Archive for the ‘February 2014’ Category:

Staff Personals

The staff of The Blue and White is getting nervous. They don’t want to spend Valentine’s day taking shots and writing aphorisms once again. Should one of these earnest, desperate personals strike a chord in your loin, each is followed by a staff member’s mailbox number.

SEEKING MEN

Serious, hard-hitting journalist looking for the raw truth. The orgasm. Altschul (4652)

Londoner seeks own Big Ben. (6593)

Francophile interested in trading skins and furs. (6485)

Samoan guy looking for white guy with Seinfeld Season 6. (9999)

Feminist seeking the second sex, and the third sex, and the fourth sex… (1234)

Uninitiated international student who wants to eat hot dogs and set off fireworks. Will you be my American boy?  (5904)

Illustrator would like to trace your dick. (5553)

COÖP C wants to rop, bop, and hop all up on you. (2288)

Method actress preparing for role seeks Brechtian lover/oppressor to romance her Thirty Years’ War style. (5892)

SEEKING WOMEN

Me: rising editor-in-chief of campus publication. You: first-year stunned senseless by power. It’s tradition! (4731)

Danielle Steel enthusiast seeking childlike play and looser gun laws. (3170)

Paper pusher looking for tush. (6369)

Big white man with tattoo of bird looking for big white woman with tattoo of dog. (6754)

Cub reporter seeks to bare all. (5857)

Uptown Boy wants entrance to dark Manhattan underworld. Wants hair tousled. (6555)

Eccentric world traveler/luggage loser seeks sock collector. (5169)

WHATEVER I CAN GET

Human Rights Major looking to violate your basic dignity. (5819)

Sick of just writing about dildos. (6000)

Party Boy looking for rest of squad. Wanna blaze that shit?  (6816)

Let me Freudian slip into something more cumfortable. (2179)

I put more than cigarettes in my mouth. (6572)

Troubled boy looking for father-figure/dominatrix. (2139)

I’ll be waiting for you. In New Jersey I wait forever. (5485)

Fake vegan loves the secret meat. (Altschul 6305)

Outsider Culture

Illustration by Alexander Pines

Illustration by Alexander Pines

On the first day of the New Student Orientation Program (NSOP), everyone in our orientation group went around saying where they were from; Connecticut, Ohio, LA, New York. There were squeals and high fives when people came from the same place. Then, “I grew up in Tokyo.” Silence and stares followed by, “Wait, what! No way. That is so cool! What is it like in Tokyo?”

When I tell people I grew up in Tokyo, they’re surprised—and that’s not even the whole truth. I was born in San Francisco to an American father and Australian mother, and moved to Tokyo when I was two. I am fluent in Japanese. Mostly, I leave out the Australian part, just so as not to really flummox that girl from Jersey.

Really, every answer I could give to that question other than, “I don’t know,” feels like a lie, or a cop out. I don’t feel like I’m from anywhere.

I’m a Third Culture Kid (TCK). A TCK is someone who spent much of their childhood outside of their parents’ cultures, and thus doesn’t fully absorb any one culture. I feel connected to all the societies and peoples that I was exposed to during my childhood – in my case, American, Australian, and Japanese – but don’t feel I belong to any of them. Truthfully, the community to which I belong is not those who share my ethnicity or nationality, but with other TCKs. Sometimes it’s hard, at least at first, to make deep connections with students who grew up somewhere with one dominating culture and haven’t had the multi-national childhood that I had.

I, along with other TCKs, am not a typical international student. I couldn’t even tell you what my home country was. TCKs even have a term that reflects this sense of rootlessness: we use the phrase “passport country” to talk about the place our passport or passports say we are from—which in my case is not necessarily where I feel most at home.

My first few months living in the United States after seventeen years in Tokyo were filled with constant adjustments. I had to mentally calculate what 45 degrees was in the rest of the world. All the food tasted too sweet and every dessert seemed to have cinnamon in it. People were so much louder, and so in your face, compared to in Tokyo. The subways were dirty, and always late.

I’ve made the pilgrimage to the United States every summer since I was little to visit family members and friends: tasting sugary breakfast cereals, fried chicken and junk food, and overstuffing my bags on the way home with all the things we couldn’t get in Tokyo, like dried apricots and granola bars. I’ve celebrated the Fourth of July with my family in Georgia (though until a moment ago, I didn’t know if Americans usually said “Fourth of July” or “July Fourth”). I voted in the most recent US Presidential elections via absentee ballot in

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Lombard Street in San Francisco, right near Chinatown (where I haven’t lived since I was two). My dad’s an American and I watch Hollywood-made movies like everyone else in the world. In my international school, I was labelled as an American, partially because I didn’t have an Australian accent, making me “not Australian enough.”

At Columbia, however, I’ve found that I’m “not American enough,” either.

Illustration by Alexander Pines

Illustration by Alexander Pines

Wandering around the Activities Fair during the first week of school, I was struck by the rows and rows of tables—many of which distinguished themselves using ethnically associative identifiers: “Asian American Alliance,” “Polish Student Society,” “Black Students Organization,” “Student Organization of Latinos.” It was hard enough to deal with the ramifications of what it meant to be an American college student, I couldn’t imagine picking just one of the cultures in my background. To my surprise, many fellow first years seemed to be doing just that—and it seemed so boring to me. I had expected, coming out of an international school, that Columbia would live up to its advertisements as one of the most diverse universities in America with a multicultural, inclusive, and integrated community. It hasn’t yet.

Frances Mayo, BC ’16, has also found Columbia’s community too dividing and exclusive. Given that she spent her childhood attending international schools and living in countries where she was a minority as a non-Asian person, she says she “looks at race different[ly from] many Americans.” Because of this, the move to her passport country and to New York for college has forced Frances to confront the self-segregating nature of Columbia’s community and America as a whole. It isn’t just the disparity of socioeconomic status that Frances finds shocking or surprising, it’s how connected race, ethnicity and class are to wealth in a country she finds trouble calling home.

Frances says, “I don’t even really identify myself as a college student.” She feels like an outsider

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or onlooker at typical “college” locales like John Jay or Butler. Though she talks about “finding where I am from,” and “settling in one place,” it’s unclear for her where that place would be, or whether she could identify herself with one place or society for any length of time.

It’s not that I don’t have a cultural identity, it’s that for me, and many other TCKs, I have many and they are flexible, which makes me hesitant to invest too much in them. For Jing Hao Liong, CC ’16, the main reason that TCKs do not associate with one single culture is because they have a more “fluid view of culture” compared to non-TCK students, inevitably leading to an “outsider’s perspective.” Importantly, Jing thinks “the label TCK makes us seem outside of all systems, which stops us from being too invested in any one culture or place.” He hasn’t lived anywhere for more than four years since leaving Malaysia, his passport country, at the age of six, and now feels that “even four years seems like a long time” to be in one place. Though Jing already felt only “nominally related” to Malaysia, it made him even less inclined to associate himself with any cultural groups on campus when he was told “you’re not really Malaysian” by other Malaysian Columbia students.

Luke Foster, CC ’15, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed son of American missionaries who grew up in rural Malawi and Mozambique says his cultural identity changes constantly. “I am proud to be African, especially a Mozambican,” he says. He used to be “much more assertive” about his African identity, something which he assumes must have confused many of his classmates. During his first year at Columbia, Luke went from being determined to return to Africa as an economic development specialist to being a self-professed Anglophile, majoring in English and focusing on the Western classics he was introduced to through the core curriculum. He now plans to remain in the United States, and has no immediate plans of returning to Mozambique.

At first, I was hesitant to speak for

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TCKs at Columbia. How could I hope to represent the opinions and stories of a group of student students who have had such varied childhoods? Though being a TCK is an identity in itself, it’s an abstract identity, without the tangible ties of ethnicity or shared customs. What I came to realize however, was that despite the vast array of backgrounds we have, one thing remains constant: the perspective of an outsider. Though it may be a contradiction, that’s what TCKs share. Together, we trade stories of attending international school and flying around the world to see our families; we discuss which country has the best candy. When we’re together, being a cultural outsider is point of connection, not a point of division.

