Friday, November 09, 2007

Desperate Times, Unfocused Measures

Desperate Times, Unfocused Measures
By Editorial Board
As the sun set over the Hudson Wednesday evening, five students—just hours into their much-publicized hunger strike—camped on Low Plaza, demonstrating against the many iniquities and injustices that they say afflict the University. Their willingness to mount such a protest, even to the point of eventual bodily harm, is impressive, and not a few of their frustrations with Columbia are eminently justifiable. But even before hunger pangs had set in, the lack of focus and pragmatism in the protesters' demands seemed sure to dilute the force of the strike. In a petition released last week, the protesters' umbrella organization addressed everything from the Core Curriculum to Manhattanville to faculty hiring practices, running the gamut from the prudent to the simply infeasible. Some of the proposals would entail a cost to the University that makes their enactment unlikely. For example, the strikers have called for two new faculty hires a year for both the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race and the Institute for Research in African American Studies, but with the steep cost associated with adding faculty members and Vice President Dirks' recent commitment to hire three new ethnic studies professors, this demand seems unrealistic. A drastic protest such is this is most effective when its organizers' demands are clear and narrow, but the nature of this list—broad, ambiguous, and often infeasible—seems likely to sap the strike of its potential efficacy.

While the bias incidents that occurred this semester are troubling and symptomatic of a larger problem, it is not clear that a hotly controversial hunger strike will bring the unity Columbia's campus needs. Perhaps the greatest weakness in the strikers' list of demands—one which epitomizes the failings of their approach—is the call for immediate withdrawal of the University's 197-C rezoning proposal. The Manhattanville project is a part of the long-term vision of the current administration, and the details of the plan have been endlessly vetted and revised by the University over years of development. At this point, the strikers must know that there is little students alone can do to compel the administration to depart dramatically from its stated designs. Pinning the success of a hunger strike on this demand, then, seems foolhardy.

However, the broadness and impracticality of some of the strike's demands do not give the University a free pass to ignore the issues at hand. In particular, Columbia should consider reforming the major cultures requirement by including a course in a seminar format that focuses on the issues of racialization and colonialism. Such a change ought to be accompanied by overall reforms to the Core Curriculum to make it more inclusive and representative of "non-Western" viewpoints. Likewise, the Office of Multicultural Affairs is severely understaffed—something the University should acknowledge and make moves towards addressing. Most importantly, Columbia should recognize that a decision to stop eating is a desperate act. It must work with the strikers to give students voices enough weight that future generations of Columbians don't feel they have to stop eating to be heard.

Despite the occasional violent outburst and other objectionable protest tactics, student activism has long been an engine of change and progress on Columbia's campus. The creation of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the launch of the Center for Study of Ethnicity and Race were both the results of radical protests by students. The University ought to pay ample attention to the demands of the hunger strikers, but institutions change gradually, and the strikers need to lay out a plan that the University can follow and that allows for student input rather than unilaterally demanding all of their goals be met at once.

View Comments ( 12)Post a Comment

Shockingly, the spec keeps its absurd stance of trying to straddle every issue and say both sides have a point.
Sometimes (and this is one of them), one said is legitimately right. Hint: its not the people staging a hunger strike.

btw, what exactly is "racialization"? The spec editorial board seems to think we should have a mandatory class covering it. Perhaps they could expand on what it is, because im fairly sure ITS A MADE UP WORD.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 9th, 2007 @ 11:02am

ra·cial·ize (rsh-lz)tr.v. ra·cial·ized, ra·cial·iz·ing, ra·cial·iz·es
1. a. To differentiate or categorize according to race.
....b. To impose a racial character or context on.
2. To perceive or experience in racial terms
The general class outline would be something along the lines of "white people are garbage, everyone else is great and here's why.."
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 9th, 2007 @ 12:07pm
Here's a list of items to sap these emotional extortionists of their will... lots of sizzling bacon... sausage... ribs... crispy onions in butter... olfactory waterboarding...
Would they hold their breath against the aroma of oppression like pink and puffy infants?
Nobody's impressed with ad hoc temper tantrums.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 9th, 2007 @ 10:42am
"As the sun set over the Hudson Wednesday evening..." What are you, Scott Fitzgerald on dumb pills?
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 8th, 2007 @ 11:49pm

Just once I wish they'd write like Raymond Chandler..."It was darker than a carload of assholes...her steely hips betraying the sense of danger lurking in her cold distant eyes"
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 9th, 2007 @ 10:42am
they're drinking gatorade & tea, for god's sakes. they do that at some fat camps, they won't die. all their lives they've been rich & spoiled, so they can miss a meal or two. i can't believe they're parading their asses out there in front of butler, though. tents and all. it really is Camp Idiocy out there.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 8th, 2007 @ 7:35pm
"Desperate times..." my assonance! Coddled, spoiled freeloaders is more like it.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 8th, 2007 @ 5:38pm
just because a few kids want things doesnt mean the university should stop everything they're doing to cater to their needs. this edit, as is the case with many spec edits, tip toes around ideas without making a point or stating a clear arguement. way to go guys
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 8th, 2007 @ 5:04pm
Hold yourselves accountable first before targeting the entire university system. Want to spread the message, transfer out. That speaks much louder than a hunger strike.
Posted by: ClubMed November 8th, 2007 @ 3:05pm
They should also strip naked and donate their clothes to the poor. Then they should get a job , stop sponging off mommy and daddy, and donate 50% of their wages to the poor too.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 8th, 2007 @ 2:50pm
clowns without a real cause! my hats off to you!! please transfer to a college in sudan or cuba! free up your slot at columbia that you do not want for someone who does want it! I am sure mommy and daddy can ship your bmw to sudan for you and have ac installed in your dorm !!
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 8th, 2007 @ 12:57pm
Columbia students don't have to stop eating to be heard. They just have to say something worth listening to.
In the marketplace of ideas (they make you read this stuff in the core, right?), these people have lost out. They couldn't provide convincing arguments to sway people to their side - they failed.
The respectable thing to do when you fail in this way is to accept defeat. It certainly is childish to pull stunts like a hunger strike with the intent of forcing people to accept ideas they have already rejected.

The childish arrogance of these strikers is a real concern here. They think that their extremist views should be enforced despite the fact that most people did not find those ideas adequately convincing. If everyone had this attitude, we would be in real trouble.
Posted by: anonymous238 November 8th, 2007 @ 10:04am

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