Safe space for spontaneity: Part 1
Columbia needs more blanket forts.
By which I mean 1) we should literally build more blanket forts, and 2) that we should seek more spontaneous interaction among students, and more unorganized use of campus spaces.
The first point is pretty self-evident— let me explain the second.
Last week I hung out on Low Steps for 12 straight hours with a home-painted sign, some friends, and a steady barrage of baked goods. I talked to a wide variety of students from all four undergraduate schools, a security guard, a gaggle of Taiwanese tourists, and some very confused parents of prospies.
I was able to collect a wealth of insights and opinions regarding the state of our student body. And an issue that our conversations kept coming back to was isolation at Columbia. This issue in itself, it seems to me, is tied to a a web of other factors, but there are two that I’d like to discuss that are not always entirely obvious.
The first is space. Clearly, we already talk a lot about space at Columbia, about classroom shortages, and expansions, and maintaining “safe spaces” for all manner of identities and activates.
So I ask: where’s the safe space for spontaneity?
Hearing Columbians lament the lack of informal spaces is common, as much of Columbia’s campus is designed seemingly at odds with use based on whim. For example, the physical construction of campus is divided and directed by fences and hedges and gates.
The lawns are closed to frolicking more often than not. And don’t get me started on the residence hall sign-in procedures and the barriers they impose to our social interactions and friendships.
In this regard, Columbia has a lot it can learn from her sister across the street. Barnard’s lawn is open whenever for whatever. And whereas the oldest and most beautiful building at Columbia, Low Library, is rather poetically devoted not to the students but to the administration, Barnard’s oldest and most beautiful building is home-base for students, administrators, and many faculty, with space for department offices, extracurriculars, and a whole lot of classrooms.
The Diana, too, has already shown success as a student center, in contrast to that glassy and less successful Alfred Lerner, whose many rooms often need to be reserved in order to use them.
This brings me to the second less-obvious factor contributing to an environment of isolation: the reign of student groups. See, to use space here at Columbia, you very often need to book it, and to book it you have to be part of a student group. As such, public and spontaneous fun is simply not often possible according to the policies that regulate the use of space on campus. This student group issue is a complicated one, which I’ll address in part two of this series. So stay tuned!
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