Campus Gossip, February 2014

Pure Temptation

Overheard outside the Office for Student Engagement: “Direct service is like crack [...] it feels good to do it.”

The staff of The Eye is currently banned from St. A’s parties.

Legend tells of a floor in Wein

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where most of the residents are former RAs who got banned from being RAs

The Lion’s Tears

A wrestler is sitting in the sauna. Another comes in, asks the first why he wasn’t at practice. The first has a sore throat, and is hungover. They chat…

First: “You know, not gonna lie, I miss high school. I miss being the fuckin’ man.”

Second: “Yeah.”

First: “It’s hard getting your ass kicked all the time. Well, not all the time, but a good amount of the time.”

Second: “Yeah.”

Judith Butler’s personal email address contains the word “performative.”

A Feast of Nerds

As annual tradition, the MFA students have a vegan, gluten free soup group that meets every tuesday “in between Critical Issues and VALS.” These are excerpts from their Google Group:

“I will also be hosting a club immediately before Soup Club, probably meeting in the 2nd floor bathroom. It will be called Soap club and we can try different soaps every week. Then I will be hosting another club immediately after (same place) called Poop Club. Tuesdays will now be Soap Soup then Poop.”

“For these lovely pre/durational/post-pleasures: it would be a delight for me to collect viles [sic] of your pigments too, blue green primrose umber boot, if and when available. With gratitude, xo”

The Overheard St A’s Twitter—before it was deleted—was run from the inside and all quotes were genuine: “Never have I ever bought a suit off the rack.”

Who needs Downtown?

A few weeks ago, a well-dressed, professional-looking twenty something was hanging out at Koronets on a Wednesday night. Though he was there for over half an hour, he didn’t order a thing. Reportedly, he approached several students and whispered to them, “I got six bags and I’m sharing.”

 

Servitude … it’s refreshing!!

Digitalia, February 2014

As time passes, it seems that the acceptable amount of hair on a girl’s body seems to shrink ever further. We shave our legs (lower and upper halves), armpits, and even sometimes pubes, arms, and unibrows. Apparently, its sexy to be completely hairless except for the hair on your head and your eyebrows.

In “The Rape of Lock” by Alexander Pope, many figures of speech abound, lending it to being a sublime work of poetry. Anaphoras, for one, abound.

People who are automatically included in the truth are the higher-income individuals and those in a position of power in society. Minorities and lower-income individuals are unfortunately exluded from this truth. Tupac tackles this problem through the lyrics in his song Changes.

The American Dream is United States most famous slogan. Behind this slogan you have conceps related to freedom, education, hard work and health family to all human beings regardless of religion, color of its skin or believes.

It’s hard to change or pretend. But people can become knowledgeable and professional after learning and gaining experience. So that’s why I want to work for Kinsey capital because I want to become a knowledgeable and professional person with integrity.

The birth of a monetary dream

Only eight years before the Eurocrisis washed upon the shores of Europe, at the dawn of the new Millenium, the clocks for seventeen European countries were set on new course for the next century – it was

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the birth hour of Eurozone.

When Lehman Brother’s filed for bankruptcy in September 2008 the world came to a halt for a brief moment.

They were aware she was depressed, but it’s clear not only do they not consider schizophrenia as a possibility, they don’t even consider not including schizophrenia as a possibility.

Maybe a girl really is just a flirt with guys or is a downer on dates because she is nervous. The flaw is not that her friends considered those as possibilities—the flaw is that her friends didn’t consider all the possibilities, which they may not have been able to because of a lack of awareness.

There is

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no doubt that the NFL is the king of all the American sports, but one aspect of the sport which has been lacking and seeing a decline is the in game fan experience. This is a very important topic for the league to address because without fans in their stadiums their product isn’t the same and the league and organizations would be missing out on revenue streams generated on game days such as concessions, merchandise, gate receipts, parking and others.

Staff Personals

The staff of The Blue and White is getting nervous. They don’t want to spend Valentine’s day taking shots and writing aphorisms once again. Should one of these earnest, desperate personals strike a chord in your loin, each is followed by a staff member’s mailbox number.

Seeking Men

Serious, hard-hitting journalist looking for the raw truth. The orgasm. (Altschul 4652)

Londoner seeks own Big Ben. (6593)

Francophile interested in trading skins and furs. (6485)

Samoan guy looking for white guy with Seinfeld Season 6. (9999)

Feminist seeking the second sex, and the third sex, and the fourth sex… (1234)

Uninitiated international student who wants to eat hot dogs and set off fireworks. Will you be my American boy?  (5904)

Illustrator would like to trace your dick. (5553)

COÖP C wants to rop, bop, and hop all up on you. (2288)

Method actress preparing for role seeks Brechtian lover/oppressor to romance her Thirty Years’ War style. (5892)

 

 

Seeking Women

Me: rising editor-in-chief of campus publication. You: first-year stunned senseless by power. It’s tradition! (4731)

Danielle Steel enthusiast seeking childlike play and looser gun laws. (3170)

Paper pusher looking for tush. (6369)

Big white man with tattoo of bird looking for big white woman with tattoo of dog. (6754)

Cub reporter seeks to bare all. (5857)

Uptown Boy wants entrance to dark Manhattan underworld. Wants hair tousled. (6555)

Eccentric world traveler/luggage loser seeks sock collector. (5169)

 

Whatever I can get

Human Rights Major looking to violate your basic dignity. (5819)

Sick of just writing about dildos. (6000)

Party Boy looking for rest of squad. Wanna blaze that shit?  (6816)

Let me Freudian slip into something more cumfortable. (2179)

I put more than cigarettes in my mouth. (6572)

Troubled boy looking for father-figure/dominatrix. (2139)

I’ll be waiting for you. In New Jersey I wait forever. (5485)

Fake vegan loves the secret meat. (Altschul 6305)

Letter from the Editor, February 2014

A man walks through the woods looking for a clearing where he used to take dates as a boy. After walking for what feels like too long, he crosses paths with a woodsman. “Forester, can you help me? I’m looking for a perfectly circular clearing where the deer graze and the sun shines bright.” The woodsman squints: “You never asked me on any damn date!” He walks into the thicket and vanishes.

Like all great leaders and men of vision, I speak in confounding parables. The moral of this one can be paraphrased rather simply: never go home.

The student is something of a homeless animal. The good student fears comfort. In my case, I snatched the first opportunity I could to return to the city. Now, I enjoyed spending time with my family, eating home cooked meals, whispering around the hearth—I’m not hearthless. Parents have a certain kitschy wisdom. But after a few weeks with them I needed to cast off. I needed to be somewhere where I could really check my email.

I get a lot of emails these days. The beginning of second semester feels like a resuming and I usually find it underwhelming. But now that I am The Blue and White’s editor-in-chief, my whole world is new and fantastic, and I literally see the machinations of the Columbia bubble from a God’s eye view.

I’m taking the reins at a special moment in the magazine’s history: our twentieth volume. Out of respect for the tradition that this office represents, this year I am dedicated to blowing the lid off all the big stories and ideas.

“But what about the lifestyle?” you’re wondering. “The backroom deals? The parties?”

It’s good to be the king, brah.

