This week, in an attempt to bring students together, the administration is funding an “Experiment,” offering $500 to the student who can collect the most secret passwords from her peers. Students will be given (via email) various passwords, which they are to give out when approached by others with the daily prompt. Contestants will be running around from person to person, accosting them with the inane prompt, collecting these passwords, and entering them into the online database as they go along.
What for? Apparently we Columbians—lacking the eminent wisdom of the people in Residential Life, who so brilliantly and thoughtfully came up with this game—cannot be bothered to communicate with one another unless we stand to win $500.
Offering monetary incentives to encourage students to seek connections with one another is outrageous and offensive. Is money really the only thing we’re supposed to respond to? We are appalled at the absurdity of this game, which will no doubt fail miserably. There are so many problems with this game, but here are just two that immediately come to mind:
You spend a whole chunk of your time on the Internet to compete in a game intended to give students some face time.
Participating students won’t be working on their communication skills when their interactions are limited to nothing more than a few nonsense words with random people before running off to the next victim.
It is certainly a noble goal to get students to better interact with one another, but when you attach a $500 prize to a game whose winner must inherently be a systematic, blunt, and tactless maniac, the purpose becomes lost. The administration is right, though: Columbia students—perhaps more than most college students—have issues socializing.
But what makes us so inept when it comes to communication in a nonacademic setting?
In case you weren’t aware, Columbia is an elite school that requires an impressive résumé to get in. Creating that résumé means we’ve had to make certain social sacrifices along the way. Excelling in school and in extracurriculars back in the day meant breaking away from the pack, meant being estranged at times. Perhaps that’s helped shape a bit of who we are: somewhat socially awkward nerds. You would think, then, that being united in a single community such as Columbia we would find a lot of commonalities between us nerds, that we would have a thriving social community. Instead, we often remain inaccessible, self-interested, and competitive—convinced that our previous methods for success will work for us here, that somehow we must be doing our own thing to be excelling.
Furthermore, being in New York means that we are in constant contact with other people (most of them strangers). Many of us are trained to ignore the majority of daily interactions—whether with a beggar, crazed religious fanatic, promoter, salesperson, announcement in the subway station, siren, horn, or—yes—a fellow Columbian. In such a densely populated city, it is simply a necessity to ignore certain social interactions. But this response to the hustle and bustle of the city has extended too far onto campus.
Despite what some Columbia transcripts or mothers say, we might not actually be good at everything, even when it comes to something as commonplace as having a conversation. Not all of this is our fault, and not all of us are socially inept. But it is a problem that deeply affects our community and that we do need to work on. So kindly extend a great big “thank you” to the administration for their concern in this matter, but an even bigger “no, thank you” when it comes to their solution. We’ve got competitiveness down–we don’t need a competition to teach us to be more social, more community-oriented and less self-interested, or less competitive. Let’s instead come together and work toward our own solutions. We think they probably don’t involve Internet time or monetary rewards.
Tom Miner is a SEAS junior majoring in applied physics. Liz Lund is a SEAS junior majoring in earth and environmental engineering.