Like many of you, I recently watched the “Our Blue” video released by Columbia University’s four undergraduate student councils—a roughly two-minute spoonful of sugar they called a “celebration of what it means to be a Columbian.” And while I applaud and appreciate the hard work that went into making the video, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed—disappointed that what was supposed to be a student-produced video with a populist mission instead centered on a tired, top-down message that has been repeated ad infinitum by admissions directors, tour guides, and others generally attempting to sell the Columbia experience.
It’s been said over and over again, particularly to prospective students with innocent hearts and open minds, that we pride ourselves on our diversity, our location in New York City, and on our “we can do anything” attitude. I’m just surprised the video didn’t go with the full package deal and flaunt our Core Curriculum as well.
Ultimately, we as Columbians don’t need to be sold on what we commit to daily. And here, I wanted something that went beyond that saccharine exterior we’ve all agreed to thoughtlessly stamp onto the deeply complex, sometimes dark, and oftentimes difficult experience that we as Columbians have throughout our time here.
We have stories that go beyond the message that the “Our Blue” video portrayed—individual stories of loneliness, heartsickness, obsession, and struggle. We as a student body go far beyond the lighthearted, dreamy-eyed, and flatly optimistic portrayals that have become our stories to those wanting a quick peek inside the ivory tower of our lives.
I am asking for a rigorous re-examination of the stories we are telling, the stories we live, and the stories that we have not told. I am asking why we constantly retell the same stories—stories which promote a two-dimensional ideal and cover up the genuine dignity we earn. I am asking why we cannot confront the narratives that we hold inside ourselves, why we cannot remove the technicolor and inspirational music, why we cannot deal with the fact that our stories—the stories that have not been told—are beautifully flawed in perhaps the most human and natural of ways.
Our student councils were looking for “resonance”—a “spirit” that they hoped would strike a hidden chord from within ourselves and spur us onward, upward toward a larger transcendental body of proud individuals. And in response, I ask them not to look toward the heavens but toward us down below—to feature us in their videos, in their media, in their portrayals of us as we are. I ask them to be comfortable portraying us with honesty, depicting the noble silence of our own quiet vulnerability, knowing and understanding that what we’ve been through and the challenges we face ultimately shape us more deeply, more humanly, and more personally than any idealistic message ever could.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in economics and music. He is the director of the Columbia University Bach Society.
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