Measure for Measure, February 2014

darkbulb

sometimes i wonder if its bad how often i think
that i would rather be sleeping
but “bad” is nothing but a word
to describe things we usually want

a man with a pocket of phds
told me that not all problems
can be solved with a hammer
and i imagined all my problems, condensed
into a glowing black cube, suspended in the air
and i imagined smashing it with a giant golden hammer
and it was painful

it seems like i only think about things that matter
at night, when i hear my own words in my skull
bouncing off of one another, muted,
like stoned bees in a hollow honey cave

i don’t think i want to be happy
just feeling something

the legend of the man formerly known as colonel sartoris

they say that The General was born sporting full military garb
with a bible in one hand and a gold-plated pistol in the other.
some say that his first words were “surrender, sweetheart”
and some say that he just muttered with conviction: “ulysses”.
scholars are convinced that he once summoned a meteor
to a small town in Texas at exactly midnight,
at the precise coordinates of his two lucky numbers.
no one knows his two lucky numbers.

people say The General once married a woman for seven minutes,
divorced her, married her again, shot her,
and then buried her in his backyard with his bare hands.
they say that he brought her ghost back the next morning
so that she could make him his steak and eggs,
and they say he pulled a Christ that day.
some say the woman was his mother.
it was actually his sister.

when asked to make a statement on the matter,
The General stroked his beard,
swallowed deeply and declined.
he then shattered like glass
into one hundred black-winged golden eagles
that vanished into the black Mississippi sky
without even the suggestion of a sound.

warm veins

sometimes I feel like my blood is tea
because that’s how chill I am
and sometimes I feel like my blood is blood
because that’s how human I am
sometimes I think there are not enough ways
to say I don’t care
but sometimes I think about you
and I realize that I do

sometimes I want to eat up all your words
and swallow them and keep them in my belly
and under my skin like the only blanket I need

Kate Gamble

Bluebook

Happy New Year

Student A bumps into Student B at Columbia-area bar.

Student A: B! Good to see you, dude. How

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was your break?

Student B: It was cool. I got to sleep in, watch TV. I love to watch TV with my three brothers. It sure was cold though! In New England! How about yours?

Student A: Yeah, I smoked through Sherlock and The West Wing, me and all my sisters. And when I wasn’t watching TV, I was partying or eating dinner. Heh, I guess you could say…

Student A raises their gin and tonic and clinks it against B’s.

Heh, I guess you could say I didn’t do shit.

Student B: Here’s to that! Freedom is a precious thing, A. It’s hard not to let this University eat up our curiosity, our creative intensity. We may be students, but we own our own time. We got lives to live!

Student B pulls on their red straw, nodding.

So seriously, what was up with that polar vortex? Yeah? Haha.

Student A: Seriously dude. It was cold out!

Their conversation halts. The silence nags at Student A as it grows. Despite a good effort A still can’t think of anything worthwhile to say. Under the stress A’s signature facial tic, which is a frozen kissy face, emerges. B sips long and hard.

Student B: So, what ah…classes are you taking?

The Answer is Luck

Jennifer Egan’s most recent novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, is a collection of 13 intertwined short stories dealing with time—the titular goon—music, and technology. The book won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, along with dozens of other accolades. Her latest short story, “Black Box,” was tweeted in 140-character increments before appearing in The New Yorker. She is currently working on a historical novel. Egan sat down with Luca Marzorati, CC ’15, at a café near her home in Fort Greene.

The Blue and White: What are you reading now?

JE: I’m reading very arcane material about the Merchant Marines in the twenties and thirties, so it’s not really necessarily for a wider readership (laughs). Some books are quasi-self-published—these old sea guys telling their story later. A lot of these were published in the eighties, when the speakers were in their sixties, and most of them have passed away now. I did read one contemporary thing that I really liked, which hasn’t come out yet, called The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann, who is a Norwegian writer. It’s a spare murder-mystery that’s put together in these little shards and pretty haunting and kind of scary, but I really liked it.

B&W: I assume the Merchant Marine books are research for the historical novel.

JE: It takes place in Brooklyn and New York in the thirties and forties—Depression and World War II. It’s been a sprawling project so we’ll see what actually happens. When I think, okay, I barely have enough research to deal with what I’ve been writing about, it feels like the story lurches into some new area about which I know nothing. So at this point I have deep-sea diving and all of the technology around that in that era. Very complicated—merchant marines, the Mafia and its relationship to the government during World War II. It may be a disaster, we’ll see.

B&W: What are the challenges of writing historical fiction?

JE: I think it’s definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m not sure whether I’m stymied by not working within my own lifetime—obviously I haven’t lived in the future, but somehow that wasn’t that hard for me—but this is incredibly hard. I never write autobiographically but I really do use the times and places that I know. I never knew how much I relied on them—remembering the feel of a place, all the little details that you just kind of know without knowing you know them.

Working outside my lifetime I know nothing. Just the most basic things I don’t know, and as a result I feel weirdly hindered or inhibited, so I keep waiting…The other thing is that maybe I have higher standards than other people have for themselves when they write historically. Right now, I’m thinking, how does anyone do it ever? Why? Does it have any merit? Is there anything I can say about this time that could be useful, or is it just bullshit? I don’t know, but I do like challenges. It’s good to feel so challenged, but the nature of the challenge is that I feel like I might not pull it off.

B&W: Do you have a different mindset writing fiction compared to nonfiction?

JE: Totally. Almost opposite. With fiction, I have no idea what I’m going to write before I write it. Any of the things I could think of are not going to be the interesting things. It always goes a different way that I couldn’t think of, and so I use writing as a way of generating a story. I don’t start with an outline, it’s literally this kind of blind fumbling—which of course is mostly terrible—but what I’m looking for is an interesting move which I wouldn’t have thought of. And then, I have an endless revision process where I try to turn all that in a way blather into something that is sharp and controlled and all those things. But the insights, I can’t seem to get to without this blind process.

Journalism is the diametric opposite. I already know the reality. The reality is out there. I don’t understand it. I’m a dunce when I start, but I know what I’m trying to get to, which is a kind of expertise that allows me to distill a complicated topic in a compressed way that makes it comprehensible for the average reader. As opposed to writing literally revealing the world to me, the world is there and I need to synthesize it.

B&W: Are you researching the entire book before you write it?

JE: No, my God! This is what is so hard! Because I don’t know what the story is, I don’t know what to research! I’m doomed to a feeling of absolute idiocy as I write this first draft because there’s no research ahead. Often the research itself suggests story possibilities that I wouldn’t have known. In a way, I’m at the moment of maximum misery. I finally do know what the story is, I think, but I also know that I haven’t done the right research and I have a huge amount ahead of me and I also know that it reads really crappily because of the lack of research, but there would have been no way to do it ahead of time because I didn’t know what the story would be. At the end of the day, I may look back and say this is really where I hit my limit—I just can’t thrive in this context as a writer, so I’ll write a crappy book, and the world will not end. I hope (laughs).

B&W: Do you ever try new forms and realize they are not working?

JE: I’ve definitely had things not work. I tried some things in Goon Squad that didn’t work actually. I really loved the idea of using a play structure or format for one chapter, to actually have it be about making a play and use dramatic writing as part of it. It seemed like such a great idea. It’s amazing how perfect things can sound conceptually and yet be so dead on arrival. I couldn’t make this thing live for love or money. I really wanted to write one in the form of epic verse poetry. I still think it would have been so much of a better book if I could have pulled that off—to have epic poetry and PowerPoint in one book! I was really inspired by [Byron’s poem] “Don Juan”— it’s such a great rollicking story, the writing is so loose and very self-conscious. He’ll comment about how the coffee was that morning, and then he’s back in the story. In this very naïve way, I thought, I want to do that. Well, you know, try copying one of the best poets who ever wrote! I can’t really write poetry and that was a big problem—it was a deal breaker! That one, it was kind of a nonstarter, because although I tried, I couldn’t actually write the poetry. I couldn’t do it—it was terrible.

I have a lot of ideas now. This book seems to be resolutely conventional—another strike against it—although I’m waiting to see if there’s some strange twist about that that I haven’t found yet. Then I want to write a companion to Goon Squad, actually, down the road, and I have some pretty radical ideas of things I’d like to do for that, but a lot of them won’t work.

The one thing I will say, this piece that I wrote that The New Yorker tweeted, that is one where I really did start with the form, and somehow I kind of landed on a story, a voice that seemed to live in my mind in that form, and that worked well, at least from my point of view. And PowerPoint, too. I started with PowerPoint, I didn’t have the story yet, I just had the program. It can work either way, but if you start with the form, you’ve got to find the story that requires it, and that can be hard.

B&W: You’ve incorporated PowerPoint, Twitter, and text message slang into your fiction. How can you explain your draw to technology?

