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Congratulations on getting into Barnumbia! Whether you’re still trying to decide if CU is for you or you’re 100 percent certain you’ll be a Lion or a Bear next year, you should still read up on Columbia as much as you can. Required Reading can help you with that. From now until the end of NSOP, we’ll be publishing content geared toward making you a pro in all things Columbia-related. Subscribe and never miss a beat.

Last week, we told you we’d make sure your Columbia knowledge was up to snuff by the end of NSOP with our new history-oriented series, Context Clues. We aim to please, so here we are now with the first installment.

There are a handful of things about Columbia and Barnard that every incoming student should know. A few weeks ago, we told you all about the different campus traditions and events throughout the year (such as Orgo Night, the Tree Lighting Ceremony, and the Varsity Show), but a handful of students sometimes feel like these are not enough to foster a really strong campus community. Here are two specific “case studies” that they’ll often cite: Orgo Night and Bacchanal.

University denies marching band access to Butler Library for Orgo Night

December 13, 2016 | Catie Edmondson | File Photo

Some backstory in case you don’t know what Orgo Night is: The night before the first day of finals every semester, the Columbia University Marching Band goes into Butler Library 209 (one of the most popular study spots on campus) and puts on a brief (approximately) 30-minute performance. The band members play songs on their instruments, tell topical jokes (that can also be construed as being offensive to certain groups), and then later march around to various campus hotspots (such as to student dorms and PrezBo’s house) to serenade students and administrators.

But this past fall, CUMB was told it couldn’t go into the library. “So?” you say. “What’s the big deal?”

Orgo Night is a tradition that dates back to 1975. Year in and year out, it’s been held in Butler Library as an attempt to pull students away from their studying and take a break, even if just for a few minutes.

So when the administration announced its decision to deny CUMB access to Butler, there were mixed responses. Some people supported the University, saying that they would rather not be disturbed while studying, or that they didn’t want to be subjected to the jokes against marginalized groups that CUMB often mocks.

On the other hand, many students (and even alumni) felt that the University’s decision to move the performance out of Butler was 1) a form of censorship, 2) an example of the power struggle between administrators and students, and 3) another example of Columbia’s War on Fun—students had already been grumbling about the school’s lack of campus solidarity and traditions. What did it mean, then, if administrators were taking away one of the things students could hold on to to feel a part of the community?

It is important to note, though, that the administration didn’t say that Orgo Night couldn’t be performed at all—it was just saying that the event couldn’t take place in Butler 209. That’s why the situation is pretty complicated: Is Orgo Night a tradition because of the iconic location where it’s performed, because of the nature of the content, or because a mixture of both? (In case you were wondering, the show did go on, but in not in Butler 209, nor in Lerner Hall like the administration suggested. Instead, the band played outside of Butler, in front of a large crowd.)

This is an interesting story to follow, as Orgo Night will be coming up again pretty soon for the spring semester. We’ll see if the University stands by the same decision this time around.

Want to read more about the CUMB controversy? You can do so here. To watch a bit of last semester’s performance, here ya go:

The War on Bacch

April 28, 2015 | Catie Edmondson | File Photo

More backstory: Bacchanal is an annual spring concert that takes place right in front of Low Library. Even though Bacchanal is just a concert, students make an entire day of it: going to brunch in the morning, pregaming right before the concert in dorms and frats, watching the headliner from Low Steps or the lawns, and then going out to clubs in the evening.

But in the spring of 2016, there was a controversy surrounding Bacchanal: Public Safety wanted to create six “pens” (for a lack of a better word) in front of the stage from which ticket holders could watch the concert. The two main issues with this idea were that the space they were proposing was quite restrictive (there would be hardly any room to move around, that it would be hard to get in or out), as well as excessively expensive—the barriers would cost $16,000.

Anna Alonso / Senior Staff Designer

Ultimately, the barrier idea did not come to complete fruition (there were only two pens, not six), but it still left a sour taste in many students’ mouths: At a school with a pretty rigorous academic curriculum (which has been frequently criticized for its stress culture), to what ends does a student need to go just to have a bit of fun?

There were more issues between students and administrators in the spring of 2015, as this article begins: “It wasn’t a given that Bacchanal … largely considered by Columbia students to be the sole opportunity for a ‘real college experience,’ would happen this spring.”

Leading up to the spring 2015 concert, the Bacchanal Committee first had to deal with the administration canceling the fall concert, and then later threats of its canceling the spring one, forcing the committee to comply with certain regulations. The result was a Bacchanal unlike those in years past.

First, the concert took place over the Passover and Easter weekend, which conflicted with many students’ schedules. Second, a wristband system was implemented—basically, students had to line up hours before the concert to get pre-ordered wristbands that allowed admittance to the concert. Lastly, for the first time, there was a maximum number of students that could be admitted to the concert—those not lucky enough to get a ticket had to watch far away from Butler lawns.

Jenna Beers / Senior Staff Designer

Since the administration ultimately has control over whether a show goes on or not, the Bacchanal Committee had to compromise to preserve the event. This created a rising tension between administrators and students.

Many of the changes first implemented during the 2015 Bacchanal concert are still in place today. Ticketholders are still required to get a wristband the morning of the concert. There’s still a cap on the number of people who will get tickets.

Make the most out of your Columbia experience

Although there has certainly been some controversy surrounding Columbia’s campus traditions, that is not to say that no one ever has fun here. If you read this Required Reading article, you’ll find that there are several performances, sports games, and other traditions throughout the semester to look forward to.

The campus community scene is also, in part, what you make it. If you come in thinking that you won’t be able to find anything here, of course that’s what you’ll get out of it. If you go out, however, and seek opportunities to feel a part of the campus community (going to events, participating in spirit weeks, joining clubs, and going out with your friends to see a bit more of MoHi beyond campus), you’ll be able to make the most of every day on campus.

Have any other questions about campus traditions at Columbia? Any other topic you’d like to be featured in Context Clues? Let us know on our Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat @CUSpectrum.

Veronica Grace Taleon is Spectrum’s editor and a Barnard sophomore. Reach her at

required reading class of 2021 context clues columbia traditions orgo night bacchanal
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