Tag: Columbia

After reading a post about the Free Time Initiative, junior Robbie Netzborg shared his personal experience with mental health on campus and his opinion on the matter on Facebook. Here’s what he had to say.

Content Warning: suicide, mental health

Note: There are people with lots of extenuating circumstances, and I wholeheartedly agree that the university can and should do more to help people with these circumstances succeed at Columbia.

I’m usually not someone who writes on Facebook, but something really rubbed me the wrong way about your post on the Free Time initiative and I’ve just noticed this as a general idea that people have here. Sorry if my post seems confrontative or annoying, I genuinely do not mean to cause anyone to feel personal harm. But, as students, how can we honestly look at the university and blame them entirely for the stress culture here? What more can the university do to help reduce the stress culture here on campus?

Imagine yourself in the position of the university. You have collected from all around the United States and the world, from a wide-range of backgrounds, students who have pushed themselves to succeed academically — or, at the very least, students who have that as some sort of priority. We students push ourselves to our limits on a constant basis, whether it be to sign up for just one more class, work one more job, go to one more protest, or to fight one more fight. These students, understandably, will try to do anything to pursue their goals, to be the best that they can possibly be, but then we find ourselves here.

Before we know it, when we were all at the top of our classes, we’re now just a regular person in a large pool of people (what could be more insulting for the overachiever?). Success is something that should be given when you make it here but suddenly it doesn’t seem like it. All our peers around us are so much smarter than we are, they seem to be so much more capable than we are. You play an instrument? Good for you, the person next to you plays five at a professional level. You like math? That’s cute, I was doing real analysis by the time I got out of the womb. Our talents that previously marked our identities, that used be something you’d love to share with people, are now threatened. Our identities are threatened. For some people, to overcome that threat, they push themselves beyond their limits.

Now you’re in the university’s shoes. What do you do? Students need someone to talk to. Open up a mental health center on campus that provides therapy through walk-in hours, group sessions, and scheduled appointments. Students are stressed out from pushing themselves to their limits. Lower the credit limit. Give advice (albeit sometimes really, really horrible advice) on how to better manage your time. As an organization, you make an attempt to help the people who are members of that organization.

Now, to digress, I’d like to talk about my personal experience and why I’ve decided to write at all. This is, of course, is my personal account and there are plenty of flaws, details, and biases that people can and should point to in my story to qualify it. But, it’s my life here at Columbia regardless, so here it is.

During a particularly bad period in high school I suffered from suicidal thoughts. I never acted on them, and luckily my parents noticed that I was suffering and put me into therapy, and, through a series of events, I was eventually put on antidepressants. By the end of senior year, I felt entirely comfortable and happy in my life and decided to go off of the pills. It seemed like a temporary thing that I had gotten over.

When I came here to Columbia, I was first completed transfixed with everything that was going on. There are so many cool people, interesting classes to take, things to do. I tried to meet as many people as I could and to take the classes that I found the most interesting. Over time, however, the honeymoon period began to end. Whereas before people had been incredibly social, I found myself eating alone staring at the wooden wall in the John Jay bar area. I really didn’t feel like I belonged in the group that I found then, so I felt insignificant.

I’ve kept a journal for the past six years, and here are some of the things that I wrote back then: “Why am I in a friend group that I consider myself hated and unwelcomed in?” and “There’s a sadness within me and I have a feeling it has something to do with this overbearing sensation of self-disdain.” (Sorry, I like to wax poetic in my journal). As the first semester ended, I felt miserable. To cut things short, life didn’t really feel worth living. When I came back second semester, things only got worse. Things just kept getting worse and worse. After every single failed social interaction or academic test I’d go back to my room and think to myself, “Why the fuck am I alive?” I’d then let my eyes drift towards the window and think about how the exit was right there, and all I had to do was jump. All the thoughts were there, the only thing missing was the spark.