JE: There’s this strange thing where I’m very resistant to technology as a human being and kind of frightened of it, but then as a writer I’m totally excited by it. It’s a strange paradox. I’m greedy—I’m looking around to see what feels resonant to me, fictionally. I’ve started to learn to identify a certain feeling I get when something might help me write fiction, and I just sort of file that away. PowerPoint, it happened before I even knew what PowerPoint was, which is really weird. I had never used it when I first thought, I would love to try that. I think I was just desperate, because every chapter of Goon Squad I wanted to have a different form, so almost anything would have been worth a try. With Twitter, even though I don’t really read Twitter that much, and definitely was not very comfortable tweeting, I just immediately felt a kind of interest in the way language emerged in that form, and the slightly serialized feeling of it, the odd, unexpected beauty of it. In Goon Squad, I used this odd texting at the end, and people have said, Oh, you’re trying to show…Are you kidding me? How boring! I thought it was beautiful. That’s why I liked it. It’s more a sense of possibilities that are interesting than a critique. If I feel critical of something—like, for example, Facebook—I’m really uninspired by that. It seems so boring, it feels really dull and generic—really Soviet—so it leads me nowhere and that makes me walk away.

B&W: Do you have any insight into the success of Goon Squad?

JE: The answer is luck. That’s what it is, but how do you get that luck? Because somehow you intersect with some sort of cultural curiosity at the moment. What that was, I don’t know. Certainly fragmented narratives seem to be of interest right now. I think there is a general preoccupation with time that I think is very technology-based. When I taught at NYU [before Goon Squad was released], I remember thinking, Wow, this will be great. I hadn’t really written about teens in a while, and my kids were younger, and I want to know how young people are dealing with technology and it will be great to get their perspective. What was weird was when I would talk to my students, it felt like they felt out-of-date. It felt like they and I were marveling at kids five years younger, who had grown up with things that they had only just started using. That was kind of odd to me, and made me realize that technology makes everyone feel old. I never thought this consciously, but I think it was maybe why I was interested in it, that that [the book’s structure] does weirdly mimic online experience. It’s a hyperlink in a certain way—the idea of falling from one thing to another and then, oh, there’s that. You can go on endlessly. That feeling of a book doing that was exciting for people, and it never crossed my mind, but I think it was probably the reason it was exciting to me too.

B&W: How does the literary theory you studied in college influence your work?

JE: I think it made me aware of the meta-possibilities, and I don’t think that’s bad. Most of my books have that quality of being about their own writing process. You can think about it or not, but especially with The Keep and Look at Me, the idea that this whole thing may be a document created by the plot you just read is sort of overt. I never want that to be attention-seeking. I think it’s boring when that becomes the whole point, but if that can be an additional echo in there, I think it adds richness. So I think it’s in my literary DNA for sure, and I’m not sorry about it, because I feel like as long as it’s fueling the story and not draining energy from the story, then the more the merrier. Let’s have everything in there, why not? If there’s one thing that can explain what I think fiction writing is for me, it’s, How can I do the most possible things at one time? It’s compression. That’s what it is. If I’m only doing one or two things, I’m in a very bad situation. If I’m reading someone who’s only doing one or two things, I’m bored. I like to feel that there’s almost this explosion of compression. I’m not saying a lot of plot lines, but many levels of storytelling and perception happening at once. That’s what I’m always trying to do, so if one of those can be a meta-level, if I’ve given that some thought, I’m happy about it and I think that that awareness is in me dating back to college.

B&W: What is the lure of constantly switching genres?

JE: For me, it’s really necessary. I don’t think I would have the motivation to do it if it just felt like something I had done before. It’s true that I don’t have any kind of brand, but who cares? I think that’s a bigger problem for a nonfiction writer than it is for a fiction writer. And in the end, I do it for fun. That really is my motivation, so it’s not fun if it doesn’t feel fresh or new. It’s not that there aren’t a lot of struggles, because there certainly are, even when it’s new, but the feeling of it being familiar, that’s like a deadly feeling to me. I think all the time: I don’t have to do this, there are a lot of other things to do that are more directly helpful to the human race. So this is what I’m doing as long as I think that I’m working at a level that’s satisfying to me. So when that ends, I’m out. There are a lot of other things that would be interesting and worthwhile.

B&W: What advice would you give to young writers?

JE: I think the number one thing is just read a lot. That almost matters more than the writing. At this age, you can’t expect to—this sounds awful, but—you’re not writing stuff  that you’re going to be sending out or saving. Especially if you’re in New York, to the degree possible, forget all the crap about who’s doing what and how to get ahead. It’s so hard not to get distracted by that, and I was so distracted by it for so long, but it turns out it’s completely meaningless. It’s so hard to do anything good, and not many people will. That’s what it’s all going to come down to.

“Accessible, Prompt and Equitable”?

The controversy over Columbia University’s handling of sexual assault has already hit the mainstream media. But the experiences of assault survivors have yet to be illuminated. This is the first installment of a two-part series sharing their stories and examining Columbia’s judiciary hearing process.

Trigger Warning for Sexual Assault and Rape on a College Campus.

The three alleged respondents whose identities were disclosed to me over the course of research for this series did not respond to requests for comment. Columbia officials denied my interview requests. Thus, this story is written solely with the cooperation of the accusers. The names of all students involved have been changed to protect their privacy.

This two-part article is based primarily on interviews conducted over four months with ten Columbia and Barnard students who allegedly suffered sexual violence or harassment on campus during academic years ranging from 2011-2012 to 2013-14. Of these ten men and women, six chose to report their assaults to the Office of Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct, as infractions of Columbia’s Gender-Based Misconduct Policy (PDF). Of those six students, two complaints were carried through the entire judicial hearing process to find the alleged assaulter responsible. Neither of the individuals found in violation of the policy was expelled.

This piece is not intended to evaluate the decisionmaking of Columbia’s hearing panels or assess the nature of the policy itself. Instead, it examines the degree to which Columbia fulfilled the procedural expectations outlined in its own Gender-Based Misconduct Policy according to assaulted students who turned to the University for help.

“Gender-based misconduct is a serious concern on college campuses throughout the country. To address this concern, the University provides educational and preventative programs, services for individuals who have been impacted by gender-based discrimination or harassment, and accessible, prompt, and equitable methods of investigation and resolution…In addition, the University will take steps to prevent the recurrence of the misconduct and correct its effects, if appropriate.”

— Columbia University, Gender-Based Misconduct Policies for Students

Tom was one of Sara’s closest friends. Their friends were all friends. They spent a lot of time together. They weren’t in a relationship, but had consensual sex twice.

One night at the end of August, Sara and Tom, both juniors at Columbia, were at a party. Tom was drunk; Sara was not. Tom is tall; Sara is slight. She had nearly fainted earlier that day from dehydration and wanted to take it easy. At the end of the night, they headed back to Sara’s room.

Sara said, minutes in, Tom grabbed her wrists and pinned her arms behind her head. He pushed her legs against her chest and forcefully penetrated her anus. They had never had anal sex before. They had never discussed it. It was painful. Sara began to struggle, screaming at him to stop, yelling at him to get off of her. He didn’t stop.

Afterwards, he laid next to her for a few seconds. They didn’t speak. He abruptly got out of bed, gathered his clothes, and walked out the door, leaving a handle of vodka behind him.

In New York State, first-degree rape is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 25 years. At Columbia, a student found responsible for rape, groping, or harassment could potentially receive the same punishment given to underage students found in possession of alcohol. Both offenses could result in expulsion. Both could result in a written warning. According the Policy on Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct, students found responsible for violating the policy, “may be subject to sanctions including, but not limited to, reprimand/warning, disciplinary probation, suspension, and dismissal.”

The students profiled in this series understood the range of punishments their assaulter might receive. They chose to report their assaults with Columbia instead of turning to the NYPD.

Some explicitly hoped for leniency—seeing their assaulter participate in a remedial, community-based program was more attractive than expulsion. In other cases, students felt conflicted about sending their assaulter to jail—“ruining the life”—of an individual who had once been a friend.

