What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?
I was an extremely precocious magnet school kid from Jersey who thought I had it all figured out — I already knew everything to know about New York City and had my whole 10-year plan of getting an econ degree and going into i-banking. Ten years later, I can tell you with absolute certainty I had nothing figured out and the plan was all wrong, although that econ degree in my back pocket is useful for tricking people into thinking I know how to do math. Also, I arrived with a pink Hello Kitty bathrobe. In my defense, it was very cozy.
What do you remember about your first-year living situation?
I lived in a four-person suite on Carman 7, which, obviously, was the best floor, with a group of very sweet individuals. We overlooked the Operation Ivy League bust, back when Greek life existed somewhat more on campus, and we didn’t realize how lucky we were to have functioning AC and heat.
I was randomly paired with a roommate who remains one of the best people I know; we ended up choosing to live together every year after that. She’s now doing very important and cool work I won’t tell you about, because she’s smart enough to know not to get her name into silly things I write for the press, no matter how many times I asked for Bwog. Also, she never made fun of the Hello Kitty robe to my face, for which I am eternally appreciative.
What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?
I was lucky enough to land in Lit Hum with Christia Mercer while she was chair of Lit Hum, and basically every class was a highlight. The Iliad is extremely dope. “Rage!!!” What a perfect opening line.
Outside of the excellent technical instruction, I also learned from her important lessons in leadership, like adaptability (e.g., if Crime and Punishment is on the syllabus, but there’s no way students can read Crime and Punishment in a week, you can change the syllabus) and how to actively be a support (e.g.., if students seem overwhelmed, you don’t have to make them read Crime and Punishment in a week). Christia has always been an excellent advocate for students, and it takes leadership like that to get through an objectively tough undergraduate experience like the College’s. I found there were a lot of individual professors like her who wanted to help, both while they were teaching and beyond, and that is a net good.
Back to my precociousness, though; I wish I had known to be more skeptical and question — or listen more closely to questions about — why the basic Core has stayed the same for so long and how that perpetuates white- and Western-centric values and perspectives. It takes more than one Toni Morrison book to make meaningful change, and I am grateful to the classmates and professors who helped me understand that.
Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?
Whenever I needed to clear my head I’d go sit up on the stage left ledge at Low (that pedestal is much more comfortable to lean on than the one on the other side). It was a comforting place to get a broad view of campus, which somehow made everything feel more manageable. People walking by either don’t notice you or just wave and shout “Hey,” so you don’t get bothered too much. OK, yeah, you got me: It kind of made me feel like a secret agent spying on campus.
What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?
So, so, so many things. But for now I’ll just say: I never did read Crime and Punishment. I hear it’s actually pretty good.