College is about having shitty opinions. You’re 18 after all; no one expects you to have your ideas and beliefs fully formed. But people do expect you to listen, engage with, and acknowledge the ways in which your beliefs can grow. This means raising your hand during a discussion section, but more importantly, knowing the times when it’s more important for you to listen than to speak. When it comes to this part of college—you know, the learning part—you’re lucky. You happen to be at a place designed specifically for that. And of course, learning can start in the classroom, but it most certainly shouldn’t end there.
Your peers will often be your best and most sound educators, so find ways to engage with them. We believe that interacting with the opinion pages of Spectator is one of the most accessible ways you can do that. Opinion journalism is unique; we want your hot takes, your points of view on performative exhaustion, swiping right on Tinder, and everything in between to grace our pages. Our columnists have explored their opinions on politics, being an Instagram influencer, and more. Contributors to our Discourse & Debate section go head-to-head on Columbia’s most contentious topics, in a rare opportunity to discuss complex issues with their peers.
Maybe these terms (op-eds, columns, Discourse & Debate) mean nothing to you. So let us explain.
Op-eds are the bread and butter of this section. They’re a place where your voice can be heard on everything from nannying in New York to housing for transfer students and more. Op-ed contributors have the chance to work closely with our opinion editors, who will collaborate with you to form a comprehensive piece to publish. Through the Spectator, you can speak your truth and ignite a buzz on campus with your words. You can start a conversation about something new, or join a conversation that’s already happening. Op-eds can manifest however you want them to; all you need is one idea. There is never a dull moment at Columbia, and you will without a doubt want to say something at some point. So, come to our pages.
Columns, unlike op-eds, are bi-weekly semester-long pieces of writing done by our class of columnists. Some columnists stick to a broader theme, relevant to campus life. Others choose to write each column about something different: whatever is on their mind. Columnists spend the semester developing their voice, creating a persona that’s recognizable even without a byline. Their pieces tackle some of the most difficult conversations we’re having on this campus and beyond the gates.
If you like to get into heated debates over the most pressing issues on our campus, then Discourse & Debate is for you. At our weekly meetings, contributors have the opportunity to brainstorm what they want to discuss and then dive into the nuances of topics like performative activism, the pros and cons of Adderall, whether or not Columbia should ban Greek life, and more. All of the pieces are published at the same time, so readers can take in several opinions at once and gain a multifaceted understanding of that week’s topic. While contributors often disagree in meetings, Discourse & Debate is also a way to form strong connections. More often than not by the middle of the semester, our contributors have found a family.
Coming to Columbia and moving to New York City is daunting. But the future in your hands, and you’re more ready than you think. You’ll soon find out that New York truly is the city that never sleeps, and that there are endless opportunities that await you here. We’re so excited to see what you do.
Erin Neil and Kaili Meier
Opinion co-Editorial Page Editors
Opinion Deputy Editorial Page Editor