As I see it, affection is practically invisible on this campus. Maybe it’s a New York thing. Or maybe it’s a generational thing—I have no clue. It absolutely doesn’t parade around in the open. Still, it’s there, and it fits into little interstices throughout the day: on a bench between classes, through small talk in passing, in dorm rooms, or on the job. On this campus—where it seems that people don’t have the time or expendable energy for extravagant gestures—love and affection come in short bursts: in moments that are indiscernible to most of us because they’re too short, too discreet, or too subtle.
I started this essay three weeks ago and carried my camera to class and around campus every day. The first two weeks killed me—I didn’t touch the shutter button once—because I didn’t know what to look for. I was looking for the “V-J Day in Times Square after WWII” stuff, and, of course, I didn’t find any of it. (Frankly, the project made me despondent for a few days, and I started to worry that it would only reinforce the popular narrative of a cold, stressful, and isolating student experience.) Eventually, I stopped romanticizing things; I acknowledged that I wasn’t going to find the overt, passionate affection I had set out for. And only then did I start to notice the affection in places I’d overlooked: behind the omelette bar in Ferris, on the remaining grass beside Low Steps, in the 3:55 p.m. stream outside of Hamilton.
If I’ve succeeded, I’ve captured a small slice of what affection looks like today at Columbia. I hope it makes you as optimistic as it makes me.
How do you guys get along? “We're usually high. Pretty effective.”
“I got him as a foster dog from the SPCA and learned the same day that I’m pregnant. So I just adopted him because I wanted my son to grow up with a dog.”
“Love on this campus? Get a picture of us. First day of NSOP, yo! We have the same haircut. We don’t care what people say.”
“You meet a lot of people on the job. I spend more time with them than I do with my whole family. Can’t depend on him to do nothing but I love him anyway. Basically, I’m LeBron James, and all these are my little cronies, my protégés. “Don’t be disrespectful. Protégés?!” “Protégés.”
“We met because we’re [in the] same program and we got put in the same class: statistical probability.” “I thought we met during orientation!” “Oh. Well, the class helped us get to know each other better.”
“In John Jay actually ... I was freshman, he was a sophomore, and I started to talk to him because I noticed him. ... And I pretended like I knew him and asked, ‘Have I seen you before?’” “And I said no.”
“She’s caring and funny.” “I was going to say I put up with your ... weirdness."
“We always talk sports and what goes on in the campus. [David] always gives me compliments, tells me how the kids are doing … Where do we meet? Wherever. Like the post over there! Or just in passing.”
“Barnard housing forced us together.” “And then there’s me.” “I don’t remember when I met Cobie-Ray.” “I kind of just appeared” “We met her at a hookah bar.” “Well, you took me to the hookah bar, which was really just a closed Mexican restaurant.”
“I always say that we’re the same photo—just with a different filter. We’re very similar in a lot of respects, just different in the details.” “What? I say that!”
“We’re friends, but we work together. Shake the tree and we both fall out, you know?”