Like most of us at Columbia, my workload has gotten heavier recently, and I have been spending more time around campus studying in Lerner, (not) smoking outside of NoCo, and lounging in Butler. I began to notice that I was getting noticed myself.
Friday, 5:30 p.m., Hungarian Pastry Shop:
A woman standing asks a woman sitting at a table if she knows the man she is sitting with---me.
Woman sitting answered, “No.”
Standing woman: “Good, he looks like an idiot.”
I'm pretty confused because both women are strangers to me.
Friday, 12:30 a.m., Butler Library main entrance:
I'm on a homework break outside of Butler. Two unidentified undergrads walking by spot the man and say, "What’s he doing here?”
I'm new to campus and certainly not used to stares, giggles, or whispers when I pass by or linger in front of a building as famed as Butler. Usually, I am not obsessively concerned with other folk’s irrational fears or prejudices. Most days, the awkward looks and rapid 20-foot radii I have come to know in my first couple of weeks at Columbia have been incredibly amusing and I can take it all with a grain of salt. But sometimes, the unwarranted malice at Columbia is overbearing.
I realize that people fear what they do not or cannot understand. Some also fall victim to transference from a previous experience or groupthink in a current one. I suspect something like groupthink is probably exasperated at an Ivy League school, but also I suspect I am not alone or unique in this experience either here either.
I take a step back and acknowledge that my “look” is admittedly unconventional, especially as a Columbia student. I am broad shouldered, stocky and overweight. I am one of the 35.7% of Americans who are obese. As an obese man, it is difficult to find clothing that fits---not to mention nice clothing that fits me well. Usually my choices are between baggy and functional or tight and not-all-that fashionable.
My hair wants to sprouts from my chin to my toes, but won’t reach the top of my head. I cannot stand my natural bozo-the-clownesque hair, so I shave all of it off. I am also the proud-ish owner of a red neck beard. Did I mention that I consider myself to have a positive body image? Really, I am (generally) comfortable with who I am and what I look like. I’m just trying to sit in the same classroom or library with you without being stared at like some freak show.
I feel spoiled for even having the privilege to complain. I am an American who attends Columbia University. Well, my tuition next semester isn’t paid and might never be, but I am getting an education in an incredible city. I might have done a few things right to get where I am, but I am so more lucky than I am talented. I think all of us are. So maybe we should stop judging each other and just be happy that we can all be here together. Right?