Due to a particularly bad day, I came home to my dorm in tears. I couldn’t take it anymore. I saw myself in the mirror and hated myself. hated who’d I become. Hated everything that I’d done. Hated the very fact that I kept breathing. Without really thinking about it, I ran over towards the window and propped it open and tried to climb out. Luckily, I couldn’t fit through and my roommate happened to come back a couple moments later. Deus ex machina I guess.

After going to bed that night, I woke up the next day in a more stable mood and realized the gravity of what I had just tried to do. There are two factors that led me to still be here today. First was the fact that I had already gone to therapy before and knew (and know) that therapy could be a possible solution (but, the question that bugged me was, is life worth living if I’m never going to be able to be happy?). The second, and much more important, was that a distant-ish friend reached out to me. Not someone who I was spending a majority of my time with. Not someone I considered to be incredibly close to. They said that they were there for me if I needed anyone to talk to and that the university has resources if I needed them. After talking with them, I called CPS and had an appointment the next day.

Now, as a junior, life’s a whole lot better here, but it could have been a completely different story. And here’s the reason why I decided to share what happened to me and why I’m posting here at all: the main thing that got me over my depression and my suicidal thoughts was the fact that I was lucky enough to have a friend who happened to reach out to me when I was at my worst and point me in the right direction.

Here’s the question I pose, though, to every single Columbia student: when was the last time you reached out to a friend who seemed down? When was the last time you walked over to someone sitting in that damned John Jay bar area and started talking to them? I’ve walked around this campus, sat in random places, and just watched people interact with one another. We don’t talk to strangers. No one bothers to ask the person who’s sitting alone whether or not they’d want to join them or how they’re doing. I remember sitting in John Jay holding back tears because I felt so alone.

Now, I read the post about how the university’s not doing enough to support mental health initiatives. What the fuck can the university do for me when I’m all by myself? When I’m sitting alone with no friends or having friends close enough to spend time with me but not close enough to seriously help me out, what should the university do? Will the university pay people to pity me enough to spend time with me and genuinely become my friend? Will I become best friends with Dean Kromm?

Columbia has an empathy problem, and every one of us is responsible for maintaining it. If anyone who is serious about making a difference in mental health here on campus is reading this, stop blaming the university (although there’s plenty of blame on their part), and go out and do what you can do to seriously change one of your peer’s lives. Reach out to the friends you haven’t seen in a while or who seem distant. If you see someone sitting by themselves at a dining hall, talk to them! The mental health issue at Columbia is something that we as students can overcome, if we choose to do so. It’s just lip-service to go around blaming the university if you’re not willing to actually do something personally to help your community. There are so many unhappy people here on campus, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We the student body, not the university, can do something about it other than writing nasty letters. We have to make Columbia a place where people who feel like they’re suffering can lean on the person next to them for support, not a place where a person feels like they’re in an uphill battle against the world.

As we have these conversations about stress culture and mental health, we think it is important to share some of the resources available on campus to members of the Columbia community:

Counseling and Psychological Services – (212) 854-2878
Columbia Health – (212) 854-7426
Office of the University Chaplain – (212) 854-1493
Advising Deans – (212) 854-6378
Nightline – (212) 854-7777

If you’d like to respond to this piece / submit an op-ed to The Lion, please email submissions@thecolumbialion.com

Hello Columbia! My name is Remi (CC’20), and I’m the Creative Director for the Lion. I turned eighteen a few weeks ago, I have no idea what I want to do with my life, and I really love cats. One week ago today, I got a press pass to Bacchanal, and here is what went down.

No, this is not me pretending to write for Buzzfeed. Okay, maybe it is. Don’t judge. I’m fulfilling a fantasy, okay?

No, this is not me pretending to write for Buzzfeed. Okay, maybe it is. Don’t judge. I’m fulfilling a fantasy, okay?

