Category: Columbia

A year is long enough for surprises to happen, especially this past year. People suddenly found out that the world they live in has gone through a course that no one could ever have predicted. One year ago, hardly anyone foresaw the European Union losing its most important player and perhaps in the future losing a second one; hardly anyone could say affirmatively that a billionaire without any political experience could become the president of US. People are shocked, fearful, and puzzled by these facts. We call this series of events a wave of anti-establishment—not only anti-establishing the social system that we have relied on so much, but, more importantly, challenging the ways we look at and interpret the world.

While people are asking, “What is wrong with our world?” it is equally important to be introspective and ask what is “Wrong with my own thinking that causes so much disillusionment with what really happened?” It is not an easy question, and people can have diverse answers for it, but besides the debates of ideology, social norms and political correctness, maybe we can focus on something that is less paid attention to, something that seems to be irrelevant to politics: math.

Throughout human civilization, people have used reason to understand the world, and after thousands of years of development, almost every field of study has become dependent on the use of rationality. Usually, we tend to call such rational tool “model.” People use models to capture the factors of the issue being studied and use logical representations to depict the fundamental laws that govern the behavior of these factors. The most widely used model among people is the mathematical model, where the logical representations are necessarily mathematical expressions. Such a use of math has been adapted in economics, political science, sociology, and even psychology. Investors use math to make investment strategy, economists use math to understand the behavior of economics, politicians use math to predict the patterns of voters, and policymakers use math to structure the best policy for the country.

For a long time, math has successfully captured the behavior of the world and did a pretty good job in assisting people with their applications in the real world, and people have been more and more dependent on math to solve the complex situations they face. But because of these successes, people also ignore the shortcomings of mathematical models in social sciences, and such ignorance could cause problems.

One weakness of math models is that in order to achieve more accurate depiction of the scenario, comprehensiveness is sacrificed. The first thing to do when constructing a math model is to make assumptions and simplify the situation to a bunch of factors that are representable by math expressions. But in this simplification some important factors are tossed away because they cannot be clearly quantitated. One clear example is people’s sentiment, which in some cases dictates the situation, but because it is too hard to be modeled, it is usually left out or excessively simplified. With an absence of sentimental factors, the model can sometimes interpret facts incorrectly.

Another shortcoming of math is not a shortcoming in nature, but could hurt people when they are too dependent on a math model. The nature of math assumes a deterministic model. That is to say, with given conditions and given principles, the outcome can be well defined. Usually the models taught in economic classes and political science classes don’t assume any stochastic scenarios, and they don’t talk about things that are not solvable (otherwise what is the point of studying it?) But neither of the preconditions are always true. Sometimes we cannot grasp the condition correctly due to our limited ability to observe the complete picture, and sometimes we just simply don’t have the correct principles on which this world functions. In either case, model thinking could fail.

The use of math modeling in our daily life is not essentially problematic. It is the overdependence on it that causes some misleading in perceiving the world and interpreting it. If we don’t fully grasp the pros and cons of using mathematical reasoning in social science fields, we will constantly encounter conflicts between our assumptive beliefs and real facts.

 

Recently, a group of Chinese students reported that their room name tags were ripped off during the time of the Chinese New Year. Some students found that their door tags with their names written in Chinese spelling were removed, and such incidents were reported in different residence halls, including East Campus, Furnald, Shapiro and Hartley. The Lion is currently investigating if this is an intentional action of discrimination towards Chinese community.

This has raised concern among Chinese students. A student living in East Campus reported that she lives in a suite where all members are students from China, and their name tags have been ripped off three times since the beginning of this semester.

A number of students affected by such incidents have reported them to Public Safety and Residential Life, who we have also contacted for comment. We’ll update this story as we get more information.

 

Update 2/18/17, 3:48pm: The Deans of CC, SEAS, and GS have responded to the incident. The full email is below:

Dear Undergraduate Students,

It is an unfortunate reality that neither Columbia nor any other university is able to exist untouched by incidents that contradict our institution’s most precious values. The removal of the name tags of Chinese students living in undergraduate residence halls earlier this semester is one of those times, and all of us feel the harm done. Even more troubling is that the vandalism occurred around the celebration of Chinese New Year.

