The Twilight Zone: Student rights at Columbia

Over the past couple of weeks, the roars of student dissent have been increasing in volume. Now that the administration has decided to postpone implementing gender-neutral housing, they're deafening. In addition to the continuing campaigns to reclaim the days before Christmas and fight for/against the smoking ban, the administration faces yet another series of petitions that demand changes in policy. But despite these exciting and optimistic moments of activism, there seems to be a rather fundamental question that isn't being discussed.

It's pretty simple, really—what rights do we have as paying students of Columbia? I once asked PrezBo how the university views students—are we customers with little to no authority or shareholders/taxpayers who have a legitimate stake in the procedures of this institution? Not answering directly, he essentially said that students were customers, but ones with lots of demands. Though his rhetoric was buttery smooth as usual, PrezBo's answer didn't do it for me.

As undergraduates at Columbia, we pay a lot of money to be part of the system here. Though we begin our relationship with this school as ambitious teenagers begging to be let in, we soon switch roles and start receiving requests for payment. We pay them and continue with our education. But what does that payment mean? Is it simply the transaction to get the product of a Columbia diploma, or is it the beginning of an investment? Are we not part of the institution as students here?

Granted, we don't necessarily pay for all the costs of our education, but that doesn't mean that we get this education for free. We're all making a significant investment by being here. So what does that mean? To me, I think that means that we have some authority. That authority should extend to such decisions as gender neutral housing, school calendars, and smoking bans. Since we pay for housing, there is no conceivable reason why we should not have the right to decide who we share our living space with, especially when that person is also a shareholder in this great institution. It's high time that as Columbians we determine for ourselves just how much authority we have as partial bankrollers of our school.


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