Wednesday night before the concert the Bacchanal e-Board invited us press pass holders to discuss logistics (at like 11pm – and I had an exam the next morning, whoops). There were four of us: the Lion (me), Bwog, Spec, and something they called the “Bacchanal Press” which I’m pretty sure was them hiring CPS photographers to get their own pics of the event. The press pass gave us access to both the ‘private’ viewing areas directly to the left and right of the stage on Low steps in addition to the regular mosh pits (on map labelled “Front Viewing Areas.” We were also told we’d be given limited access to the middle aisle in front of the stage for a few minutes per act to get some close up shots.

Image courtesy of the Bacchanal e-Board.

Image courtesy of the Bacchanal e-Board.

We were told that last year, the Bacchanal committee only gave out one press pass, which they explained to us was a total disaster in that the individual was backstage very drunk and made the committee look terrible. As a result, Public Safety significantly limited our access to the middle aisle area this year. On that note, only myself and the Bwog rep showed up to that first meeting.

The day of the show, we met at the side entrance to Low at 9:30 am to pick up our wristbands and purple press passes.

They used my I.D. photo. Ew, am I right? Look at that shine.

They used my I.D. photo. Ew, am I right? Look at that shine.

I went up to hang on Low steps at around 12pm, in preparation for the show to start at 12:30pm. The show actually started at 1pm, but they kept telling us to advertise a 12:30pm start to get people to show up.
The first act was a student opener, Battle of the Bands winner THOU SHALT NOT Entertainment (made up of Vanessa Chadehumbe, Tarek Deida, and Jenny Goggin). Before the show started, Vanessa complimented my blue lipstick. I was in a little bit of shock! She’s a pretty rad person and super nice, you guys. When you’re rich and famous, please remember me and hire me to be your photographer! –sobs

These guys know what’s up.

These guys know what’s up.

Let the show commence! THOU SHALT NOT did an amazing job, even if there were only a dozen spectators on either side. There was a student group as backup dancers who were also pretty spectacular. Unless told otherwise, you definitely would’ve thought they were a professional group. Check out their Soundcloud here.

Jenny Goggin of THOU SHALT NOT.

Jenny Goggin of THOU SHALT NOT.

Vanessa Chadehumbe and Tarek Deida of THOU SHALT NOT. So fierce.

Vanessa Chadehumbe and Tarek Deida of THOU SHALT NOT. So fierce.

Next there was about a twenty minute break before the second act: Mykki Blanco. For those who don’t know, she is a poet, rapper, and activist originally from California. During her performance, she got the audience to chant phrases like, “Protect Trans Women,” and “Protect Black Children.” Very Columbia.

Goddamnit, CAVA, messing up my perfect shot. Mykki still slays, though.

Goddamnit, CAVA, messing up my perfect shot. Mykki still slays, though.

It was honestly wild, though. About a minute into her performance, she leapt off the stage, jumped three fences, and took a stroll down College Walk. The other photographers and I were clicking away literally running after her. It was the first time I’ve ever felt very ‘paparazzi-esque,’ but it was fabulous. She then ran across the railings leading towards Low; you could practically feel Public Safety having a panic attack.

Lol wut are you doing?

Lol wut are you doing?

 

You go, Glen Coco. You live your best life.

You go, Glen Coco. You live your best life.

Next came D.R.A.M. (Does Real Ass Music; real name Shelley Marshaun Massenburg-Smith). You may know him for his song Broccoli featuring Lil Yachty, which was nominated for a Grammy Award last year. The crowd was starting to seriously pick up at this point, and the atmosphere reeked of stale alcohol and low expectations. The pens were pretty much filled by this point – there were girls sitting atop shoulders above the crowd; a steady thumping as the audience jumped up and down. The lawns, of course, were packed, their residents either not possessing tickets or unable to be bothered to get swept into the crowd of sweaty, drunk teenagers. Sticky!

Yass.

Yass.

D.R.A.M. got the crowd pumped up!

D.R.A.M. got the crowd pumped up!

