(For a quick answer to this question, please skip the next three paragraphs. And to watch Awakening Our Democracy: The "American" Dream, Immigration, and Belonging, hosted last week by the Office of University Life, visit our website livestream. Otherwise, please read on!)
When I was in college, I never imagined that I would become a professor or lead an office at Columbia focused on University-wide student life, intellectual life, and community citizenship. Instead, my ambition was to become a civil rights lawyer. After a post-college year in Southeast Asia and a stint at a civil rights organization, I headed to law school and then to the staff of Lambda Legal, a national organization focused on the civil rights of LGBT people and those with HIV/AIDS.
I loved being a Lambda staff attorney (will save stories for another blog post!) and, after nearly a decade, realized that becoming a law professor would give me more time for the teaching and writing I had been enjoying on the side. Some months later, I found myself in front of 100 students teaching civil procedure, a first-year law school class in how to prepare and move a lawsuit through the legal system. In 2006, I joined the Columbia Law School faculty to teach civil procedure and direct a new Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic. I have been at Columbia ever since.
Last year, after serving as University President Lee Bollinger's special advisor on sexual assault prevention and response, I had the opportunity to create this new Office of University Life. The Office itself is prompted by a question: What does it mean to be part of this University community? Columbia, after all, is the size of a small city, with more than 50,000 of us affiliated, including students, faculty, staff, and many others.
In response to this question, the Office has three focal points: student life, intellectual life, and community citizenship. Now, a quick word about each:
At Columbia, each school is overflowing with its own activities and classes, and with faculty and administrators who work closely with students on important issues and concerns. At the same time, some student life issues and concerns—such as mental health and wellness, inclusion and diversity, low-income and first-generation students' needs, and sexual respect/gender-based misconduct prevention and response—can benefit from conversation and action across multiple schools. In this, the Office of University Life can be a partner and convener.
Sometimes, too, students collaborate across schools on projects and plans, like the Lion Credit Union Initiative. For these, the Office of University Life is a direct contact point within the University's central administration.
Each school at Columbia is also bursting at the seams with events and conversations to enrich the intellectual life of everyone there, both in and outside of class. The Office of University Life offers University-level conversations—through events, such as the Awakening Our Democracy series, and online, in the Ideas and Action section of our website—as a complement to what is happening within each school.
You can also learn more about programs hosted nearly every day by Columbia's centers and institutes, which work across disciplines and across schools on myriad issues. Check "Centers and Institutes" on our website for more.
This part of our work focuses directly on what it means to be a member of this robustly pluralistic University community. Through the Sexual Respect and Community Citizenship Initiative, required for new students—and strongly encouraged for all—students are asked to reflect and act on the link between sexual respect and community citizenship at Columbia. (I'll write again on this, next week!)
We will also invite you to consider and engage deeply in the many dimensions of University community membership through events like last year's Selma screening and discussion, this year's Awakening Our Democracy series, and other forums to come.
Sign up for an advisory group, check out events, help us design a University Life app, join the digital conversation at Ideas and Action, and see more on our website.
I look forward to your participation and to joining you in a thought-provoking, enriching and enjoyable academic year.
Suzanne B. Goldberg is Executive Vice President for University Life. She is also the Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. To share your ideas with the Office of University Life, visit "Get Involved" on its website or email universitylife@columbia.