Sara believed Columbia’s alternative safer and more private than turning to the police: “I heard so many horrible stories about how badly the police handle cases like these. Columbia also advertises its resources so much that I thought they would really listen to me. I thought I would be taken care of,” she said. She expected that Tom would be expelled.

Unfortunately, said Stanley Arkin, Sara’s lawyer, Columbia’s concern with its

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public image results in a lack of transparency about a policy meant to keep its students safe and undermines the university’s commitment to fairness: “The University weighs discretion more than justice. It is trying so hard to keep these acts discrete that, to some extent, the process belies an effective justice.”

The Columbia policy on “gender-based misconduct” describes what a court might consider criminal activity with muted euphemisms: rape becomes “non-consensual sexual intercourse;” sexual abuse converts to “non-consensual sexual contact.” Alleged rapists are referred to in the policy and during the hearing panel as “respondents,” and all literature describes claimants as “complainants.” The judiciary hearing panel itself, typically composed of two deans/senior administrators and a student, is charged with determining whether the “respondent” is “responsible”—not whether he/she is guilty.

But the university’s promise to foster “a healthy and safe environment in which every member of the community can realize her or his fullest potential” was unequivocally compromised for Sara. Though a no-contact directive, preventing either student from speaking with the other, remains in place, Sara feels fundamentally unsafe in her environment. Her energies are not devoted to her academic work, but to steeling herself for an unexpected run-in with Tom in the library hall. Her capacity to “realize her fullest potential,” stymied.

As Sara put it, “I feel physically ill every time I walk within 100 feet of Tom. I am constantly on edge, fearing he’ll be around the corner.” When Tom recently tried to enter a darkroom in which she was working, Sara burst into tears and had to beg her confused professor to ask Tom to leave. She recently learned from Student Services for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct that Tom is permitted to resume his role as a freshman programming coordinator.

-

Sara never reported Tom to the police or procured a rape kit. She told a few close friends, but otherwise kept it to herself. Sara said going to the cops or even talking with a therapist, let alone filing a report of any kind, was too emotionally exhausting to pursue.

Then, at a party, she ran into Natalie, CC ’15, a former girlfriend of Tom’s; Sara had heard rumors of their messy relationship. She couldn’t help but wonder about the nature of their split.

Natalie and Tom started dating in 2011, three weeks into her freshman year at Columbia. They were together, on-and-off, until May of 2012.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, intimate partner violence is a particularly difficult area of sexual assault to measure, because “it often occurs in private, and victims are often reluctant to report incidents because of shame or fear of reprisal.” Columbia’s own definition “includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce…”

Natalie’s relationship with Tom fit both of these definitions: she felt emotionally and sexually exploited, but was unable to identify it as abuse.

She was suffering from serious depression before meeting Tom and had recently ended an emotionally abusive relationship.

She would later wonder whether Tom used her vulnerability to manipulate her. Her fragile state made their “destructive and unhealthy” physical relationship confusing at best. Tom often forcefully pinned her arms back against the mattress during sex; Natalie would cry during and after they slept together. Not until months after their break up did Natalie recognize this as non-consensual intercourse.

Though neither woman had originally considered reporting their alleged assaults, Sara felt terrified for her peers after discovering Tom had assaulted a second person: “I knew if no one punished him, he would keep on raping women… If I didn’t report it, he would keep harming people for the rest of his time on campus. He had to be stopped. That’s why I decided to report it.”

The two women filed with Student Services for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct: Sara on April 18, 2013, under “non-consensual sexual intercourse”; Natalie did the same on April 25, 2013 under “intimate partner violence” and “non-consensual sexual intercourse.”

Within five days of a complaint being filed with Student Services for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct, specially trained investigator(s) designated by the Assistant Director of Student Services for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct, Rosalie Siler, begin to gather “pertinent documentation materials” from both respondent and complainant. This information includes interviews with both parties as well any communication (text messages, emails) shared between the two students relating to the alleged assault. Interviews are also conducted with friends of the involved students who were told about the alleged assault.

NATALIE

“A specially trained investigator(s) designated by the Assistant Director will interview the complainant, respondent, and any witnesses…This investigator(s) will also gather any pertinent documentation materials. The investigator(s) will then prepare a report detailing the relevant content from the interviews and the documentation materials gathered.”

— Columbia University, Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct Policies for Students

Natalie was interviewed by one of Columbia’s neutral third party Title IX Investigators, Jilleian Sessions-Stackhouse. She was asked to dictate her narrative to Sessions-Stackhouse, who took notes by hand and without a recording device.

This fallible method of recording interviews seems an odd choice in investigating such serious alleged crimes. “She would write things down that were abbreviations of what I said,” Natalie recalled. “Things that weren’t correct. It didn’t come out coherently. It didn’t sound like a strong case.” Survivors of sexual assault often express that deciding when, how, and in what words their assault occurred is of the utmost importance. For Natalie, the holes in the transcript of her interview not only weakened her story but kept her from having ownership over the retelling of her history with emotional and sexual violence.

Because Natalie reported only two weeks before the end of the spring semester, the Office “wanted to get the case over with before the summer started. It felt very last minute,” she said.

Exhausted from final exams and moving out of her dorm for the summer vacation, Natalie told Student Services she wasn’t in the best mental or emotional space to represent herself and would rather push the hearing until after she had time to recuperate over vacation. Natalie remembers Sessions-Stackhouse encouraging her to speed up the investigation by participating more actively: “Jillein told me, ‘You’re not going to want to have to think about this over the summer.’”

“The panel uses “preponderance of evidence” as the standard of proof to determine whether a policy violation occurred. Preponderance of evidence means that a panel must be convinced based on the information provided that a policy violation was more likely to have occurred than to not have occurred in order to find a student responsible for violating a policy.”

— Columbia University, Gender-Based Misconduct Policies for Students

Complainants are given the opportunity to review and comment on the respondent’s statement regarding the case. Sessions-Stackhouse suggested that, if Natalie wasn’t prepared to dissect Tom’s statement, that she simply come in and make “Xs” in the margins to mark places where she disagreed with his version of the story, according to Natalie.

Natalie asked if she might take a copy of Tom’s statement home, to more carefully consider her response. Siler told her that students are not permitted to remove any materials relating to their case from the Office of Gender Misconduct and proposed that Sessions-Stackhouse simply read Tom’s letter to Natalie over the phone.

The logistics of coordinating private phone calls across times zones nine hours apart and around her family seemed an emotional burden too taxing to manage. “After a month of that huge mental space being taken up by that office, I couldn’t let it follow me,” she said. Assuming that (as it had when Tom postponed Sara’s case to spent the summer outside of New York) the investigation would be postponed until she was ready to participate and returned to Columbia in the fall, Natalie stopped returning Sessions-Stackhouse’s emails asking her to call and discuss the case, essentially removing herself from the investigation.

Natalie was surprised to receive a letter from Siler that seemed to end the case before it began: “Based on the information available from the investigation, there is not sufficient information to indicate that reasonable suspicion exists to believe that a policy violation occurred.”

Student Services never contacted the witness, a friend with whom Natalie had discussed Tom’s alleged abuse during their relationship, that Natalie provided.

With the case closed, Tom regained access to residence halls after a temporary restriction during the investigation. Natalie earned Incompletes in half of her classes that spring.

SARA

“Every effort will be made to convene a hearing panel as soon as practicable following the conclusion of the investigation—ideally within thirty (30) calendar days after the receipt of the initial report…Timelines may vary depending on the details of the case and at certain times of the academic year (e.g. during break periods, final exam time, etc.). ”

— Columbia University, “Gender-Based Misconduct Policies for Students”

Sara’s case took seven months. “They dragged it on… torturing me, just to tell me ‘no.’ He gets no punishment at all.” Sara reported her rape to Columbia on April 18, 2013. Tom was found “not responsible” on November 8.

