Category: Academics

Photo Courtesy Josh Schenk, CC ’19

I care about grades. I care about grades a lot. I pretend not to because our culture is such that appearing to care about school is a character flaw. But so is not doing well.

Today, I skimmed this article about how the “world is run by C students” — an opinion I’ve heard before, but widely ignored because I know it doesn’t apply to me. But for some reason today, I opened it up and skimmed through it.

Bill Gates, Joe Biden, George W. Bush, the list rattled on. They have “run the world” despite being “mediocre” students.

“So why can’t you?,” The article argues.

It’s an interesting perspective, one meant to be encouraging to the students whose intelligence does not quite correspond with academia, but it’s one I feel uncomfortable thinking about. Maybe it’s because while I’m not the straight-A student this article juxtaposes, I’m also not a C student — but I could be. If I didn’t feverishly overwork myself, in fact, I would be.

But the thing is, I’m not Bill Gates. I’m not Joe Biden. I’m not George W. Bush. And I don’t mean that in a literal sense or even to allude to the fact that I might not be as ‘smart’ as them. I’m not them because I can’t get away with mediocrity the same way they were able to.

Women, People of Color, Low-Income students don’t get to just let school happen to them. We don’t get to be mediocre. If we are, suddenly people question our existence in academic spaces. If we are, suddenly people use us as examples of how systems of affirmative action are flawed. We become reduced to another cog in the supposed unfair system.

But no one ever uses the mediocrity of a white students to condemn white supremacy. No one uses the mediocrity of men to condemn patriarchy. No one uses the mediocrity of rich students to condemn classist education systems.

We don’t have the privilege of individualism — we represent the groups we are a part of, and we must prove our existence over and over again.

That’s a lot of pressure to carry.

So I do care about grades, and I care about grades a lot. And it’s not because I think grades are an accurate representation of my intelligence. It’s not because I get some sort of sadistic pleasure from stressing myself over grades. It’s because I just can’t afford to do poorly. I can’t afford to “waste” my college education because doing so means risking my chance of future financial stability. It means risking all the work my parents and I have put into getting here in the first place.

And that’s just something I can’t play around with.

So when I hear my peers joke about how unimportant an assignment is, I’m reminded that I don’t have the luxury of mediocrity. I’m reminded that for them, getting C’s is a choice and not a result of educational inequality propelled by my class and racial identities.

I don’t have the luxury of shrugging off my sub par academic performance because, for me, the consequences are much higher. And for me, even my hardest work is oftentimes not enough because I didn’t spend thirteen years of primary and secondary school preparing me for the academic intensity of college.

So perhaps it’s true that C students are the ones who “run the world.” Perhaps these articles are right and being a C student is a pre-req for high-level success. But let us not forget the first requisite of all: privilege.

Steve Jobs. Bill Gates. Mark Zuckerberg. There’s no doubt they’re brilliant men, but before we rattle on about how C-students and college dropouts are running the world, let’s not forget the position these brilliant men were in to accomplish all that they did. Let us not forget their maleness, their whiteness, their wealth.

The intentions of these articles are good. By reminding college students that “grades aren’t everything,” maybe we can comfort the over-worked and hyper-stressed students struggling to get through college, even if only for a brief moment.

But maybe we can accomplish this without undermining the hard work students put into school — especially those whose existence in college is already revolutionary, and especially for those whose only option for financial stability is struggling through an education system that was never built for them.

So maybe these students aren’t the future tech personality giants, but their presence and work is no less crucial for the future of our society.

Let us never, ever forget that.


This post was originally published on Medium.
Lesley Cordero is a junior in Columbia Engineering studying Computer Science.
The Lion is Columbia’s only publication that pledges to post all submissions (even anonymous ones) that meet our submission criteria. To respond to this Op-Ed or to submit one of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com

Lion Guides: Literature Humanities Review

We here at the Lion understand that this is a hectic week for you leading up to Fall Break. Two or three midterms? A couple of papers? We truly feel your struggle. Thus, to take a little load off your shoulders and maybe grant you an extra hour or so of sleep, we took the liberty of compiling various study guides filled with A1 content. Hopefully, this will make your cramming a breeze (like the one Iphigenia was sacrificed for). Good luck: may the odds be ever in your favor.