Things got a little hazy. The DJ Almand came on and gave a steady performance of his own techno / rap mixes, and kept changing into wacky costumes with each song change.. Despite the stupor, you definitely got the sense that everyone present was having a pretty good time. Lines to get into the pens snaked around the corner while popcorn and Rice Krispie squares were being given out by the handfuls. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get any clear shots of Almand due to the Bacchanal committee sort of forgetting about us press people? It’s all good; poor guys, they seemed so stressed. Almand’s music was great, though, and he really engaged with the crowd, coming down off the stage and taking selfies with the crowd. At one point he took someone’s phone and took a picture onstage with the crowd!

Aluna Francis of London-based electronic duo AlunaGeorge.

Aluna Francis of London-based electronic duo AlunaGeorge.

I texted them halfway through AlunaGeorge and they were able to let in us. She was so much fun: the perfect concluding act! I don’t feel like that many people were familiar with her songs, but they were catchy, lively, and caught on quickly with the crowd. The viewing areas were super packed, and there was a lot of wild fist pumping going on. I saw a lot of glitter. There was enough glitter for a lifetime…

And the crowd goes… WILD!

And the crowd goes… WILD!

During her last song, she invited a bunch of people from the private, Low steps viewing areas onto the main stage. I, unfortunately, was not among such elite ranks, and had been taking pictures from the crowd. Oh well! It was super cool to see normal people having some fun onstage – and a very nice closing touch. I actually wasn’t there because I lowkey got tired right before the end and went back to my room to destress. I live in John Jay, and have a nice room facing Low – and was able to get this pretty nice shot of the end of Bacchanal!

Yeah, my view’s pretty swanky. I stuck my camera lens out the tiny amount we’re allowed to open our windows.

Yeah, my view’s pretty swanky. I stuck my camera lens out the tiny amount we’re allowed to open our windows.

My thoughts and reflections?

Overall, getting ~backstage access~ and a ~special pass~ was pretty fun. 9/10 dentists would recommend. If you have the opportunity to get special access to Bacchanal another year – whether that might be being apart of the planning committee, or for one of the publications or performance groups, I’d check it out. It let me experience the event in a really special way, and I’d definitely be open to doing it again. It got me out of my comfort zone, which is what college is all about!

Bacchanal itself was pretty cool! It was my first, and a good first, I think! The music was great, I loved the student openers and the craziness of some of the performers. I’ve never been that much of a party/concert person, but I feel more open to them now after forcing myself to go to Bacchanal.

Whether you got to be apart of the crowd, casually observed from the lawns, or flaked altogether, one thing is sure – Mykki Blanco’s green hair slays for centuries.

~
If you liked these photos, click here to see the full album on the Lion’s Facebook page, all personally shot (unedited – I ain’t got time for that!) by yours truly.

Photo Courtesy of ABC7 NY

As reported yesterday, Shelia Abdus-Salaam, the first African-American associate judge in New York, was found dead in the Hudson River. Abdus-Salaam was a graduate of Columbia, receiving her Bachelors from Barnard College in 1974 and JD from Columbia Law School in 1977.

Prior to joining the bench in New York, she worked as an attorney for Brooklyn Legal Services.

Current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo who appointed Abdus-Salaam to the bench following a vacancy in 2013 posted the following about her passing.

For more information on her life, the New York Times has posted a thorough article on her life and this tragic event here.

Photo Courtesy of the Zuckerman Institute

The neuroscience major is not unlike many at Columbia in that it is co-sponsored by two departments, psychology and biology. In fact, a little over half of Columbia majors share this structure of co-sponsorship. Ideally, each department communicates with its counterpart to design a robust, cohesive course schedule that draws from the expertise of the individuals in both disciplines.

However, a majority of courses in the neuroscience major retain their specific psychological or biologic identities without fully integrating the other, thereby falling short of a true neuroscience curriculum. I would like to emphasize that I do not believe individual professors are at fault, and I have truly enjoyed my time as a neuroscience major. However, I do believe that heightened interdepartmental communication could help improve the experience dramatically.

