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  • Writer's pictureClaire Shang

Letter from the Editor, April 2022

Earlier this month, scrolling through Elon Musk–owned Twitter, I came across some 2020 data on the subscription base of Harper’s Magazine. The oldest general-interest monthly in America, Harper’s is as magazine as it gets. Its readers, one-third of which are women, have been subscribed for an average of 10 years. Their average household income is $116,000; 46% hold postgraduate degrees. The replies were of muted, but general, shock. There seemed to be a confusion about who—and what—people think magazines are for.

Technically, The Blue and White has been around since 1890, just 40 years after Harper’s founding. This is not to put us among such high company—though we did seem to be running ads for Harper’s in our hallowed pages in 1892—but to understand that as the American magazine has expanded, evolved, and experienced identity crises over the centuries, being a college magazine only compounds the challenges that come with the medium.

In 1893 we declared ourselves “in every respect a students’ paper.” With a lack of further explication, it’s hard to say what that really means. In our earliest years, for instance, we often read like a propaganda effort to increase school spirit around athletics. And if you were to ask Blue and White staffers now, I think each would have a different answer as to why they’re on the magazine and what they think an undergraduate magazine–the official one, no less—ought to do, be, and look like. Like my predecessors, I’m not even sure I have a completely cogent answer for you. But I think it all hinges on this lack of prescription, and on trying to figure out, as we go, what it is that unifies the disparate experiences of thousands of undergrads. One thing’s certain: We’re all here to learn every day, in some form. I’m of the mind that our April issue embodies this experience of learning something from every encounter.

Our Blue Note writers shine light on places we might take for granted, examining dusty corners and excavating niches. Will Lyman meanders through Riverside Park, reading the dedications on its benches and Justin Liang ponders the history and future of the ubiquitous sidewalk shed. Muni Suleiman thinks about how the NYPL removing fines changes New Yorkers’ conception of the library. Alexander Aibel has a crisis about the inconsistency of Columbia buildings. And Victor Omojola, resident Liverpool fan, ventures off-campus to a space distinctly not his own—a Tottenham pub.

As the class of 2022 approaches graduation, four Campus Characters made the time to talk to our staffers. Dariya Subkhanberdina follows educational equity activist and Depop top seller Micaela Cacho-Negrete across campus; Becky Miller dives into the mind of auteur Fergus Campbell; Michaela Sawyer uncovers the inspiration behind Kassia Karras’ art; and Miska Lewis chats with Rachel Broder about her food stand, farming, and family.

Apparently, the average Harper’s subscriber spends three hours reading an issue. If you have even a fraction of that, you can indulge in our longer-form essays and features. In our Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Anna Patchefsky unearths accounts of the colonial-era mischief of Columbia undergrads while Zibia Caldwell writes beautifully of partying as a meaningful practice of self-care. Maya Weed writes of a campus production borne of the “circusification of Hamlet” and Iris Chen contemplates a virtual reality project intended for its users to experience anti-Black racism. Andrea Contreras speaks to older adult GS students about what led them here. Leah Overstreet indicts Harry Styles on a variety of charges, while Will Lyman reports from the Lerner Party Space on one of our few campus traditions.

This month’s Conversations are all about understanding how the self moves through the world. Nicole Kohut and 2020 presidential candidate and spiritual advisor Marianne Williamson talk antidepressants, selling out, and the value of education; by the end, they both pledge to “be of service to the healing of the world.” Professor Sharon Marcus and Dominy Gallo discuss the relationship between literature, sexuality, and sexual violence. Kelsey Kitzke speaks with alum and mutual aid organizer Dean Spade on the frailty of hope and the necessity to preserve it, and Sonya Horsford provides insight to Ellida Parker about designing the first-ever Black studies curriculum for New York public schools even when “inertia has been so powerful.”

We wouldn’t be a students’ paper without literature—you’ll find a beautiful poem by Skylar Wu and a short story by Miska Lewis online—and humor. Michael Colton provides sage advice about scheming, and writes us an instruction manual for the ultimate undergrad experience. To that end, Elizabeth Jackson takes our hapless hero, Verily Veritas, on a quest through Spectator’s 116 Columbia traditions. And in a moment of hard-hitting reporting, Becky Miller and Anouk Jouffret debate the oppression of today’s princesses.

In 1893, an ancestor of mine declared that we would publish “such articles as will, in turn, not merely appeal to, but will merit the support of the students. We shall expect that support, not because of old age, of finely appointed offices, of college advertisements ... but simply because we shall try to deserve it.” Over a century later, I’m working—and hopefully succeeding—at this same goal.


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