The Lion team would like to credit Ryan Mandelbaum, Michelle Vallejo, and Constance Boozer for putting together this comprehensive review guide.

NOTE: Some texts such as, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon are not included.

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Welcome to another installment of Ask an Adult, where Rebecca Hsu, CC ’89, tells you what to do about life’s biggest problems. Have a question? Send it to thecolumbialion@gmail.com – God knows we aren’t qualified to answer, but we’ll pass it along! 

Q: It’s finals week — save us! What do we do about stress?

A: What is stress? I’m a doctor, so let’s start with the medical definition: stress is defined as an organism’s total response to environmental demands or pressures.

As you approach finals week, I’m sure you understand. There have been studies to show that the stress felt by students taking finals is like that of soldiers entering a battle. Well, I definitely took a few exams where I would have preferred bullets flying by my head than writing the answer to the question.

First and most importantly, you need to realize what you are stressed about. You think you are freaking out because you need to pull an all-nighter to finish your Lit Hum paper, but what you may be more worried about is what to wear on your next hot date, since you can’t decide between the red pumps and the black sandals.

Let’s make it simple by starting with the obvious and easy. Find a way to RELAX both your body and your mind. This usually means taking a study break.

Here are a few suggestions for one:

 

Engage in some intimate time with another person. For those of you with your mind in the gutter, yes, sex is on the list. However, aside from the postcoital high that may follow by a good nap, it shouldn’t be the only option that comes to mind. A long walk, an interesting conversation, a nice meal, a massage, or any time spent in the company of someone you like can be very good for you. Even if all you do is vent about how much you hate whatever, at least you get it out of your system.

Do some intense physical activity. A healthy body leads to a healthy mind. Go for a run (not in Central Park, alone, after midnight. This is a stress relief thing, not a suicide mission). Get some friends together and play a game that involves a lot of running around. No, shopping doesn’t count in this category, but do read on.

Do some shopping. When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping! At least that’s how they handled stress in Great Neck, Long Island where I grew up. This can be great, but expensive. Window shopping, without buying, counts. Then you have a great excuse to buy it AFTER you pass your exams…

Do something quiet that lets your mind wander. Read a novel (one that isn’t required reading, of course). If you enjoy meditating, painting, writing, or any type of craft or hobby, now is a great time to break it out and dust it off. You liked it before school, so why not indulge a little now?

Make some noise. Sing, dance, blast that stereo for just a little while. Blow something up-that’s what chemistry lab is for, isn’t it? As an archer, I’d feel better when I just plain shot something. It could work for you too!
Just make certain you do SOMETHING. Cook, clean, create, or destroy something. Do whatever it takes to take your mind off the current problem. Remember that taking too long can be a problem, so whatever you choose to do, make it a quickie!

What SHOULDN’T you do?

Don’t beat yourself up for feeling stressed. You will only become more stressed. Pain is a relative thing. Just because you think it can’t get worse doesn’t mean it won’t!

Drowning yourself in ANYTHING is not good. This includes, but is not limited to ethanol, drugs, sex, work, and swimming pools. Follow Aristotle-there is a balance to be struck that works.

The key to stress relief is to find something to keep you happy while your mind works out the details of how to handle whatever is making you stressed. You will be surprised how quickly that works or fails to work if you are too intoxicated to think about anything. Get yourself calm and you will start to ask: “What stress? I feel great!”

Ok, maybe not great, but as long as you do SOMETHING other than what you were stressing out about, you’ll find that you didn’t need to stress after all. To assist you in this, let me make a suggestion:

Wear the pumps. They work with everything.

Two Columbia University students, Shreyas Vissapragada (CC) and Ankeeta Shah (BC), were named as winners of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship. Three other Columbia students were named as honorable mentions. They were Irene Zhang (CC), Kristy Choi (CC), and Sarah Yang (SEAS). The full listings for each student are listed below. You can check out the rest of the winners and honorable mentions on the Goldwater Scholars website.

