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Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Dan-el Padilla Peralta came to the United States with his family at the age of four. He received his B.A. summa cum laude from Princeton University, where he was chosen salutatorian of the class of 2006. He received his MPhil from the University of Oxford and his PhD in classics from Stanford University. He is currently a Mellon Research Fellow at Columbia University.

Where are you from?

I was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

What were you interested in studying/becoming when you were younger?

I had all kinds of interests when I was younger.  At various stages of my life, I wanted to become a neurosurgeon, an entomologist, an engineer, a biologist, and a classicist, the last of which I am right now! I was interested in law at some point but didn’t really want to practice it. I preferred learning about the academic side of it. That should give you a sense of some of my aspirations.

What is your current position? What do you enjoy most about it?

I’ll give you the full title of my position, which will make me feel really empowered! I am a Mellon Research Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Columbia and lecturer in classics. Essentially, I am a post-doc with an affiliation in the classics department. I have several responsibilities: I teach in the Core and I have my own research in the study of Roman religion.

How do you like it here?

I love being here. I did my PhD in Stanford and completed it in 2014 before coming here. I appreciate the contrast between the two institutions because Stanford is a very different place from Columbia.

What brought you to Columbia?

I did my master’s at Oxford and my B.A. at Princeton. It was at Princeton that I realized I wanted to pursue classics as my profession. I chose Columbia for my post-doctoral research because of the interdisciplinary fellowship. One of the most productive sides of this society is thinking about your own field, understanding other fields, and creating connections between them. I study ancient history, and having folks that work in early American art history and other different fields makes me realize my contribution to their studies. That is why I love being here.

However, I was drawn into getting my masters at Oxford because, along with Cambridge, Oxford really prepares you for a concentration in classics. Oxford is very unlike any U.S institution. One difference is that at Stanford, Columbia, or Princeton, one central administration oversees the study life of students. At Oxford, these responsibilities are distributed into different colleges. This lack of centralization allows you to do pretty much whatever you want, especially the graduate students. For some people it can be very good, and for some, it can be really bad.

How has your upbringing impacted how you approach your current position?

I immigrated to the United States from Dominican Republic when I was 4 years old. My family and I were undocumented until I left for Oxford. The question I always asked myself was, what do I become? My mom made the decision to stay in the States because she thought her children would have the best education here. That put pressure on my brother and me.

Do I simply pursue the things that give me joy and help me intellectually grow? Don’t get me wrong, for some people, being a lawyer or doctor gives them the joy that I was looking for. However, there is the fact that I was undocumented because I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to go to college. I was lucky enough to have great mentors, tutors, and teachers who helped me build my way through college, so my background had everything to do with long term professional outcomes that have been and will shape my life up to this day. However, one should be patient with figuring out one’s interests. When I arrived to Princeton my freshmen year, I had a huge list of classes I wanted to take. I was also under the impression that my interests would never change. After taking five courses my first semester, I realized I had more interests that I wanted to explore than I first thought. So, the moral of the story is that your interests will always evolve and that is perfectly fine.

When you were growing in homeless shelters, did you have any potential hesitations for not only going to a college like Columbia, but going to a college at all?

I’ve had several inspirations growing up: my mother and my mentors. I had an art instructor at the homeless shelter who had tremendous amount of faith in me. He gave me educational access so I could start private school at 7th grade in the Upper West Side, Manhattan. He made sure that I always kept the mindset that going to college is something I should expect from myself. I had amazing teachers too. My Latin/Greek teacher in high school was so committed to me buying into the idea that not only would I go to college, but I would also get into a great classics program. She is one of the people that inspired me to apply to Princeton. She had a great determination to teach her students not to be deterred by obstacles.

However, I do feel comfortable telling you this one thing. I’m still not quite sure to this day if it was a nightmare I had or if actually happened in real life, but one of my instructors at the homeless shelter told me that my family and I would never be able to leave the shelter. I was only nine, so I wasn’t sure if she was being serious, sarcastic, a hater, or just trying an alternative way of inspiring me to succeed. So, the haters will always be there and they have a way of pushing you to do better.

How did your socioeconomic status affect your college life when you were an undergraduate?

When I was an undergrad, I was really broke but I had a full ride. The major difference I had with my friends was they could take up the extracurricular activities and social lives that couldn’t afford. Like, who is going to buy the snacks? What are we going to do after the study break? As I got older, these small experiences would scale up in a very dramatically big way. For example, Princeton had eating clubs, similar to fraternities at Columbia. 70% of the upperclassmen population were members. The eating clubs were usually divided into two groups: the clubs for those who were rushing as members and the clubs that were open to anyone. Back in my day, it cost around $5,500 to $10,000 to be a member of an eating club. However, the clubs were not owned by the university, and they were funded by the alumni and other supporters, which meant my scholarship would not alleviate the cost if I were to apply to an eating club. I’m actually returning to Princeton as an Assistant Professor in 2016 after I complete my post-doctoral research here at Columbia.