Despite efforts to heighten cross-disciplinary conversations, departments at Columbia largely remain insulated from one another. As each individual professor teaches their course, they are largely unaware of what material the students are already familiar with when entering their classes. To take a closer look, let us examine the course of a typical student in the Neuroscience and Behavior “Despite efforts to heighten cross-disciplinary conversations, departments at Columbia largely remain insulated from one another.(N&B) major at Columbia.

For a first-year interested in the major, a potential N&B student will likely fulfill their introductory chemistry requirement and take Science of Psychology in their first year. Neither course is neuroscience-specific, and both are lecture-style. While perhaps not ideal, such sizeable and nonspecific courses are typical for first-year students.

As a sophomore, the repetition becomes more readily apparent. On the psychology side of the major, N&B students can either take Mind, Brain, Behavior (MBB) or Behavioral Neuroscience. While both courses technically fulfill the ‘intro’ neuroscience requirement from the psychology side, they are very different.

MBB is the less science-heavy of the courses and is commonly taken by non-science majors to fulfill their science requirement for the Core. The syllabus can vary based on the professor, but in any given year the course content for these two classes has almost 70% overlapping material, plus a good amount of overlap with Science of Psychology. Some refresher material is a good thing and is useful to better understand new material. However, for three courses in the same department, two of which are required for N&B majors, this high amount of re-teaching is somewhat unnecessary when it instead could be spent learning new information.

Material overlap continues to be a significant concern on both sides of the major. In the rigorous two semesters of Professor Mowshowitz’s Introductory Biology course, at least a month is dedicated to neural mechanisms. Meanwhile on the psychology side, in the series of psychology lecture courses a N&B student may choose to take, the first few weeks are spent covering the same introductory material that these students have now encountered at least three times.

Continuing along the biology side, N&B students wade their way through pre-requisites only to enter their first neuroscience class in the year-long Neurobiology I&II sequence. Between these sequential courses a good deal of overlap still remains, with systems-level information taught in the cellular level fall course and cellular mechanisms covered again to teach systems in the spring.

The remaining requirements for the major include a non-neuroscience specific statistics course and a non-neuroscience specific additional biology course — for which a neuro-themed variant has not been taught since Fall 2013.

Overall, a common experience among N&B majors is a feeling of disjointed repetition and lack of neuroscience-specific courses catered to their needs and/or interests. I do not believe such a feeling is limited to frustrated neuroscience students — I have heard the same complaint expressed again and again by friends in various joint majors throughout Columbia College.

So what can be done to fix the glaring issues in the design of the N&B major? Ideally, the whole major would be restructured from the ground up to create a fully-integrated design. Realistically, the bureaucracy necessary for such an overhaul is untenable. Instead, I have a few simple proposals to streamline and vastly improve the experience of N&B majors at Columbia.

The greatest concern, of course, is the overlap of course materials. Luckily, each professor has a fair amount of leeway in their syllabi. Because of this freedom, I suggest that professors, responsible for N&B courses on the biology and psychology sides of the major, set aside one full working day at the beginning of each semester to overview syllabi with an eye for overlap.

I believe a good deal of the issue in being taught the action potential seven times is well-intentioned, with each professor unsure if the students have covered this material before. Such a semesterly meeting would eliminate the interdepartmental uncertainty and go a long way towards eliminating unnecessary repetition in courses.

Additionally, I propose expanding and integrating voluntary courses between the two departments by allowing more cellular-heavy neuroscience majors to focus in neurobiology courses, and psychology-heavy majors to spend more time on the psychology side. Allowing these electives outside of the ‘core’ major courses to be taken in either department would enable a range of students to unify within a single major.

From a scheduling perspective, neuroscience courses at a higher than introductory level must be offered on a regular basis. Here, the psychology department far outstrips biology, offering a wide range of rotating seminars. While still skewing towards psychology, some neuroscience-heavy courses are at least offered each semester from the psychology department.

