Death of a Salesman
Updated: Aug 2
The rise and fall of Columbia’s most unusual student council spot.
In a sea of Columbia College Student Council positions with boring names, there exists a rainbow sh known as the Sandwich Ambassador, or Sandbassador for short. But, alas, in a vote held last April, CCSC decided to do away with it in elections to come. The decision elicited some sadness on Facebook and campus media but was buffered by accompanying news that the newly hatched position of Financial Security and First Generation Representative will assume most of the responsibilities of the Sanbassador. Because of the new position, the constituents that the Sandwich Ambassador is supposed to serve are unlikely to descend into further neglect. Though for some members of the Columbia community who were familiar with the Sandbassador from its birth to its death sentence, CCSC’s decision triggered waves of pending loss, for the position of Financial Security and First Generation rep, while functionally similar to the position of Sandwich Ambassador, is hardly an ontological match. To understand the distinction between these positions, some explanation of the Sandbassador’s origins is required.
Illustration by Kristine Dunn
In the Beginning
There was no position on CCSC speci cally designated to address student inequity before 2014. The winter of that year, the editorial board of The Columbia Lion, especially Daniel Stone and Sean Augustine-Obi, both CC ’16 (and Editors Emeriti for this very magazine!), began to circulate a petition and a low-quality but heartwarming YouTube video calling for the creation of a position they called “the Sandwich Ambassador.”
The petition proposed adding a CCSC position that would work to increase the availability and accessibility of student discounts and make student needs more of a priority for CCSC. Since Columbia administrators, unlike others at peer institutions, were doing little at the time to negotiate student discounts at neighborhood vendors and make known the existence of such discounts, the position’s role would be to publish, in the language of the bill, “any and all relevant information on local eateries, their pricing, selection, and other useful consumer data in a convenient and accessible manner,” as well as to work with local businesses to proactively seek more student discounts.
In an op-ed for Spec, Stone urged the Columbia community to uproot its assumptions about affordability in Morningside Heights. He wrote that “most of the fare available on Broadway simply costs too much for an undergrad. Sandwiches that cost more than $10 are emblematic of this basic unaffordability.” He also brought attention to the dearth of affordable on-campus dining options, noting that the smallest upperclassman meal plan at the time amounted to almost $12 a swipe.
Stone and the other brains behind the Sandbassador had another major goal: to challenge the norms of CCSC itself. This challenge was to be levied via the position’s name. In contrast to wordy and serious titles of other CCSC positions, the title “Sandwich Ambassador” was supposed to sound deliberately foolish. Their hope was to weed out candidates hungry for résumé-padding and to poke fun at CCSC’s reputation for being too insulated and self-absorbed. The creators of the position also included provisions in the proposal that were intended to improve CCSC’s transparency. They dictated that the Sandbassador was to give a “State of the Sandwich” speech once a semester, not at CCSC’s typical meeting place but on the sundial, as to report on her progress in a location that placed her more in public view than any of her fellow CCSC members.
From the start, the mechanisms the creators had built into the position to ward off career college politicians had the unintended consequence of swathing the electoral race in chillness.
To be fair, not all observers would go so far as to suggest that the primary intent of the position’s title was to attack CCSC. While the position’s name was selected in part for its comedic value, Joe Milholland, CC ’17 (and also editor emeritus for our cherished magazine), who reported extensively on the office of Sandbassador for Bwog, thinks that the title functioned just as much as “a synecdoche for all kinds of food around campus and food insecurity and food prices at Columbia.” While “pretty much only Milano’s did the $10-and-over sandwiches,” “sandwich” was punchy and to-the-point; the choice of that humble food item, versus pricier fare like salad or sushi, conveyed the subliminal message that the holder of the position had the interests of all students in mind and would go forth into Morningside Heights with parameters for affordability that were actually in touch with student need.
Stone and the other petitioners garnered enough signatures to get CCSC to hold a Sandbassador ballot initiative for CC students. Two weeks later, 88 percent of voters backed it. The position was added to CCSC and Joshua Burton, CC ’18, was elected to the of ce in September 2014.