Sara appealed the hearing panel’s findings. In the case of an appeal, final decisions regarding responsibility in sexual assault cases are made by either Terry Martinez, Dean of Student Affairs or James Valentini, Dean of Columbia College. Oddly, neither is physically present for the judiciary hearing. Instead, as Siler stated during an informational panel about the assault policy, Valentini “has access to the investigative report and information related to the hearing.”

Sara described Tom’s evasion of the hearing in her letter of appeal to Dean Valentini, arguing that, as the maxim goes, justice delayed is justice denied: Tom’s twice postponement of the hearing due to “academic conflicts” violated her right to a hearing “ideally within 30 days of the initial report.”

Further, as in Natalie’s case, the Title IX Investigator, Jilleian Sessions-Stackhouse, assigned to Sara’s case, recorded her story during their first interview manually. Sara watched Sessions-Stackhouse’s hand scribbling notes across a page and saw that she made glaring errors in her transcription. “I would be describing the position I was in when he raped me and her hand just wouldn’t move. She wouldn’t write it down. That’s important stuff.”

It was important enough that the investigator had to call Sara for subsequent interviews to fill in the details she missed the first time around. Sara’s file was complicated by the fact that her story was collected during multiple interviews, spread in bits and pieces across a thick packet of paper. Two addendums, stapled to the back of the packet, corrected the typos and misspellings included in the investigator’s original transcription of Sara’s interview. By contrast, Tom wrote his own explanatory statement in addition to the Title IX investigative interview: concise, carefully written, and legally-advised, it could be found easily in a single spot by members of the hearing panel.

It is unclear why Tom was allowed to include an independent additional statement in the investigative report, but the discrepancy seems to contradict the policy’s mandate to ensure balanced hearings.

“Hearing panelists receive specialized training focused on topics related to gender-based and sexual misconduct, how to facilitate the hearing process, and how to make decisions in the process.”

— Columbia University, Hearing Panel Application

Sara stood before the threesome of “specially trained panelists”—in her case, all faculty members—who determine the responsibility of the respondent. She was feeling confident. The panelists thanked her for her time and told her they knew it was hard for her to be there. They seemed sympathetic to her story and invested in hearing her voice.

Her confidence plummeted after one of the first questions asked by a panelist who seemed confused about the nature of rape itself: “Did he use lubrication? I don’t understand how it’s possible to have anal sex without using lubrication first,” Sara recalled the panelist saying.

Sara was stunned. “Rape is the use of force. You just shove it in and it hurts like hell and that’s why I was screaming… I couldn’t believe it was my responsibility to educate them about that,” she said.

In situations where the University becomes aware of a pattern of behavior by one or more respondents, the University will take appropriate action in an attempt to protect the University community.

— Columbia University, “Gender-Based Misconduct Policies for Students”

Finally, there was the evidence not considered relevant in the judiciary hearing. One of Sara’s main reasons for choosing to report was her awareness of assaults on other students.

As Arkin, her lawyer, put it, “Prior similar acts are powerful evidence of bad intentions.”

After reconvening the hearing panel to clarify their finding that Tom was not responsible, Dean Valentini wrote to Sara to deny her appeal:

“I have…concluded that the new evidence you have submitted [relating to Tom’s alleged repeat offenses with sexual violence] does not meet the standard [of overturning a panel’s original decision].”

In fact, Tom was the respondent in a third case filed with Student Services for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct. According to Valentini, three independent accusations of Tom’s sexual aggression did not constitute a pattern of behavior admissible in Sara’s case.

However, Tom was found responsible in the third case. That is, until Dean Valentini upheld Tom’s appeal, overturning the panel’s recommendation.

JOSIE

“The three grounds upon which an appeal of the decision and/or sanctions may be made are:

  1. The student believes a procedural error occurred, which the student feels may change or affect the outcome of the decision;

  2. The student has substantive new evidence that was not available at the time of the hearing and that may change the outcome of the decision;

  3. The student feels that the severity of the sanction is inappropriate given the details of the case.”

— Columbia University, Gender-Based Misconduct Policies for Students

Josie, BC ’13, was bartending a party in April of 2012. She went upstairs to bring down more beer to restock the bar. Tom, drunk, followed her; she hadn’t asked him to join her, but his offer to help retrieve the PBR seemed friendly enough. He came into the room behind her, shut the door, and flicked off the lights. She asked him what he was doing. He moved toward her aggressively, grabbed her arms, saying, ‘Come on,’ and tried to kiss her. She pushed him off and rushed from the room as quickly as she could.

Josie wrote it off as creepy, drunken aggression. She told some close friends how unnerved she was, but Tom left her alone after that night. “I wasn’t emotionally scarred or anything. I’m used to people grabbing my ass in bars—that’s the shitty state of the world today. Honestly, I didn’t even think it was a reportable offense covered by the misconduct policy,” she said.

But when a mutual friend of hers and Tom’s told Josie that she heard he was participating in a hearing panel related to sexual assault, something clicked. “What if I wasn’t as tall and strong as I am? What if I was really drunk? Those ideas made me very scared for other women,” she remembered thinking.

And so, in the spring of her senior year, Josie approached Siler about filing a complaint.

Although the hearing was postponed until after summer break (and after she had graduated from Barnard), Josie felt good about the process. Sessions-Stackhouse was attentive during her interviews. She felt supported by the “distinctly unbiased” three-faculty hearing panel.

Still, for Josie, the hearing was almost “more emotionally draining than the event itself… The possibility that people think you’re not telling the truth, especially about something so traumatic and intense is very scary. You don’t want these smart, objective people to look at the evidence and say, ‘We can’t convict this person.’ ”

The panel found Tom responsible, but it wasn’t exactly cathartic for Josie. Tom received a “disciplinary probation” sanction. A consequence of little concrete impact, the cautionary reprimand is a warning for the future, rather than a response to past offenses. It ambiguously states: “further violation of University policies…will likely result in more serious disciplinary action.”

“It didn’t change that something shitty happened to me or that he’s walking around. But it did feel good that the system worked…And then the feeling when they were listening to his appeal and they gave it to him was the worst feeling in the world,” said Josie.

By the time Tom filed an appeal to reduce his sanction in late November, Josie was employed full-time. Coming to Columbia to review the new investigative report between the hours of 9 and 5 was simply not an option.

The Office worked to accommodate her busy schedule; Melissa Rooker, Columbia’s Title IX Coordinator, went so far as to set up a special website on which Josie could review the file during her lunch hour. But reading documents on her work computer that described the intimate details of her assault felt unsafe.

She sent Rooker an email: “I’ve decided that I actually do not want to review the file or be involved with the process from this point forward. I made my case and I stand by my account of the events.”

The consequence of that decision may have cost Josie the appeal. Rooker responded quickly, telling Josie that the new hearing panel that would manage the appeal hearing, comprised of entirely different faculty members, none of whom were present during the initial hearing, would not have access to “any information regarding the previous investigation, the statements [Josie] made to the previous hearing panel or the rationale or [sic] the previous hearing panel’s decision. The [new] report contains your allegations and the answers to the clarifying questions you provided to Michael [Dunn, Josie’s new Title IX Investigator] last month,” Rooker wrote in an email to Josie.

Josie felt the hours and emotion she devoted to the first hearing were wasted. Though she could re-submit the statement included in the first investigative report, any questions she answered for the panel or comments she made to clarify and explain her experience would not be included as valid evidence. Nor, given her work schedule, would she have an opportunity to engage with the panel again. Instead, the panel would have access only to the original question and answer interview between her and Dunn.

“I was surprised that they listened to the appeal; I was not surprised that they overturned it. I wasn’t there. My testimony was not included. It was different panelists,” she said.

Then Josie received a letter, dated December 17, 2013, informing her of the hearing results, but the contents were confusing: they seemed to indicate that Josie had violated the misconduct policy.

“We were unable to determine that it was more likely than not that you engaged in behavior that meets the definition of sexual assault: non-consensual sexual contact. Therefore, the charge has been dismissed,” the letter, written by Virginia Ryan, the Interim Assistant Director of Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct.

