I don’t know what exactly I was expecting when I met Jeff Coby CC ’17 last month–I knew he would be 6’8” (assuming the Columbia basketball team does not inflate their roster heights), so that was not altogether shocking.
What surprised me the most about Jeff was how smiley he was. I had heard he was outgoing, social and all the descriptors that generally go with those. There is definitely a difference between being a social person and a happy person; Jeff Coby is both. We met during a downpour in January that neither of us were expecting, and while I was pissed about getting rained on, Jeff was just thrilled to talk about basketball and the intersection between art and sociological trends. “I’m pretty goofy and I always have a positive, bubbly persona,” he says, “Oh, and I used to be extremely overweight.”
Illustration by Kristine Dunn
A forward on the men’s basketball team, Coby credits athletics with giving him an opportunity to connect with students on campus who he would not otherwise know.
“A lot of people come here for academics but they played some kind of sport back in high school. With athletics, there is always something to relate to and talk about, whether it’s the early mornings or the sore bodies, it brings people together,” he says.
The communal nature of team sports has colored his Columbia experience more than anything else, whether through facing opponents with hundreds of other students cheering from the stands, or being recognized on campus as a member of the basketball team.
He seemed surprised when I told him that many in the university community do not believe athletics are a worthy use of funds. Raising the issue of institutional stress, he countered critics, saying, “I know mental health is a huge problem here and it’s nice that you can take some time to go watch a sports game and blow off some steam for free. It gives students an outlet to express themselves in a different manner than academics.”
Of his own academics, Coby launches into an explanation of how he merges Art History with Sociology–“I grew up in a household with a lot of art and it’s a great way to express yourself, your opinion, artistic beliefs. It’s great to learn about different artists and artistic movements, because the art world is con- stantly evolving and welcoming new ideas.” He likens the ever-changing art world to trends in sociology, saying how movements in art, like the impressionist movement, mirror movements in culture.
“There are so many different movements that have happened in history and a lot of the ideas have derived from early sociologists and thinkers.”
Balancing athletics and both disciplines has not always been easy, though, so Coby offers some advice to younger students: “It’s okay to fail. Because the main thing is that if you do fail you have to make sure that you learn from it instead of just harp on your fails. That’s the main thing I’ve learned here because when you learn from it you actually get better. And try new things!”
As for taking his own advice, Coby plans to try new experiences in the European professional basket- ball league after graduation. Until then, though, he welcomes any opportunity to brighten the days of his peers. “I’m very friendly. You can always come up to me and say hi!”
— Caroline Hurley