I’ve been waiting for my green card since 2012 and I know you’ve had visa appeals from people like Hillary Clinton.  Could you elaborate more on that process?

I was undocumented all through my senior year of college. Then, I met someone from Cornell Law. His name was Steven and he helped me throughout the entire process of trying to retroactively change my status. If I could show that I couldn’t change my status when I was a child because I had neither money nor time, I would be able to change my undocumented status to F1 visa. So, I would be “normalized” and hold a legal status that could help me pursue opportunities after college.

After I graduated from Princeton, I had a dilemma of either going to Oxford for my master’s, which carried the possibility of me not being able to come back to the United States for 10 years! So I made a brave move and took my chances with Oxford. It was very likely that I wouldn’t be able to come back. But then, I knew if I did stay in the States, then I wouldn’t be able to have a job anyway, even as a Princeton graduate. When I finished my master’s at Oxford, Steven helped me apply for tourist visa but it was rejected the very same day I applied. I got lucky when Princeton offered me a job as a research assistant. The only reason I was offered this job was because I had a specialized training to help a project about the study of Roman history and the digital data base. Through that, I was eventually granted a work visa and a waiver! But the story does not end here…

When I got back to the States, I decided to get my PhD. Stanford was the best choice for a doctoral study in classics. However, I was not able enroll as a student since I had work visa. I had to go to my “home country” to get a student visa since I was considered an international student. So I applied for student visa as an undocumented immigrant living in the United States since four, and despite the rare chance of my application being accepted, I was granted a student visa! The story still does not end though…

After finishing graduate school, I still needed a work authorization to work at Columbia as a fellow. After obtaining my work authorization, I decided to propose to my long term girlfriend. Currently I’m waiting on my spousal documentation!

Lastly, any advice for low-income, undocumented/documented immigrant students at Columbia University? As I’m one of them, and I would love to hear some!

The most important thing I can emphasize is to remember to remain curious and open in both the classroom and your extracurricular activities. And remember to ask questions, lots of questions! Trust me, the instructors love when students ask questions. They get excited and actually appreciate those questions because it shows thinking and an effort to understand the material. Also, don’t forget that in college, the learning experience doesn’t strictly happen in a classroom setting. It also happens when you interact with your friends because they take different courses and participate in different activities. That is why it is important to remain curious and open and to hear and learn from others.

In a surprise move, Barnard has decided to rescind its funding from the Columbia Urban Experience Program (CUE) starting with the Class of 2020. In a letter sent to past CUE participants today, Dean Alina Wong cited low participation rates of Barnard students in the pre-orientation program over the last few years for deciding to terminate the school’s relationship with the program. CUE, a pre-orientation program started by Eric Garcetti (CC ’92), allows a cohort of incoming first-years come to campus a week early to do community service work while learning about major issues affecting the city.


A full copy of the email can be found below.


Dear CUE,


We appreciate the time that many of you have taken to share your thoughts about CUE with us. We have read each email, and listened at each meeting. Your deep connections and invaluable experiences with CUE are impressive to hear.


That being said, we must also weigh other factors that surround CUE, including the organization and implementation of the program; the considerable financial and staff resources expended; and its impact on NSOP and the broader Barnard community.


After much consideration and a great amount of deliberation, we have decided that beginning with the Class of 2020, Barnard will no longer participate in CUE as a pre-Orientation program.  We do realize that this decision will disappoint some people, so please understand that we do not come to it lightly.  While CUE offers many opportunities, overall participation has historically been limited–both by design and fiscal realities–and the number of participating Barnard students has always been low. We believe that the positive effects experienced by CUE participants should be broadened to more students, and that engagement with community agencies should be deepened. We also believe that we need to focus the College’s resources and the attention of the students on NSOP in order to enhance the entire incoming student body’s introduction and transition to Barnard and Columbia.


Many details must still be finalized with our Columbia colleagues – including the continued service of Barnard CUErs as coordinators and student leaders within the program, which we will support. We recognize the ways that CUE has been a meaningful experience to many, and understand the impact of this change. Moving forward, we plan to work collaboratively and creatively with students to develop and expand existing programs that will encourage students to engage in self-awareness and direct social action, including programs offered by Barnard Student Life, Barnard Reach Out (BRO and EBRO) and the New York City Civic Engagement Program (NYCCEP). We hope that there may still be opportunities to collaborate with CUE, understanding that this will take a different form than in the past. We hope that this creates an opportunity to develop innovative ways to engage our students and the community around us.

We are sorry to bear this bad news, and we believe it is in Barnard’s best interest at this point in time. If you would like to discuss in person, please feel free to make an appointment with me.