The office had sent Josie the letter intended for Tom.

Josie was stunned by the callousness of such a mistake. Mostly, she wondered whether such sloppiness extended to other areas of her case: “What kind of a mix up is that? Makes one wonder, doesn’t it?”

All interview requests with any Columbia offices related to sexual assault—including the Rape Crisis Center, a confidential reporting service available to and run by students—were directed to Phung Tran, the Columbia Health Communications Manager. After six weeks of email exchange and a request that I pre-submit interview questions, which were “vetted by the department and senior staff,” Ms. Tran denied me a meeting with Rosalie Siler; La’Shawn Rivera, the Director of the Rape Crisis Center; or Melissa Rooker, Columbia’s Title IX Coordinator.

I sent a list of clarifying questions regarding the specific practices of Title IX Investigators, the standard of evidence needed to establish a “pattern of behavior,” and the rationale behind an appeal process that disregards previously obtained testimony. I was again declined an interview, and referred back to the policy.

Ms. Tran did not respond to questions regarding how the office ensures a balanced case, what informs the judiciary hearing process, or how effectively the office accommodates the concerns of both complainant and respondent.

In place of my first interview request, Ms. Tran attached a ten-paragraph written statement, responding primarily to a petition the Columbia University Democrats circulated during the fall semester, demanding that Columbia disclose “the number and nature of sexual assaults, rapes, and incidents of gender-based harassment and misconduct.” The statement described the interest of the President’s Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault (PACSA) on forming a subcommittee of student leaders interested in discussing the policy.

Further, it expressed concern that disclosing such statistics might infringe on the privacy of students, fearing that it might cause individuals involved in a judiciary hearing “to feel as if their cases have been identified and broadcast publicly to the community” but recognizing the “vital importance” of “candid discussions” surrounding sexual assault at Columbia.

I’m Not Really Sure Where This is Going Yet

“This might be stupid and I don’t know where I’m going with this yet, but—” a classmate makes excuses before launching into an analysis that is neither stupid nor undeveloped. I add a tally to my mental list of linguistic tics and unnecessary prefaces. The list started when I noticed that I typically end statements as questions—otherwise known as uptalk—and as I noticed similar linguistic quirks in other people my age, the list grew.

“Some people have compared [speech patterns] to viruses […] as you’re interacting with more people, the pool of viruses is enlarged,” says Josh Armstrong, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at UPenn. “So the novel words or novel turns of phrases will become more prevalent as more people use them. Kind of like a linguistic melting pot of sorts.”

The two metaphors aptly capture two prevalent attitudes towards the way in which Millennials speak: as a virus, our current speech patterns have weakened the grace and force our language once held (or so some argue), but as a melting pot, they draw upon a wide range of sources, expanding the possibilities of communication. One such expansion can be seen in the development of microlanguages.

“[Microlanguages are] whatever meaning two or more agents take and share between them,” Armstrong explains. “As shared past experiences or shared interests overlap, you’re going to get more, and larger, microlanguages. You can think of something like the standardnglish being the state that many people start with—it’s kind of like a default that can then be revised.”

In this view, uptalk does not merely signal a lack of confidence in the speaker; it is potentially a bridge across microlanguages and between people. John McWhorter, Professor of Linguistics at Columbia, states, “Over the past 25 years [uptalk] has become a standard colloquial way of communally making sure everybody has the same sources of information and assumptions.”

He consistently reminds me that some of these patterns may not be new or specific to Millennials—even Bugs Bunny used ‘interesting’ as an adjective instead of choosing a more appropriate word choice. But Professor McWhorter does relay a significant observation: “there is a fundamental aversion to being too pushy.” “Many see [uptalk] as mushy and unconfident,” he says, “but I see a lot of it as the linguistic equivalent of passing a joint around. Modern American English is almost oddly nice. There’s a muffin essence to it underneath all the snark.”

What I had considered evidence of our generation’s inability to commit to anything—even our own beliefs and feelings—might be better seen as a developed understanding of the world

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around us. As Armstrong points out, we are sensitive to our own relations to others. “People, even if just tacitly or unconsciously, are aware of power dynamics and their speech reflects it. […] Even if you’re not aware of it, there’s a felt sense of power dynamic and you’re negotiating that and your speech is reflecting your uncertainty or your sense of negotiating.”

John McWhorter sees uptalk as our acknowledgement of the complex nature of truth and of argument. “I entertain the idea that there genuinely is a kind of percolation into general consciousness of the porousness of truth, the dangers of certainty. If people are less given to pronouncement these days under a certain age, it could be seen as a triumph of the goal of education to broaden horizons. Education means, etymologically, ‘leading out’—and what one needs to be led out of is not just not knowing what the capital of Bulgaria is, but also out of thinking that serious issues have easy resolutions that everybody is somehow missing.”

Speech patterns are not a the plague; rather, they’re like constructive epidemics. And in their ability to spread rapidly and ubiquitously, our linguistic quirks provide the opportunity to deviate from a common language in order to establish a new one. But I mean, I might be the only one who feels this way …

Field of Dreams

Before the 116th subway station’s construction in 1904, Morningside Heights was a barren stretch of Manhattan. The arrival of a new station meant the prospect of new residents, and with them rising land prices, so Columbia administrators—ever opportunists—sought to cheaply acquire more land while they still could.

South Field, then a large, undeveloped plot of land sat enticingly next to Columbia, was about to make its market debut. According to Morningside Heights, Andrew Dolkart’s architectural history of Columbia and its surrounding area, President Nicholas Murray Butler had difficulty arranging the $2.25 million needed to purchase it from the New York Hospital. After some years of dealings, Columbia annexed the land, embracing it in a tight hug of newly constructed surrounding buildings. The central space was used for athletics.

After Baker Field was acquired in the twenties, most athletic teams left South Field, and the former training space was exchanged for an academic exercise facility: Butler Library. By 1951, Robert Held, a Columbia employee, wrote in a Letter to the Editor in the Spectator that South Field was an “unsightly expanse of superfluous mud” and proposed that Columbia turn it into a parking lot. Reacting to the field’s decline, the stalwart Supervisor of Security placed strict bans on the use of South Field, at times chasing rule-breaking students.

In 1957, Columbia College students petitioned to be allowed to lounge on the grass, but their effort died in the student government bureaucracy. Despite this, they continued to use the field in the spring with few official reprimands, and Columbia’s promotional materials featured photographs of students resting on South Field. In the spring of 1962, the administration released a statement of tacit tolerance for South Field idlers, noting that their “desire [came] naturally in the spring.” They did, however, retain

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an official rule against lying in the sun, an act they saw as adding “very little to the aesthetic value of the surroundings.”

South Field’s role in the 1968 demonstrations, rallies, and alternative classes secured the area as a representative space for student gatherings on campus. Indeed, a 1971 letter to the editor in the Spectator by Phoebe Greenberg, an employee at Butler Library, summed up the new role of the field: “If the events of spring 1968 had one result that all factions can agree on without reservations it is this: the right of everyone to walk all over South Field was secured.”

But as Columbia slipped into decline after the energy of ’68, so did South Field. A 1979 Spectator column called it “a kind of Hackensack meets Harlem” where “[t]he brown field [was] strewn with rocks and a few strands of grass grow here and there.” Through the nineties and eighties, South Field was persistently unmanicured. In 1980 a committee formed that was dedicated to improving South Field, but it disappeared in the bureaucracy before it could make a report. In 2000, Facilities re-sodded the field and planned a new program to keep it in shape.

Today, South Field is frequently off-limits through a flag system, and is blanketed with tarp during the winter. Dan Held, Executive Director of Communications in Facilities, stated in an e-mail that “a certified horticulturist and arborist […] helps determine the schedule” of when South Field is open.

Perhaps fittingly, South Field is host to an ongoing match of tug of war: students vie for access to an unrestricted, if charmingly unkempt, area, while administrators seeking to project Columbia’s glossy image limit student involvement.

