Tulsa Law Professor Felt Like a “Country Mouse” in NYC

Warigia headshot
Warigia Bowman ’90 is an associate professor at the University of Tulsa College of Law; she teaches water law, natural resources law, energy regulation and administrative law and directs the Sustainable Energy and Resources Law program. Bowman was a Harry S. Truman Scholar at the College. She has published widely on telecommunications and regulatory issues and has consulted for the Kenyan government, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the United Nations.

Bowman is spearheading a series of events on May 21 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race massacre, one of the country’s worst episodes of anti-Black violence. The series will include panels featuring law and history academics, an art installation, a poetry reading and a roundtable regarding Black Wall Street businesses.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I grew up in a town of 10,000 in northern New Mexico, so I was a country mouse excited about moving to the big city. I really wanted to get out of that town and see the world. I would often listen to that song “My Little Town,” by Simon & Garfunkel. When I got to New York I would walk down the sidewalk and smile at people, because that is what small-town people do; I remember people looking at me oddly, wondering why I was being friendly. It took me a while to get the hang of not making eye contact with every single person whom I met. I lived in Bonn, Germany, for a year before Columbia, so I thought I was very urbane and hip. But New York made Bonn seem small.

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

I don’t remember very much, but I have been informed by reliable sources that I resided in John Jay. I had a small single room on the seventh floor. Women had recently been admitted to the College, and being in a coed dorm was fun and interesting.

There were a lot of protests that year, almost all of which I took part in. I was stressed out and upset; my mother came to visit to keep me focused during exams, and brought me a lot of chocolate. I learned about jazz in my first year by listening to public radio — I remember specifically listening to Astrud Gilberto, Stan Getz and “The Quiet Storm” on WBLS.

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

I vividly remember my Literature Humanities class; I enjoyed the readings a lot. That was also a time when we discussed “diversifying” the Core with readings by women and people of color. I always laugh when I think how hard we worked to expand students’ minds about what a “classic” piece of literature is, and it surprises me also how successful we were with that movement. I also loved Music Hum. I enjoyed learning the differences between salsa, bachata and merengue, and I still frequently listen to much of the music my professor exposed me to.

I took several classes with Professor Eric Foner ’63, GSAS’69, who had a huge influence on me. In my office I have a copy of All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw, by Theodore Rosengarten, which Foner assigned to me. I also have a signed copy of Foner’s book Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877. We have corresponded over several years via handwritten letters, and more recently, email. Foner spoke at the University of Tulsa College of Law in 2019, and I was grateful that we were able to have dinner and reconnect.

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

There was a beautiful place upstairs in Butler Library, a niche with dark wood where you could sit. It could have been built in the late 1700s.

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

I had a very positive experience at the College. I remember, with quite a bit of pride, being taken to a police station in Harlem and being held for several hours after a protest where we occupied Hamilton Hall. People criticized the protesters, but I honestly learned a lot of soft skills, social skills and resilience from those experiences.

What do I wish I could do over? I wish I had studied harder, gone to every class and just been more focused. I wish I had drunk less Rolling Rock beer.

I was passionate, sincere, motivated and committed, but I am sure that many of my professors, wish I would have toned it down a few notches. I remember, with sorrow, a student from Louisiana putting up a White Power sign. I now have a lot more emotional tools to deal with that situation, and also more compassion and patience. If I had it to live that moment over again, I would have spoken with that student about how they were feeling and what they were trying to convey. Now that I am a teacher, I would have used the experience as an opportunity to have an important conversation.