Dean Alina Wong

At tonight’s Basketball Mania event hosted by Columbia Athletics, the Women’s Basketball team thought it was a good idea to include in their dance performance what essentially amounts to a 15 second modern minstrel show.

The fetishization, sexualisation, and degradation of black women’s bodies is nothing new (see: Saartjie Baartman / any discussion of Serena Williams’ femininity / etc) but its shocking that people are still so brazen about it. We already know that black features are only desirable when appropriated by non-black people (cc: Kylie).

It is unsurprising that a team made up of mostly white players — I know there’s a black girl on the team, but that doesn’t mean they’re not racist — would not find any problems with this performance of blackness, but I’m going to need for everyone to take a step back and at least ~*pretend*~ to try and to not devalue members of the community for like 2 weeks at least. Let a girl get through these midterms.

A video of the performance can be found here.

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In one of my recent articles for The Lion, I had the opportunity to interview Kathy McKeown, a Comparative Literature major who is now a leading data scientist and a Computer Science professor here at Columbia. It was refreshing to hear about someone’s journey into CS, especially for someone like me who is currently trying to do the same thing. As noted on the department website, Columbia’s Computer Science department saw a 30% increase in students declaring a Computer Science major last year and has recorded double digit increases for the last several years.

While it’s nice to see such a large increase in interest in the field, it is abundantly clear that not everyone has decided to take on the major or join the field. In recent months, major technology companies have been releasing diversity reports of their workforce and the results haven’t been pretty. While Columbia, one of the most diverse schools in the Ivy League, does  not release data on the ethnic or gender breakdown for classes due to FERPA laws, its numbers are also quite dismal.

In a student-submitted question for Honors Introduction to Computer Science asking for the gender breakdown for the course, Professor John Kender said:

I think it’s horrifying that we live in a time where people keep pushing for more diversity in the technology sector, but at the same time continue to push people away with passive comments such as “This person just doesn’t fundamentally understand how to code and never will,” or “This is way too easy; no one should need to explain this concept to you.” I have actually heard CS people say these things. With comments like that, why would you want to spend your life in a field with people always looking down on you, whether vocally or behind your back?

Even though it’s hard, I think it’s crucial that everyone gets the opportunity to learn how to code and that they get the opportunity to do so without being looked down upon by more advanced programmers. Major props to my fellow classmates for also working on this issue by launching ColorCode to encourage more people to enter the fields of technology and entrepreneurship.

If you want to learn how to code; do it. And don’t let anyone convince you that you can’t.

Congratulations! You’re at Columbia! Now brace yourself for a deluge of substandard teaching practices.

But seriously, what does it take to get some quality education around here? As a senior, I have taken way too many classes where either I or the TA end up teaching me how to pass the test. What’s the point in having a professor if he or she is not going to teach us anything?

Change We Can Believe In

I don’t need technology in my lectures. I know everyone’s excited about bringing Powerpoints and videos into the classroom (my high school was obsessed with SmartBoards), but have you ever taken a Gulati class? The man is brilliant with a chalkboard.

Anyways, if there is technology in a lecture, I demand a copy. Because a) it’s easier to annotate a lecture that’s already written out than copy the whole thing over again, and b) it’s like showing a kid candy and saying you can’t have any.

Post the lectures. Online. Ahead of time. Please and thank you.

Regardless of whether a class has a chalkboard, whiteboard, or Powerpoint, I need my lectures to be organized. I want you to lay out a framework, and talk about each point, in order. I do not need you to skip around, or zoom ahead so fast that no one has a chance to write anything down.

This is not conducive to learning, and it makes the whole room hate you.

Finally, let’s talk about style – public speaking skills and such. Here’s a few don’ts: do not interrupt yourself mid-sentence right when you’re coming to your point. Do not mumble in a way that makes you impossible to understand. And for the love of God, do not speak in a monotone for 2 hours.

Conspiracy Theories

It’s rumored that professors have literally no incentive to teach (other than with grade inflation). That is, tenure at Columbia depends almost exclusively on things other than teaching – we’re assuming this is published research and/or papers. If you win the Nobel Prize, you get tenure. If you have a gold nugget on CULPA, no one cares.

In this kind of system, do the student evaluations even mean anything? Furthermore, do students even mean anything? Or are classes just seen as a necessary evil on the way to a pinnacle of academia? Food for thought.

Moving on, let’s talk hypotheticals. Maybe this is all some dastardly plan to force us to teach ourselves. I mean, if you have to learn it on your own (or risk failing), then maybe students learn it better. Maybe this is supposed to teach us independence, working in ambiguity, and all of those middle school goals we were supposed to achieve.

Maybe professors think that, by handing us things, like clear formulas and logical explanations, they’re making it too easy on us. After all, we are Columbia. We’re one of the best schools in the country – maybe dealing with nonsensical lectures is how we got there.

Maybe not.

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