We continue to monitor the ongoing investigation of this incident and to provide support for students directly affected. As always, the investigation will remain confidential while it is being conducted. What we can tell you at this point is that we will continue to apply our rules and act in a manner that aims to deter this type of offensive behavior in the future. If you have any information that could shed light on what happened or those responsible, we urge you to please share it with a staff member in Residential Life or Multicultural Affairs, or to reach out to Cristen Kromm, Dean of Undergraduate Student Life for Columbia College and Columbia Engineering, or to Tom Harford, Dean of Students for the School of General Studies.

It is perhaps commonplace for people to point out after incidents like this that the measure of an institution is found in its response; nonetheless, the observation feels particularly apt in this case, given the two videos produced by Columbia students in recent days, as well as the solidarity event held by the Global Ambassadors Program. These and other poignant expressions serve as a powerful rejection of targeting of any group on our campus, whether identifiable by race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation. We applaud those messages; they are a testament to the strong spirit of activism, courage, support, and inclusion that defines our student body.

The collective commitment across our community to learning, expanding knowledge, and public service depends on an equal commitment to welcoming students, faculty, and staff from across the nation and around the world. It is impossible for us to pursue our schools’ missions without the contributions of people with a diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences. We will continue to frequently reassert this point during a time when the importance of celebrating difference bears reminding. We want to thank all of those who already have made themselves heard.

Sincerely,

Peter J. Awn
Dean
School of General Studies

Mary C. Boyce
Dean of The Fu Foundation School of
Engineering and Applied Science

James J. Valentini
Dean of Columbia College and
Vice President for Undergraduate Education

In response to pressure from groups on campus, Columbia President Lee Bollinger issued a statement early this morning regarding President Trump’s recent executive order regarding immigration policy. The full statement is below:

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

With the executive order issued by President Trump barring admission to the United States of Syrian refugees and imposing a 90-day ban on all immigrant and nonimmigrant entry from seven Muslim-majority nations, the fear so many have had about federal policies being changed in ways that could affect our community has become disturbingly real.

The public controversy and legal debate over the President’s order is intense.  Among the many strong petitions and compelling statements that have been issued is one from the Association of American Universities (AAU), of which Columbia is a member.  We join with many peers in decrying this action as discriminatory, damaging to America’s leadership in higher education, and contrary to our nation’s core values and founding principles.

At a practical level, we are advising community members and visiting scholars from the designated countries to suspend plans for international travel.  At the moment, we do not know of any Columbia students, faculty, or staff from the seven designated countries who are currently abroad.  In the meantime, we urge anyone seeking further guidance to contact our International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO).

At a more fundamental level, this order undermines the nation’s continuing commitment to remain open to the exchange of people and ideas.  We must not underestimate the scale of its impact.  An estimated 17,000 international students in the U.S. are from the seven nations covered by the entry ban.  Scholars planning to travel to the United States for meetings and conferences at our colleges and universities will effectively be barred from attending.  If this order stands, there is the certainty of a profound impact on our University community, which is committed to welcoming students, faculty, and staff from around the world, as well as across the nation.

As I have said on many occasions, it is critically important that the University, as such, not take stands on ideological or political issues.  Yet it is also true that the University, as an institution in the society, must step forward to object when policies and state action conflict with its fundamental values, and especially when they bespeak purposes and a mentality that are at odds with our basic mission.  This is such a case.
   
It is important to remind ourselves that the United States has not, except in episodes of national shame, excluded individuals from elsewhere in the world because of their religious or political beliefs.  We have learned that generalized fears of threats to our security do not justify exceptions to our founding ideals.  There are many powerful and self-evident reasons not to abandon these core values, but among them is the fact that invidious discrimination often adds fuel to deeply harmful stereotypes and hostility affecting our own citizens. 

It is with regret that I have to send this communication. 

Sincerely,

Lee C. Bollinger

In the past year as editor-in-chief of The Lion, I have had the chance to hear different voices from the student body and cover some of the events and issues impacting the Columbia community every single day. But with this, I also was exposed to a lot of the frustration and anger expressed towards the current campus publications.

Currently, there are four main publications that serve the community:

Columbia Spectator: “Offers news, arts, commentary, sports coverage, and photos from around campus and New York City, in conjunction with our blog, Spectrum, and our weekly arts and features magazine, The Eye.”

Bwog: “We post what you should have heard about as a member of the Columbia community, packaged with bad puns and coarse jokes.”

The Tab Columbia: “News Columbia students care about, in a style you actually want to read.”