“Joshua Burton actually put some effort into it. He gave a State of the Sandwich address on Low at least once. He had a State of the Sandwich after-party where I got a Nutella sandwich,” Milholland recalls. Nevertheless, the Sandbassador developed a reputation as a joke position in CCSC, partly thanks to its name but also, critically, because “it wasn’t quite clear enough what they would do or how they would do it,” Milholland explains. From the start, the mechanisms the creators had built into the position to ward off career college politicians had the unintended consequence of swathing the electoral race in chillness. During the Sandwich Ambassador debate of the 2014 election, for example, only two of the nine candidates running for the position showed up.
Meanwhile, other campus developments emerged as rival solutions for Columbia’s food insecurity problem, with varying results. First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP) generated a lot of publicity on the issue after launching its Class Confessions Facebook page; Spectator Publishing Company created Eat@CU, which tried to consolidate student discounts to local restaurants in an app for easy access; Meal Share and the Emergency Meal Fund were created in hopes of transferring unused swipes to students who needed them; CCSC released a directory of community kitchens and food pantries in West Harlem and created an Inclusion & Equity Representative whose responsibilities overlapped with the Sandbassador’s; and, more recently, GS opened a food bank, prompting CC to begin to follow suit.
The office of Sandbassador was coasting somewhat on these outside developments when it got caught in the cross fire. In spring of 2016 during the CCSC elections, Adil Mughal, CC ’17, jokingly entered his friend Ethan Wu’s name into the Sandwich Ambassador race without telling him, pitting Wu, CC ’17, against Jordan Mosely, CC ’17, and “None”. “None” ended up win- ning the most votes, but Wu came in second place and immediately resigned upon learning that he had been elected. Mughal explained in an op-ed for Spec that his aim was to draw attention to the poor outreach and monitoring efforts of the elections board, which he believed to be liable to producing victories for candidates who did not necessarily have the qualifications for the job or the heart to really flourish in the position if elected, but the fiasco resurfaced the debates on the inefficacy of the Sandbassador and the need to more clearly define the responsibilities of the position.
In a Spec op-ed he wrote in the aftermath of the 2016 CCSC election, Augustine-Obi speculated that the goofy name of the position had an effect opposite of its intended one; namely, that some individuals who deeply valued the issues that the Sandwich Ambassador was supposed to address in serious regard might have been discouraged by the lack of seriousness surrounding the position. Moreover, while the huffy feelings that some CCSC members had toward the position provided amusement for campus journalists, they underscored a legitimate concern that outsiders would attempt to address issues of inequity by adding more positions to CCSC without providing concrete directives for each office and explanations for which responsibilities would be unique to the officeholder and which would require coordination across offices. Protests to preserve the office of Sandbassador that inevitably followed whenever a motion was introduced to amend its wacky name called attention to some of CCSC’s unflattering stereotypes but did not leverage real criticisms towards subsequent Sandbassadors who were failing to fulfill the basic responsibilities of the position.
Protests to preserve the office of Sandbassador that inevitably followed whenever a motion was introduced to amend its wacky name called attention to some of CCSC’s un flattering stereotypes but did not leverage real criticisms towards subsequent Sandbassadors who were failing to fulfill the basic responsibilities of the position.
Current Sandwich Ambassador, David Shan, CC ’19, cites his lack of prior experience in student government as his motivation for running for the position, which he considers “not as serious” as other CCSC roles but still capable of improving student life. “Somehow consolidating all of these discounts— and it might not even be discounts but opportunities—it’s something that doesn’t require a lot of work but can do a lot.” He adds, “I think part of the job is rehashing certain deals that didn’t go through for certain reasons.”Shan didn’t know that CCSC was debating whether to cut the position of Sandbassador when he decided to run and was “pretty shocked to hear it was going to be taken away… It’s a pretty weird position to be in, honestly. I guess I’ll just do my best.”