Category: Featured

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

Looking to explore New York’s theater scene? While tickets can be expensive or hard to come by at times, we’ve compiled some of the best ways to secure yourself a seat in the theaters where it happens.

Want to enter ticket lotteries and buy tickets, but don’t feel like making the effort to leave campus? TodayTix is the perfect app for you. At the click of a button, you can buy tickets and even enter lotteries. The application is a great way to easily plan Broadway and Off-Broadway show events with your friends. You can also get $10 off your first order using the code VMANV.*
*Affiliate code
If you’re walking around Times Square and want to buy Broadway tickets at up to 50% off, visit the TKTS booth in the middle of Times Square. Everyday they sell tickets to shows with extra seats left so this is a great way to get a seat in any of the area’s popular shows.
At the start of the semester, The TIC, located in Lerner Hall begins selling discounted tickets for specific dates to certain Broadway and Off-Broadway productions. In the past, tickets have been sold at significant discounts to Hamilton, School of Rock, and Wicked. Due to the limited supply, students have been known to camp outside the TIC booth starting as early as 8AM to secure tickets to some of the more popular shows. A list of performances for the fall semester is posted on their website a few weeks before the booth opens for the semester.
General Rush:
Several productions offer discounted tickets starting at 10AM the morning of the show at their theater’s box office. If you want to secure a ticket, be sure to arrive 1-2 hours early depending on the show’s popularity.
Trying to score tickets to one of Broadway’s most in-demand productions? We can’t guarantee you tickets, but here are the best tips we have, courtesy of Allison Talker, CC ’19, and a Broadway lottery expert:
You just have to enter the online lottery every day for evening and matinee because they don’t have a live lottery any more (winners pay $10 for front row tickets). Most other shows have rush tickets that you can get at the box office at 10 am.
Right now, Hamilton has 1 live lotto on Wednesdays for the matinee. The winner is drawn at 12:30 for the 2 pm show.  Pro tip:  Fold your ticket into weird shapes.
Think we missed a good tip on how to get into Broadway shows? Send us an email at team@columbialion.com.

Meet Brandon Victor Dixon. Dixon, a Columbia College Class of 2007 graduate, is a two-time Tony Award Nominee. During his career, he has performed in various Broadway shows (including Columbia’s very own Varsity Show). Starting in August 2016, Dixon will assume the role of Aaron Burr in Lin Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway show, Hamilton: An American Musical. As he prepares for his role, I sat down with him to talk about his career in the performing arts and his insights on pursuing your dreams and excelling in your career.

What did you study while at Columbia, and do you have any favorite memories from your time there? 

I was an Economics major initially. I left after my first semester senior year, but when I came back and I finished, I was a theater major. My favorite memories from school were of working on the Varsity Show V107 and V108.

What first sparked your interest in theater, and how did you explore that field as a student? Was it mostly through the Varsity Show?

I came to Columbia because I knew what I wanted to do, and I just wanted to go to school in New York so that I could audition and build my career. That’s why I came to Columbia, and I appreciated that Columbia had a campus, and a vibrant curriculum that I could delve into and expand my information base in general. But no, I didn’t go to Columbia to train, or help my career, though a lot of the work I did and the classes I took were of great help and education to me in the theater department at large. I came to Columbia so that I could be in New York.

What were some of the shows you’ve performed in prior to Shuffle Along, and now, Hamilton starting next month?

The Lion King, The Color Purple, Rent, Far from Heaven, The Scottsboro Boys.

With your recent casting as Aaron Burr in Hamilton, how are you preparing for the role? Are you nervous about anything about it?

Nope. It will be a good time. I’m working on a lot of the movement. The movement style is a little different for me so I’m focusing on the movement, but I’m approaching it like anything else. I’m doing my research. I’m learning the material. It’ll be interesting replacing someone in such a big and involved show. I’m going to be learning it even as I’m performing it.

What’s the most surprising or interesting that’s happened to you while performing and go like backstage?

While performing I fell in the orchestra pit one time. That’s one of the more interesting things. I can’t really think of anything that stands out about anything that’s happened backstage but definitely falling in the orchestra pit, that was an interesting one.

 What has been your favorite role to perform so far and why?

Eubie Blake in Shuffle Along. I’ve learned more about myself as a human being in this show and about all of us as human beings in the show. Also, it’s a culmination of everything that has come before it, so you know, it embodies all of the things that you see.

What general advice would you give to students interested in pursuing their career in theater and the performing arts?

The thing I’d say to anybody interested in pursuing anything: there are no rules, your power and ability are limitless, and keep going.

With Hamilton, did you know that you wanted to play Burr, or did they offer that role to you?

I didn’t want to be Burr … I wasn’t interested in doing the show because it’d been done. I don’t tend to replace. My goal is almost always to create something new but this is a unique show, and a unique opportunity and it came on at kind of the right time. The more they talked to me about it, and the more I thought about it, the more excited I did get about the process of joining the show. I am happy; it’s going to be a new experience.

What keeps you excited about being in theater? Is it that the audience has you perform? Is it just the idea of taking on the role of a new character? What motivates you or drives you?

Creating. Creation is what drives me. The reason we are here on this planet is to connect more deeply with ourselves and with each other, and art, and performance, and theater I think is a tool that I’ve come here with to make use of. Creating stories in this way, particularly … In art in general, particularly in live theater, it is a highly communicative, community experience. We get to share something special in that moment of time and that room with one another … And we leave transformed, and that is the important to evolve, to transform, to emote, and to connect with one another.