Overall, I put forward a recommendation that Science of Psychology no longer be mandated for N&B majors, and instead it should be replaced by a comprehensive Behavioral Neuroscience introductory course tailored for N&B majors. With this change, Mind Brain Behavior can more specifically and more accessibly target a non-major audience, and Behavioral Neuroscience can serve as the sole prerequisite for Neurobiology I&II, allowing majors to take this course in their sophomore or junior year and leave space for more seminar-style neuroscience electives as upperclassmen taught by professors in their regions of interest.

With a graduating class of 65 majors last year, N&B is the eighth largest program within Columbia College, and has rapidly grown over the last few years. With the opening of the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, Columbia will only continue to attract the best and brightest neuroscience undergraduates. I believe that professors and administrators want to provide the best education possible to the student body — and that many of the problems within the N&B major can be solved by increased communication between the biology and psychology departments and some simple restructuring.

Do you belong here?

It’s a loaded question, and one I believe that many Columbia students encounter during their time here — commonly in the first or second year. The feeling that while your classmates are smart, talented, and generally have their lives together, you are dumb, untalented, and merely pretending that you are not falling apart.

This feeling, labeled Impostor Syndrome from its first characterization in 1978, is thought to be common in high-pressure cognitive environments — by some estimates affecting as high as 70% of the population in these environments. The psychologists who first discovered the phenomenon, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, described it as “a feeling of phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.”

While not recognized as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (more commonly known as the DSM), Impostor Syndrome can have real effects on the way people interact with the world, especially among college students in elite universities.

Terrified of being outed, the ‘impostor’ avoids taking on extra challenges, hesitates before  applying to high-level internships or fellowships, studies excessively to make up for their perceived cognitive deficit, or correspondingly, procrastinates out of fear that they’ll never finish it all.

When something bad happens, whether it be a below average grade, a failed audition, a rejected submission, or merely a fight with a friend, the ‘impostor’ does not see it as merely a small setback in an otherwise well-lived life. They see it as a confirmation of what they’ve known all along — that they do not belong at a school like Columbia, and that they are doomed to fail.

In particular, certain populations are more susceptible to Impostor Syndrome — for instance, those which have been underrepresented or disadvantaged. This group predominantly includes women, people of color, and first-generation students, and these identities can negatively impact student performance in a significant way.

When primed with their identities, each member of these groups did dramatically worse on tests of logic or mathematics, in some studies underperforming by 10-20% than those who were not reminded that they were “different.”

Why do so many high-achieving students ignore all evidence to the contrary and believe they are inferior? How can this belief so negatively impact their performance? While Impostor Syndrome has not yet been studied neuroscientifically, some clues from related fields of study can help shed some light on possible neural mechanisms underlying Impostor Syndrome.

One possible explanation comes from the perceived inadequacy causing an activation of stress-systems in the brain. As I have discussed before, when your brain is flooded with stress hormones the amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex, and the insula all light up. Activation in these brain regions is known to induce anxiety and fear, as well as a host of other deleterious effects on student health.

Correspondingly, induced stress can inactivate your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and inferior temporal cortex — reducing working memory load, the ability to form new memories, and the ability to recall stored knowledge. In effect, if you constantly believe that you are not good enough to succeed, your success might ironically decrease.

Far from just a cognitive nuisance, if Impostor Syndrome is left unchecked it can cause extreme risk-aversion and contribute to generalized anxiety disorder. So what can be done about it? Some evidence points to fact-exposure as a good treatment — remind yourself of all the times you have in fact succeeded.

When failures inevitably occur, take the time to analyze how much was truly your fault, and how much can be chalked up to bad luck. Perhaps most importantly, talk to the people you trust about the feelings of fraud you might be experiencing. Whether that is your parents, friends, or a therapist, talking through those fears and having them invalidated can often be cathartic in combating Impostor Syndrome.

In an environment of brilliant and hyper-competitive peers, it can be easy to compare your inner self to your classmates outer selves without stopping to think that the vast majority of your fellow students are struggling with the very same issue. And if nothing else, I can answer the question I asked at the beginning of this article for you — yes, you do belong at Columbia.