Tag: PoC

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

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

Recently, the Columbia community has been introduced to two new terms: “woke,” and “colonized.” It seems that some people of color are “colonized”—their honest convictions and beliefs are simply evidence of assimilation to a white supremacist power structure. On the other hand, those who hold a “sufficiently racially conscious” set of beliefs are “woke.” This is more than a matter of semantics; rather it has the potential for a dangerous form of identity policing amongst people of color when casually used in an academic context.

As a person of color I find this infuriating, offensive, and when used in this context, ludicrous. This is something that has to be stopped immediately and decisively before it becomes part of our discourse. Each of us holds differing ideas for why we believe what we do and why others may see the world differently. But none of us have the right to broadly deride those who think differently as illegitimate members of their identities. To do so is to patronizingly turn “People of Color” into an exclusive moniker for those who think in a specific, narrow way. This robs all of us of our inherent right to be part of our identities and communities. No one should accept the use of this kind of language in public discourse anymore than they would any serious microaggression.

All of us, people of color and allies alike, have to draw a line in the sand at basic respect for each other. Passing personal judgments on one another says far more about us and our shortcomings than it does about others. Discourse in our community is plagued by serious structural issues. Individuals of color denouncing each other or their professors of color as “colonized,” not to mention white “allies” doing the same, would be more than enough to deal a fatal blow. If you’re comparing yourself to others please don’t refer to yourself as “woke,” and do not refer to anyone else in our community as “colonized.”


The Lion is the only campus publication that pledges to post all submissions that meet our open submissions policy. To respond to this piece or submit a piece of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com