Since a lot of the people who will be reading this are incoming students, like this is their first time in New York, some have never seen a Broadway show. Do you have any advice for them like for shows they should, or general ideas and tips about what the magic behind Broadway is, in a sense?

The magic behind Broadway is that the people on stage create something from nothing. It’s creating magic, and it helps inspire you to create something from what you have. New York is a cultural bastion unlike any other. So see everything you can, do everything you can. Big, small, do it all.

 As you prepare for Hamilton, what’s your favorite song so far, whether it’s one you’ll be singing, or one some other character will be singing?

My favorite track in Hamilton is Guns and Ships but my favorite song to sing in that obviously is Wait for It.

Can I ask why Wait for It is going to be your favorite one to sing?

I think because I’m exploring the detail of the song but the thing that it sticks out for me is the chorus. Not a love, nor death, nor life, you know. It says,

Life doesn’t discriminate

between the sinners and the saints

it takes and it takes and it takes

and we keep loving anyway

we laugh and we cry and we break and we make our mistakes

And if there’s a reason I’m still alive

While everyone who loves me has died

and I’m willing to wait for it.

So minus the coda at the end, it’s that element of that’s true. Life is that, as is love, as is death, and they are all phases of the same thing, and they do not discriminate according to who you are.

Whether you are good or bad, it’s going to take something but you have to keep giving to it. It’s kind of a mini-encapsulated message about the circle of life, and what living is about. It’s a song with no resolution. He doesn’t figure anything out by the e`d of it. He starts affirming something, and then he starts questioning it, but then he finds himself left with a question in the end of it. It’s interesting piece but it’s one that’s resonated with me.

Brandon will begin performances as Aaron Burr in Hamilton: An American Musical starting in August 2016. For tickets to the show’s New York production, visit the show’s Broadway site.

Interested in interviewing students and alumni about how their time at Columbia has shaped their experiences and outlook? Join The Lion Profiles team by sending an email to team@columbialion.com.

An Open Letter to My Last Summer Self

Hey, I know how you feel. You feel indestructible. You struggled through high school—all the exams and applications. You graduated. You got into your dream school. You’re looking forward to moving out. You know you’ve never lived alone, but you say you’ll get used to it—New York is only 7,000 miles away. You barely know anyone there, but you figure it couldn’t be too difficult to make friends. You hear college is hard, but you’re not bothered. You think you’ve already seen how hard things can get. You think the hard part is over.

Too bad you’re wrong.

On your first night after move-in you’ll cry alone in your room because you’ll miss the way your sheets smelled at home. During NSOP you’ll exchange phone numbers with nearly every person you meet, but you’ll barely speak to any of them again. You’ll freak out during registration and panic about which classes to take, even though half of them have already been picked for you. Your five classes course load will get the best of you, and you’ll have to drop one just to keep afloat. You’ll wonder what’s wrong with you, since you’re used to taking 8 courses at once. Chemistry will be confusing, and you’ll be embarrassed to ask for help because you took it all four years in high school. Now that it’ll make your blood boil, you’ll try to fathom why you ever liked the subject. You’ll struggle with deadlines and wince at the sight of dining hall food. You’ll wonder why you never have the time to explore the city the way you planned to.

But everyone else will be comfortable with his/her workloads. They’ll have found their favorite place to eat in the city. They’ll have made close friends on literally the first day. They won’t miss home the way you will, but they’ll still get to go back over fall break. You won’t, because those 7,000 miles will prove to be too many. Even when people surround you, you’ll feel alone. It’ll feel all the worse because you spent years fantasizing about an amazing college experience at a fancy ivy-league institution only to realize you can’t survive there.

Good thing you’ll be wrong again.

You will survive. You’ll survive because you’ll ask for help and learn that chemistry makes other people want to punch a hole in the wall too; you’re not the only one. They’re struggling with tons of essays and hundred-page- readings too. Regardless of whether they’re from a different continent or two blocks down, they miss home too. You just can’t tell. You’ll realize you were comparing others’ best selves, the ones they choose to show to the world, to your most private core, where all your demons and insecurities lie. And just like that you’ll feel lighter. You’ll find someone to struggle through chemistry with, to whine about LitHum with, and to take breaks with. They’ll remind you that dropping that fifth class doesn’t make you a quitter. Because now that you have to remember to wake up, study, eat, sleep, bathe, do laundry and stay sane, all on your own. Living is your fifth course.

Once you’ve remembered to stop and breathe, you’ll do more than just survive. Because although you don’t realize how difficult college will be, you also don’t realize what you’re capable of. You think you already reached your limits in high school. You think you’ve peaked. Not true. Yeah, you may have gotten the best grades you possibly could in high school. You’re probably never going to get grades like that again. But that’s a good thing. You see, you’ll probably never be able to stop worrying about grades completely, you just cannot afford to, but now you have a chance to stop letting that worry consume you.

Recall the time when you actually liked learning. Unearth the curiosity that got buried under assignments somewhere along the way. Look beyond books a little. Make time to explore the city or join a club, regardless of a busy schedule. Create that 25th hour. Let yourself learn from experience, from mistakes, and more importantly from other people. Wasn’t that the whole point of going to a fancy ivy-league institution any way—to learn a thing or two?

Do that, and maybe some day you won’t just feel indestructible, you actually might be.

It’s time for the start of another semester of classes here at Columbia. As classes begin, we at The Lion have decided to share some of our best sources for getting cheaper textbooks.

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