The Lion: “The Lion’s goal is to create a platform to widen the circle of accepted discourse within the Columbia community.”

As publications, we have a clear goal: to help spread news to the community and to showcase the various ideas manifested by members of the Columbia community. Yet, at the same time, several publications have faced challenges doing that: either via the University or by how they’re run. As a result of unclear rules from the Activities Board at Columbia, the group tasked with approving new publications, and the desire to ensure that a publication is not forced to change content at the whim of the University, many of Columbia’s publications have chosen to stay independent.

Consequently, in order to maintain their sites and stay afloat, they resort to using a combination of clickbait titles and selectively choosing the content they choose to share — effectively shutting out voices and ideas in our community that deserve to be heard. A recent example of this was when Keenan Smith’s (CC ’18) A Seat At The Table, a piece about the experiences of Black women and Black queer folk at Columbia, was rejected by the Columbia Daily Spectator’s editorial staff for failing to be accessible to a “wider audience.” At a school where roughly 13% of student body identifies as Black/African-American, it’s concerning when publications do not deem even parts of this subgroup as wide enough to share a piece based on their experiences.

 

As a result of publications focusing on driving web traffic and getting advertisements, the entire experience is sub-par. This fixation on “What will get the most clicks?” or “What’s content that we can easily monetize?” causes many of the pieces you read from the main publications here to feel familiar — most likely because they are. And recently, some have become quite odd (looking at you, “Which Columbia Halal Cart Are You?” quiz and “My week eating just Koronet Pizza”)

And when it comes to news, publications have rushed to publish pieces in hopes of getting the web traffic for breaking news or failing to write in the correct tone for the gravity of the situation. Recently, The Lion experienced this when we initially published a report of a student death/incident in Broadway Hall and then refrained from updating the post with more information, leaving students and family members alike deeply concerned about their loved ones. While The Lion eventually rescinded the post after a board vote, we could and should have been more transparent with our readers. While we had an obligation and verified information about the incident, we should have waited until we were fully cleared to release all the details and names at once rather than leaving readers to search for information on their own.

Moreover, rather than scouting new voices, a lot of the writers we see published in Columbia’s publications are normally part of the same cohort of student writers and in many cases cover the same topic — mainly because those are the areas they have the most experience in. Case in point, in 2012, past Lion Writer, Stephen Snowder, went and compiled more than nine Spectator articles related to discourse and division. Expanding from these topics, by scrolling through past opinion pieces on all the publications, one will time and time again see posts relating to “fostering community at Columbia,” our love for the Columbia Dining and Public Safety staff (which I love and hope continues), leaked GroupMe screenshots from almost every group on campus, misquoting MLK and other leaders, and embracing change. And I will admit, these are all repeated articles that I still read and at times are good to see again. But where are the articles discussing the experiences of being a low-income student at Columbia, navigating life at this school while also working and having a family, adjusting from being a veteran to being a student, or ideas and experiences that you and I could not even begin to imagine?

But for all the flak Columbia’s publications get, they do a lot of great work. In particular, Spectator Staff Writer Larson Holt wrote an incredible piece detailing the tunnel system used by students with disabilities and many of the problems and dangers within them. Few of us think of the tunnels in our day-to-day lives let alone think of what it would be like to have to actually need to use them.

Likewise, Bwog has to be commended for its coverage on the Wrestling Team scandal that forced Columbia’s administration to hold students on the team accountable for the hateful, misogynistic speech that they shared. It also reminded us that even in our community, we need to still remind each other about being kind and respectful to one another.

The Tab during the past semester did an incredible job discussing some of the impressive students within the School of General Studies, a school that rarely is fairly represented within Columbia’s student publications. In particular, I was fascinated by writer Eugene Aiken’s interview with Leyla Martinez that discussed her life after incarceration and how she’s using her past experiences to improve the treatment of others after serving their time.

 

This semester, The Lion began a new columnist initiative. When we first started the project, we pushed for people to make their columns unique — something that mattered to them that would leave others thinking. The results were fascinating. We had columnists doing everything from analyzing Columbia’s architecture to finding parallels between life at Columbia and neuroscience  to even juxtaposing love and relationships with international relations . Each of these columnists took topics important to them and made them accessible to everyone. And each week, I loved seeing these interactions as people became enamored with topics they never even imagined they would be interested in reading. It was cool to see that happening and to see the role publications play in fostering community here at Columbia.

