Updated: Sep 3, 2021
By Lena Rubin
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. This issue, we bring you two people with interests in social justice. If you’d like to suggest a Campus Character, send us an email at email@example.com.
Before becoming one of the foremost student scholars on the relationship between Columbia University and slavery, Jordan Brewington, CC ‘17, wanted to be a chef. After her freshman year, Jordan’s love for cooking brought her to an internship on the set of Chopped, at the Food Network, where she worked at a cubicle among coworkers who “only talk- ed about going to the Hamptons over the weekend.”
“Food shouldn’t be that way,” Jordan realized. “That’s capitalist food!”
I meet Jordan on a Friday afternoon at Artopolis Café and we talk for almost an hour. The entirety of Columbia seems to be sitting on Low Steps. She, however, has come from a day spent walking through Central Park with friends. We both admit to being lled with joy because of the changing weather. At one point, while describing in detail an essay she wrote in junior year of high school on late-19th century freed Black families, she interrupts herself, making eye contact with a friend who has happened to walk by, and exclaims, “Hello! Hi! I’m in an interview! Wait, I love you, I’ll text you.”
“We’re twenty-two, how could you be tired?” Jordan asks me. “People stop challenging themselves,” she says, when they reach senior year at Columbia. “People just do their nance or whatever, they fall asleep.” Jordan is determined to surround herself with people who, as she puts it, are “still awake.”
“At first I was like, ‘I love the Core, I can’t wait to be a scholar!’” says Jordan, tongue in cheek, about her expectations of Columbia. Her passion for his- tory attracted her to the Iliad, the Odyssey. Things changed once she got here: “I don’t want to say it was a violent experience but I was forced to be othered, so much so, that it ended up making me become more reflective.” Jordan recalls.
Jordan found the academic niche she was look- ing for when she searched the words ‘Black’ and ‘slavery,’ on the course directory, and she found her way into Thai Jones’ seminar, where students used University archives in order to explore our university’s connections with the slave trade. Now, she’s a TA for the seminar, which has become enormously popular in the past couple of years.
Illustration by Jennifer Bi
Going into the archives for the first time was a formative experience: “I was never intended to touch this,” she remembers thinking. Jordan describes what some archivists have called “reading against the grain” – taking what is presented to you, and creating an entirely new reading from what you nd. This is how has approached her life at Columbia: “I had no idea that I would be myself, now, when I came here,” she says, and she means it.
Jordan is the coordinator for the pre-orien- tation program Under1Roof. (“I loved NSOP,” she laughs, adding, “I wanted to be there for any incoming Black students who were shaky on what they wanted Columbia to be for them.”) She was also the president of the Alpha Delta Phi society. “It wasn’t something I wanted,” she recalls. “But no one else would have been able to lead us otherwise.”
Her favorite moments here are spent in friends’ rooms, especially that of her randomly-assigned fresh- man year roommate who is now, of course, still her best friend; or walking through Riverside park, by the water, to clear her head. When asked what her favorite place is in the city, she describes not a place, but an experience of a place.
“If you’re on the George Washington [Bridge], coming across, if you’re driving across it back into the city, and you’re about to make that turn into Harlem, and it’s sunset.”