At Two Swords’ Length: Negative

Are you a cop?

Am I a cop? Fuck no, man! I thought I was your boy! A cop? You’ve got to be shitting me.

How can you be sure? Man, when’s the last time you’ve seen a cop do some of the crazy shit we’ve gotten into? Our lives these past few months have been like Training Day, except, well…you’re the cop! You’re the crazy one! I’m just along for the ride.

And, think of it, we’ve done our fair share of—how do you want to put it?—criminal activity. I mean, remember when we first met, your boy Nelson introduced me to you, first thing we did—POW!—hijack this old lady’s car! Man, that feels like forever ago! September 31st!

Think about it, man. If I was a cop, you think I’d be down for all of this? Drug trafficking? Extortion? Arson? I’m no expert in the criminal justice system, but you’d think you’d be looking at a bunch of counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the first degree…that’s, like, 40 to life in prison, depending on the quality of your defense attorney.

How do I know all that? Ha!…maybe because I’m a criminal? I know you looked it up and it said I didn’t have a record, but that’s wrong man—they just don’t publish the stats. I’ve run away from jail so many times that the damn bureaucrats don’t want to embarrass themselves.

I mean, you know me. I’m streets, I’m tough, I work! Yeah, so what? I look like any other shmuck who takes the Long Island Rail Road to his shitty nine-to-five job. And, yeah, I’m a 42 year-old white man, but, hey, looks can be deceptive! As they say, don’t judge a cover by its looks.

And, truly, I owe you big time—you’ve taught me everything about the game. I know you always tell

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me, curiosity is my best quality. That’s why I ask you about everything—how your organization works, everyone’s names, family, where they live, their Social Security Numbers, where they usually are at about six in the morning—because I want to learn!

That’s why I’m so happy you let me install that recording system in your car and let me put that chip in your phone—this way, you won’t even have to fill me in! Every morning, I wake up a few hours early, and listen to the tapes, and I learn—what would you do in situation x, situation y, how would you handle this, how would you deal with that … I’m learning so much!

I keep those tapes organized, man. You know, back at my place. Sometimes, I look back on our best jobs—those are like the Eagles’ greatest hits albums! What, you don’t know the Eagles? Fuck it, it doesn’t matter.

Anyway…think how good I am with cops! When’s the last time you’ve seen a cop drive by, or seen one of those damn NYPD RVs with the command center inside? They never come around here anymore. I think it’s because they know I’m bad, man, real bad. Remember that time that the fucking State Police pulled us over on 95? Who’s the one that talked them out of it? Me man! I’m the bad motherfucker!

Shit, though. Imagine if I was a cop. You’d be fucked.

Curio Columbiana, Februrary 2014

After the 1968 campus riots, Columbia took a moment to assess itself. The University convened a fact finding commission headed by Harvard Law School professor Archibald Cox. The commission sought to understand the circumstances that precipitated radical action and what had happened. To this end, they interviewed tens of students, administrators and professors who had witnessed the events of the past year. The group produced a slim book, Crisis at Columbia: Report of the Fact-Finding Commission Appointed to Investigate the Disturbances at Columbia University, which was published in the fall of 1968. Excerpted here is a section titled “Conditions Special to Columbia” that attempts to illuminate what aspects of student life may have contributed to unrest. It begins by quoting a school psychologist’s report of his observations.

“Certainly loneliness, isolation, and social awkwardness are not ordinarily strangers to people of college age. However, it was my impression that the Columbia experience fostered rather than ameliorated such experiences. Firstly, the dormitories were constructed without sufficient care given to the social needs of students. Secondly, those who should be the representatives of adult society, introducing young men to experiences with male authority that would augment, correct, or alter earlier concepts brought from home or through readings and experience with the wider culture were simply not available. It is by now cliche (but nonetheless true) to point out that most of the men to whom the students turned in admiration were simply too busy with their own academic careers to devote much energy or attention to talking with students. At the Counseling Service it was often poignant to hear of the difficulties encountered by young men desperately in need of a male model who would wait on line for a few minutes of a professor’s time during one of his two office hours in a given week. There are, of course, notable exceptions; men who were able to maintain their academic productivity and also be available for social relationships with students … However, these men were and are few and far between.”

In the case of undergraduates, the inferior quality of student life outside the classroom frequently appears to have been accompanied by a feeling of second-class citizenship in the classroom. Columbia is one of the very few universities where graduate students outnumber undergraduates. We are aware of Columbia’s justified pride in the extraordinarily high level of instruction offered undergraduates, but the emphasis she has chosen to place upon graduate work, plus the sheer weight of numbers, leaves many undergraduates with a sense of neglect on the part of both the University and many professors. Furthermore, the relatively small size of the college at Columbia leaves the University without as large a center of gravity as other universities, to provide common institutional loyalty and coherence. Such conditions are not wholly remediable in a large urban center without enormous expenditures of money and devotion. Even then it is unlikely that Columbia could or would wish to emulate the residential colleges and houses of Harvard and Yale, or to seek to make the university the center of all its students’ activities as in small towns dominated by an academic community. Yet the quality of student life at Columbia is surely not beyond human influence and the failure to improve it must be put down as one of the causes of the April uprising.

At Two Swords’ Length: Affirmative

Are you a cop? 

You’re damn right I’m a cop! What makes you so curious huh? Got something to hide, buddy?

Heh! I’m just fuckin’ with you. Cause if you did have something to hide, you better believe I’d already be wrist-deep in your ass. No, you can always tell a perp: they sweat, make excuses, they don’t look you in the eye, they’re Mexican or black or something. Can’t fool me! They’ve got something in that ass they don’t want you to find. And I will find it, motherfucker—if I have to stick my whole head up there.

I look like a cop to you? Thanks, bud. You mean like a tough, authoritative, badass who deep down is a wiseguy/funnyman. That’s what a cop is supposed to look like. Trust me, I spend a lot of time with the assholes. That’s just the jargon of the force. My partner is an asshole, my lieutenant is an assface, all the other lazy sons-of-bitches in my unit deserve to get kicked in the ass. I love ’em, but that’s the way we talk, you know? That’s the way it is. And some days I just want to rip those assholes to pieces. I work a helluva lot harder than they do.

So I guess that means I’m a dedicated cop, right? Maybe idealistic—heh, I’ll plead to that. But good poh-leece. I’m in Vice. Been there three years, but everybody can tell I’m literally the best they’ve got. My partner has a nickname for me: “Ruthless Rod,” because Rod is my first name. The rest of my unit calls me the “Blunt Hound” because catching kids while they’re, ah, puffing up a blunt is sort of, ah, a specialty of mine.

Hell, I see blunts everywhere—back pockets, windowsills, the glove box where we keep the plant-blunts … I intuit them. Every day I wind up breaking down doors, kicking some punk in the face, finding that blunt and nailing their asses into the corkboard. Eight, maybe nine a day. Most of them kids! At the precinct, I’m the closest thing they’ve got to a Mozart. Where one guy sees a dutch, I see a dutch stuffed with crack rock. And who’s going to check? The judge? C’maaahn.

Maybe I sound arrogant. I am. In my line of work that’s a necessity. When you get entrusted with the legitimate authority to pound ass and fucking arrest people, you have to know you’re always right. If I go around doubting myself all the time, how am I supposed to tell this sixteen-year-old kid that I’m the authority, eh?

And, goddamn it, I believe in the force. We’re still a long way off from total security. I’m humble enough to admit that, right now, in this day and age, we don’t have good enough surveillance equipment to prevent all crime. But someday, with improved technology, we will live in peace. Our asses will finally be safe.

C’mon guy, sit with me for a while. I’ve got some fucked up stories I know you wanna hear.

I’m serious, buddy—sit back down. You’ve had what, one beer? If you’re thinking about exiting this bar and—oh, what’s that I think I hear? The jingle of car keys? (That’s on the record now.) Well, I’d have to protect you and the City of New York from yourself by tasing you in the ass. C’mon, sit down; I’ll buy you a drink. Or better yet, you’ll buy me a drink.