As publications, we need to work harder to bring new ideas into view, to expose new ideas to the Columbia community and bring ideas we have never thought of or had to consider to center stage. When I joined The Lion, these were some of the ideas I wanted to pursue. As a computer science major, I realized that while I might not be a writer by trade, it was important to understand and expose different ideas in the community. And as editor-in-chief over the last year, I tried my hardest to get those voices out. From interviewing students anonymously who were too afraid to share their views publicly to trying to bring in members new to writing, I enjoyed getting to hear those views. Moreover, through The Lion’s open-submissions policy, I got to see people email asking us to cover a topic and eventually watching them go on to write passionate articles and op-eds on their own. They got to tell their story — and it was so inspiring and beautiful to get to interact with multiple pieces like that every single week.

But even with The Lion’s open-submission policy, I know that we still did not make it possible for every voice to be heard. From the lack of funding and being unable to reserve rooms due to lack of official ABC recognition, there were many cases where students not from Columbia College and Columbia Engineering were unable to attend our meetings because they did not have swipe access to the open meetings managing board members held in their own rooms. Likewise, as a newer publication, many people had not heard about our policies and thus never knew they could submit to The Lion. Or after being turned down by another campus publication, they thought their views weren’t worthy of being published. In the future, I hope that we will see this change and that student publications focus even more on bringing in new perspectives and that the administration works with the club boards to further increase funding to support and recognize publications engaging in these endeavors.

While I have loved my time leading The Lion as its editor-in-chief over the last year, it is time for someone else to lead and work on bringing in these new ideas. Even as publications work to keep web traffic, developing new spaces and forms to allow people to express themselves to the community is something that should be considered and explored. With that, I leave The Lion with an even better board now taking the wheel lead by Arlena McClenton (BC ’19) as editor-in-chief and Veronica Roach (CC ’20) serving as the new managing editor. These two women have shown a strong dedication to bringing new ideas into the spotlight and ensuring The Lion does its part in making sure every voice in this community is heard.

With a lot of concerns from various parts of our community after the recent U.S. Elections, I know there will be a plethora of voices and perspectives to be heard and shared in the coming months. I wish best of luck to the new managing board of The Columbia Lion. Parts of our community may feel hurt and excluded, but when we come together in solidarity, I know that there will be incredible things in our future —we just have to wait for it.

Signing off,

William Essilfie

Editor Emeritus, The Columbia Lion

In an email sent to students earlier today, Dean of Columbia College, James Valentini, has notified students of the passing of Ezekiel “Zeke” Reiser, a Columbia College student who entered with the Class of 2014. Reiser, son of adjunct faculty members from GSAPP passed away over the weekend.

The full email can be found below:

Dear Students,

I am devastated to be writing to you again about the passing of a Columbia College student. Ezekiel “Zeke” Reiser, who was the son of adjunct faculty members in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP) and entered Columbia College with the Class of 2014, died this weekend at his family’s home in New York.

Below is a message sent by Dean Amale Andraos to the GSAPP faculty, which includes memorial information for Zeke.

I know that many of you are still healing from other recent news. Each loss we experience takes a toll, and this has been and continues to be an incredibly difficult time for us all.

Please continue to take care of yourselves and each other and don’t hesitate to reach out to the staff throughout the University here to support you, including clinicians from Counseling and Psychological Services (212-854-2878), staff from the Office of the University Chaplain (212-854-1493), your advisers in the Berick Center for Student Advising (212-854-6378), and your Residential Life staff, including your RAs.

My thoughts are with Zeke’s family and friends, and all of you.

James J. Valentini
Dean of Columbia College and
Vice President for Undergraduate Education

cc:  Mary C. Boyce, Dean of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science

Resources

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: GSAPP Dean’s Office <deansoffice@arch.columbia.edu>
Date: Mon, Jan 23, 2017 at 4:44 PM
Subject: Zeke Reiser

Dear Friends and colleagues,

It is with great sadness that I share the heartbreaking news of the death of Zeke Reiser, the son of our colleagues Nanako Umemoto and Jesse Reiser, this past weekend. Zeke was also a member of the Columbia community as a student at Columbia College.

A memorial ceremony is planned for 2 pm on Wednesday January 25th, at the home of Deborah Reiser, 28 South Washington Ave, Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522.

Sincerely,
Amale

Amale Andraos
Dean, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
Columbia University, New York