A Korean-American student was originally meant to write this introduction. But she was afraid that, as an Asian person, she was unequipped to produce a preface for a video project that aspires to capture Blackness at our school. Being 12.5 percent biologically blacker than the next blackest person at The Eye, the task of introducing Black Columbia-ness has thus been left to me.
However, in engaging with the video diaries of Kai Tinsley, a sophomore at the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Kira Wilson, a sophomore at Barnard, and Eddie Ojo, a senior at Barnard—the brave Black student storytellers of this community video project—I have learned that, though I am Black, I am just as foreign to many of the experiences of Blackness on this campus as any non-Black student.
Much as journalism seeks structure and storylines, an account of Blackness in our Columbia community is one that, while racially homogenous, is experientially diverse. Hence, the short film that has been compiled from these diary clips is one that resists clarity. If watching this film feels jarring or confusing, then it has succeeded in documenting a people whose life at Columbia cannot be described by a single answer to any question.
Nevertheless, in creating such a project, we—as journalists, not artists—are compelled to ask questions. Our storytellers were self-selected from a group of nearly 100 Black students contacted from across the four undergraduate colleges. Our project participants were asked to record a response, in whatever way they felt best represented their answers, to two guiding questions:
1. How are African-American students’ cultural and college identities maintained and/or challenged as they exist simultaneously between the White space of Columbia and the Black space of Harlem?
2. Does Harlem function as a cultural community for Black students in a way similar to or different from Black cultural communities on campus like the Black Students Organization, Malcolm X Lounge, and the Barnard Organization of Soul Sisters?
When first presented with the guiding questions, some of our storytellers were perplexed as to how they could show their experiences through film. These are questions that they had considered, but to which they could not easily express the answers.
This short film was created neither to dispel the experiential disunion within the Black Columbia community nor to alleviate the issues of expression of Black Columbia life. In introducing this experimental multimedia journalism project to our Eye audience, I wish to let you, the reader (soon-to-be viewer), know, as our storytellers have let me know, that Black, White, or Korean-American, we are all foreigners in whatever that world is that’s called Black Columbia.
The final product strays far from the initial prompts that our storytellers were given. But with the ideas of community and belonging as our storytellers’ inspiration, they share with us themselves, their daily lives, and the spaces and places they inhabit during their time at college.
As new students are integrated into the campus community during these first few months, I hope that they are comfortable with the feelings of unfamiliarity and isolation that may arise. As the stories told in this video convey, each Columbian fits in in different ways. Just as I do not find my Blackness in this White school in the same spaces that our storytellers do, every Columbian is unique in how they explore and understand their Columbia-ness. Being and feeling different doesn’t mean that one is less Black or doesn’t belong at Columbia. It merely means that one is special. I would encourage us all to embrace that.
Juliana Kim contributed reporting.
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