Take Five with Khadijah Sharif-Drinkard ’93

Khadijah Sharif-Drinkard ’93 is VP, associate general counsel for Viacom Media Networks and BET Networks, responsible for the oversight of business and legal affairs for original programming, music programming, specials and news. She was instrumental in bringing the “Black Girls Rock!” franchise to BET and closed the deal for the biopic The New Edition Story, BET’s highest-rated show ever. Sharif-Drinkard is a graduate of the Women in Cable Telecommunications’ Betsy Magness Leadership Institute and holds several leadership positions, including with Viacom’s mentoring program “Get Connected;” she is also the president of the Board of Directors of the Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers’ Association. In 2013, she was presented the National Association of Multi-Ethnicity in Communications Luminary Award and the National Association of Female Executives Award on behalf of Viacom. Sharif-Drinkard contributes to the field of philanthropy and human development and has been on delegations to South Africa, Rome, Russia, China and the United Kingdom, and worked with the U.N. to help aspiring businesswomen from Iraq. She lives with her husband and daughters in New Jersey.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I arrived at Columbia as a feisty 17-year-old young woman from Harlem. Despite the fact that my housing projects were just nine blocks away, I was embarking on a different world when I entered the Gates. Nonetheless, I felt at home and ready to take on the challenge of college life. Since I had spent a considerable part of my childhood and adolescence on the campus with my family during summer outings and as a Double Discovery Center student in high school, I was familiar with the campus. I was excited and hopeful that I would meet a wonderful array of diverse and interesting classmates from around the world, and I looked forward to challenging myself in myriad areas. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.

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

I shared a suite in Carman Hall with three other girls as a freshman and pretty much enjoyed my time in the dorm. I recall that my roommate and I had different tastes in music and art, and did not operate on the same schedule, so it made it interesting to navigate dorm life — but I realized that experience was all a part of my transition to adulthood. I spent most of my time during freshman year in the dorm rooms of friends or in the library studying. When I was in the dorm, I cherished the hall meetings and the times I had to connect with my RA and classmates. After sharing a room my freshman year I was elated to have a single for the rest of my college tenure.

What class do you most remember and why?

I had two favorite classes. I enjoyed my sociology class with Professor Katherine Newman because we read interesting books that told the story of communities that had been forgotten or were downright invisible to others. I remember reading books like Michael Harrington’s Other America and various publications on gender, race and class and becoming so fired up about the deplorable plight of so many Americans that I would regularly leave class looking for more material to read on the subject of the day. I also enjoyed my political science class with Professor Dennis Dalton because he, like Professor Newman, provided us with a space to debate and challenge one another’s ideas — and this included his as well. My favorite assignment in his class was when I chose to write about the similarity between Plato’s Republic and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s introspective critique of where we stood as a society in some of his later writings. It was this freedom to venture into unchartered territory that allowed me to take a refreshing look at the field of political science, which made me feel as if I was embarking upon something novel and extraordinary.

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

Butler Library — something about the reading room had me awestruck. Perhaps it was the bright chandeliers, the large amount of books on display or the rows of wooden desks filled with history and students studying that made the space feel majestic and as though I was a part of something grand. My favorite time to study was during the latter part of the evening and into the night when the bright lights lit up the names outside the façade of Butler because, on the other side of the wall, there we sat trying to soak up the theories of the philosophers and create ones of our own. Although the space was large and expansive, I always felt a sense of warmth and collegiality in that room.

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

I probably would embrace the Core Curriculum more now since the material covered has been expanded.