Winners:

Ankeeta B Shah
Institution: Barnard College
Major(s): Biology, Computer Science
Career Goal: Ph.D. in Systems Biology. Conduct biomedical research and teach at the university level.

Shreyas Vissapragada
Institution: Columbia University
Major(s): Astrophysics, Computer science
Career Goal: Ph.D. in astronomy with a specialization in astrochemistry. Conduct interdisciplinary research on the chemistry of exoplanet formation and teach at the university level.

Honorable Mentions:

Irene P Zhang
Institution: Columbia University
Major(s): Physics
Career Goal: Ph.D. in Condensed Matter Physics. Conduct research in materials science and teach at the university level.

Kristy Choi
Institution: Columbia University
Major(s): Computer Science-Statistics
Career Goal: Ph.D. in Computational Biology. Develop new statistical tools to conduct data-driven research in biology and teach at the university level.

Sarah J Yang
Institution: Columbia University
Major(s): Chemical Engineering
Career Goal: Ph.D. in Bioengineering or Chemical Engineering. Conduct research in protein or metabolic engineering and teach at the university level.

 

This week, ColorCode was pleased to learn that Professor Kale revoked the Robocop competition and issued a full apology for the original assignment, which, as he writes, “failed to provide adequate context” for a data set laden with historical and political racial trauma. We appreciate Professor Kale’s explanation of the assignment’s intended impact––to lead students to interrogate the policy implications of ML classifiers trained on racist data––and hope that future assignments can convey this lesson with the clarity that this assignment lacked. We sincerely applaud Professor Kale’s timely and appropriate correction, and hope that all professors at Columbia can follow his example in responding to student concerns with empathy and accountability.

 

Since our last statement, some of our peers have questioned whether the assignment’s revocation has deprived the class of an ethics lesson in handling politically challenging data sets. Lessons should not come at the cost of direct harm to the most marginalized groups involved. While we agree with Professor Kale’s professed intentions in assigning the Robocop competition, we stand by our original assessment (with which Professor Kale himself has agreed): that the assignment in its original form could not have produced the intended pedagogical outcome and discussion on data responsibility in Machine Learning. And while this particular incident has been sufficiently redressed by Professor Kale himself, we think it’s important to locate the Robocop assignment in the context of a larger department and school that excludes and silences Black students and students of color. We are studying computer science in a department with few Black students and no Black faculty, in an engineering school that builds on a legacy of close collaboration with the U.S. military and NYPD, at a university that is gentrifying Harlem to build its newest science center. From casual remarks about our intelligence by classmates, TAs, and professors, to academic policies not intended to help the most marginalized of us succeed– these experiences contribute to an academic atmosphere that repeatedly dismisses and delegitimizes our pain by “intellectualizing” academic work with horrific, racist implications and impacts. Computer Science at Columbia is steeped in a history of racism that still persists today. Within this context, an assignment “welcoming” students to a “future” of “cyborg law enforcers” trained on racist, violently-collected data is inexcusable.

 

We therefore point to the Robocop incident as evidence that massive reform is needed within the department to support Black students and other students of color, low income students, and other marginalized people in STEM. Professor Kale’s swift response gives us a lot of hope that change can happen here at Columbia. We will continue to hold professors, departments, and the university accountable to the impact of their academic work. We join Mobilized African Diaspora in demanding greater academic support for marginalized students of color, especially the hiring of Black faculty in Computer Science and SEAS. We also ask that SEAS as a whole reaffirm its commitment to its most marginalized students by expanding course offerings on research ethics and incorporating requirements in African American Studies and Ethnic Studies. We ask this with the recognition that technical knowledge is dangerous without an analysis of race and power. Finally, we urge current professors to build on pedagogy and research that is explicitly anti-racist and anti-oppressive, that gives students the opportunity to work on projects that uplift and liberate communities of color and other marginalized people.

 

We thank the following groups for their explicit support (running list). Please reach out to colorcodeboard@gmail.com if your organization would like to co-sign:

National Society of Black Engineers– Columbia

The Lion

No Red Tape

Students for Justice in Palestine

Divest Barnard