Updated: Jul 17
You might not know the following figures—but you should. In Campus Characters, The Blue & White introduces you to a handful of Columbians who are up to interesting and extraordinary things and whose stories beg to be shared. If you’d like to suggest a Campus Character, send us an email at email@example.com.
By Michelle Cheripka
Jamie Boothe, CC ’15, seems anxious as I turn on my recorder at the start of our interview. “I’m not a fan of the sound bite culture,” he explains as he adjusts his glasses, “[it is] very reductionist.” This aversion is unsurprising coming from Jamie, a figurehead of Columbia’s small and constantly scrutinized right wing, as well as a Senior Editor of The Columbia Political Review (CPR) and Director of Operations of Columbia University College Republicans (CUCR). What does surprise me is his background: growing up in rural Appalachia, he was raised by parents who teach grades K through 12 and who are, incidentally, Democrats. He jokes about wondering where he came from.
But Jamie is perhaps best known as the author of one Spectator op-ed in defense of Columbus Day. He wrote that Columbus Day should not be a day of protest, but should “remind us of the need for serious and level-headed dialogue on the topic of European colonialism.” I had been introduced to the piece by a friend who told me the article was an argument for how slavery led to the end of slavery—ergo Columbus’ discovery (and subsequent exploitation) wasn’t such a bad thing. For about a week after the op-ed was published, I heard his name in close proximity to ‘bigot,’ ‘privileged white male,’ and ‘asshole.’
“I don’t have a problem with being criticized,” Jamie says emphatically, “[but] I think it’s important to stop yourself and do a reality check and think: this reaction that I’m having, is this what this person actually intended, or is there another way to interpret it? You should only work your way down to ‘this person is a bigot,’ or ‘this person has malintent,’ after exhausting all of the options before that. Giving people the benefit of the doubt is a very important principle in any form of academic discussion.”
Another principle important to Jamie, a biochemistry major with a research background, is that arguments have their roots in the empirical. “Some people say that the plural of anecdote is data,” he tells me.“I disagree; I would say that the plural of anecdote is anecdotes. Science is defined by verifiable, examinable evidence. Politics would do a lot better if our political decisions and ideologies were based more on evidence than emotion.”
Perhaps it’s this reliance on empiricism that leads to his dismissal of the ways in which emotion and anecdote can be valid persuasive forces, or to his view of public protests as “shows of intellectual intolerance” when considered to be a readily available option, as opposed to a last resort. Perhaps Jamie’s op-ed struck such a nerve because he underestimated the sense of injustice, even anger, that has become inseparable from Columbus Day. It could be that his argument was too divorced from the intangible: from the symbolism of a national holiday that, to many, proves America still hasn’t fully acknowledged its history of oppression.
Even when he faces harsh criticism, Jamie appreciates Columbia as a space in which students share an investment in socio-political questions. “They care so much about not themselves being right, but finding the answers,” he says, “That’s what college should be about: making answerable the questions that are unanswerable.”
As our conversation comes to a close, I turn off the tape recorder and Jamie visibly relaxes. He stops making references to Plato’s Republic, no longer feeling the need to provide examples to substantiate every claim he makes. He opens up about himself and his family and it’s this Jamie whom I wanted to meet. I had initially thought that his hesitation to my recording him was a wariness of saying the “wrong thing,” but Jamie simply understands the power of words – especially his own, contrary to what many might believe.