This CEO’s College Life was “Living Single meets Seinfeld

Elizabeth Clay Roy headshot
Elizabeth Clay Roy ’02 is working to build an inclusive, multi-racial America as the CEO of Generation Citizen, which partners with schools to provide students with the civic knowledge and skills they need to strengthen our democracy. In 2022, Roy was recognized by Ebony as one of the magazine’s Power 100 and received a leadership award from Black Voices for Black Justice Fund, which supports Black leaders building power and equity for Black communities. Prior to joining Generation Citizen, she held leadership roles at TakeRoot Justice, Phipps Neighborhoods and South Bronx Rising Together in New York City; she was also the founding deputy director of Opportunity Nation, a national campaign to expand economic mobility. Roy co-authored Shaping Vibrant Cities, a guidebook on effective community-led urban planning based on her participatory governance work with Janaagraha in Bangalore, India. A longtime champion of experiential learning, Roy is on the board of World Learning, a leader in study abroad and global development. She lives with her family in Harlem.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

Eager, curious, enamored with the city and committed to creating a more fair and just world. I was so eager to get to New York that I came to campus a week early to engage with the Columbia Urban Experience — a week of community service, as an introduction to the College. I got to know a few community-serving organizations, including the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, where I volunteered for the next few years. My first week, I told some older students that I was considering political science as a major, and shared my passion for social justice. They encouraged me to consider urban studies instead, and I’m so grateful I took their advice. That put me on a path to the participatory democracy work that has animated my life.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

Oh, Carman 6! I made some of my closest friends for life within a few feet of my first dorm room. We explored the neighborhood and city together constantly, in our own 18-year-old version of Living Single meets Seinfeld. I’m grateful that many of us chose to make NYC home permanently, so these memories are always close at hand.

Given the late-20th century technology that was available (and not available), I also remember crowding around the old TV at the end of the hall to watch the news and bad movies.

What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?

I have some memories of good professors, but some of my most profound teachers were fellow students. I was involved with the Black Students Organization and College Democrats, and loved being in spaces that were as focused on action as reflection and learning. After the shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999, and the acquittal of the officers in 2000, I joined other Columbia students and New Yorkers in protests downtown. Those of us who were college students had been pre-teens when Rodney King was brutally beaten, so my emotions about police brutality had been simmering for years. Putting our bodies forward for arrest and raising our voices alongside so many other community leaders and members felt vital, and as profound an education as what I engaged with academically.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

In my first couple of years, I had a couple of favorite parts of campus. My favorite studying spot was the first-floor Reading Room in Butler Library. In good weather, I loved eating lunch on the grass near Low Steps — it was perfect for connecting with friends between classes. Late at night I ate junk food at JJ’s Place and I may have stepped into a bar on Amsterdam Avenue once or twice as well.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

I had the best gig with Spectator as a restaurant reviewer for one year! I think I had to give it up when I studied abroad, or some conflict came up, but I wish I had been able to do that for my entire time. What a way to get to know the city!