Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
The class of 2022 is the only grade that experienced a full pre-pandemic year on campus. As they prepare to leave, our B&W seniors pay tribute to their choice spots on campus.
The Van Amringe Quadrangle
Lodged between Hartley and Wallach.
Here at Columbia—the greatest university in the greatest city in the greatest world in the greatest galaxy—we don’t waste time with silly titles or epithets. Always on New York time, we talk quick; with no syllables to waste, our school has a great penchant for portmanteaus. If I heard someone say “Northwest Corner Building,” I would have to assume they referred to some mythical establishment, certainly located in NYU territory. Instead, we do NoCo. We do ButCaf. We do HamDel, LitHum, FroSci—even UWriting is shortened by four iambs. Nearly everything here has a catchy name. Emphasis on nearly.
It wasn’t until my senior year that I learned even my secret, hidden, indie, favorite spot on campus had a title. The Van Amringe Quadrangle sits between Hartley and Wallach, a sweet rotunda which, according to our school website, “is best used for barbecue or tabling events.” Don’t let the admin fool you—this spot is Cool, capital C. Freshman year, relegated to a life off the grid in a Hartley single, I noticed every manic pixie dream girl and their respective Cocteau Twin–boyfriends stood around the Van Amringe Quadrangle smoking cigarettes, laughing at the loser simpleton Nietzsche. Lonely and isolated, I took the suave insouciance of my fellow Hartley hostages to be a badge of pride. Not all hope was lost: I, too, could evade the sickly and socially inept stereotype of a Hartley resident. Hope resided in that quad, and she resides there still. Check it out one day; I promise you no one has heard of it before, mostly because the Van Amringe Quadrangle is a super long and super stupid name.
The Northwest Corner Conference Room(s)
A (conference) room with a view.
Campus was porous in the spring of 2021. As we were forbidden from entering the living quarters of others, my “roommates” were those with whom I snuck into abandoned lab spaces and claimed squatters’ rights over empty classrooms. We learned which doors were kept ajar, which could be coaxed open with a tap of an ID, which would submit to a jerk of the arm.
Before we knew that the door between Pupin 11 and NoCo 7 was “yankable,” we needed the elevator. As it rested on ground level, we’d pray for a stranger on a restricted-access upper floor to unwittingly summon us up. With such tricks now sealed off, my only access to the conference room at the top of NoCo is through fragmented memory—details stitched together into a tattered quilt of recollection. There are, for instance, actually two conference rooms, but I remember only a single corner framed by two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows that thrusted the entirety of Manhattan upon anyone who entered. I cannot now produce a mental picture of the view, which stared down at the roofs of every other building on campus, but I can still hear the muted gasps that emerged from the lungs of those staring at it for the first time.
I remember that in April, I camped out in the room for one of two consecutive nights I spent awake finishing a term paper—though I cannot remember which of the two it was. I don’t remember when at night my friends came, bringing Sweetgreen and welcome distraction, but I do remember that I saw the sunset and the sunrise alone. I don’t remember what shade of purple set itself atop the dimming horizon, or exactly what it felt like when the first ripple of light crept over northern Queens. But I remember that I was listening to Mort Garson at the beginning of the night, and Ambrose Akinmusire at the end. I remember that at 7:30 I took a last sip of the skyline and left for Hungarian in search of caffeine. I don’t remember if I ever went back.
A contemporary eatery with perspective.
My biggest regret from my time at Columbia is something I did too late. What can you, dear reader, do earlier than I to avoid this feeling of remorse, you ask? Go to Strokos sooner than your second semester here. Actually, go on move-in day. Take your family and show them the beauty of Columbia.
To me, Strokos is a mythical place. To others, it is a Greek deli on the corner of 114th and Amsterdam. While it is technically outside of the gates, I consider it part of my campus. In fact, it is the center of my campus, if you measure these things in terms of frequency of visits. Conservatively, I go to Strokos four times a week. I approach the counter and I order my classic: a bacon, egg, and hashbrown on an everything bagel, no cheese, please. The cost of any item at Strokos varies by the day, and that’s just the way it is. As frustrating as that may be, you won’t remember it when your teeth sink into the best bagel north of Absolute. There’s a reason their tagline, proudly displayed on each of their shirts, reads “A Contemporary Eatery with Perspective.” So go to Strokos, and stop eating at prehistoric cafes with simple-minded outlooks.
There will always be haters. To preempt them, I say this: Strokos is better than HamDel. If you disagree, fuck you. HamDel will make you cry, Strokos will give you a feeling of ecstasy like nothing you’ve ever felt before. HamDel is disgusting, Strokos is ethereal. HamDel is chaos, Strokos is grace.
Joe’s and the Journalism School
Between fact-finding and home.
There is absolutely no good reason why the coffee shop attached to Pulitzer must be called Joe Coffee and not, simply, Joe’s. I have added the possessive ever since my first day of classes, when I was sitting in the journalism school lounge reading for Romanticism and a barista wandered in, offering free cold brew. I had not ever enjoyed coffee prior to that fateful day, but took a bottle for appearance’s sake. Unaware of my toddler-like tolerance for caffeine at that time, I finished the entire bottle and promptly struggled to not fall down the stairs as I walked to my seminar.
For reasons I can’t explain, I made the journalism school a home freshman year. The one-room, one-table library is slightly pathetic, the lounge has comfortable couches but little convenient table space, and the lighting is quite consistently bad. Nonetheless, Joe’s and the J-school were a bustling somewhere for a freshman unsure she wanted to be anywhere at Columbia at all. It helped that there’s a line in The Newsroom alluding to a “hot-shot EP out of Columbia J-school.” (Wanting to be an Aaron Sorkin character is a significant part of my personality.)
My presence in Joe’s soon became a joke among my friends. In Joe’s I’ve marched through paper after paper, read book after book, and struggled through avalanches of equations. I got coffee there nearly every Monday and Wednesday morning before Andy and I strode to Gulati’s Principles. I interviewed the fiery-haired rockstar that would play a lead in the only play I’ve ever written. I’ve doubled over with sobs, overcome by the sly demons of my future-faced imaginings. I’ve nursed a fleeting, obligatory crush on an anonymous barista; he wore beanies and baggy pants and seemed to care about my days. I’ve half-yelled with laughter as Sophia and I people-watched and tried valiantly to get work done. They used to have doughnuts. I bought one each for three of my friends on my first Valentine’s Day here. They don’t have them anymore.
Joe’s is not romantic. It has none of the secluded, literary charm of Hungarian or Max Caffe. It is stark and gray and no-nonsense. The brightest thing against its slate backdrop are the people and the mixed-up chatter of their mixed-up lives, brought together for a moment in the space between fact-finding and home.
The Lerner Game Room
A work-free zone.
I spent most of my first year of college trying to find someplace to sit. If Columbia students have taken one thing from New York City, it’s an enthusiastic embrace of squatters’ rights: If I see an EcoReps water bottle and a Marx-Engels Reader on a ramp table, I know it’s safe to assume that my Ferris biscuit and I are not welcome.
This is the only way I can think to explain the stunning amount of time that I’ve spent in the Lerner Game Room—in the child-size chair between the air hockey and foosball tables, naturally.
When you enter the Lerner Game Room, a sign by the door announces that this is a place for play—“a work-free zone!” I interpreted this rule loosely. By this, I mean that, once situated at my perch, I did my homework playfully. By that, I mean that when those rare brave souls actually began a game of air hockey, I quashed my knee-jerk reaction: Hmm … the clang of those pucks sure does make my ears ring. Who was I to put a damper on their institutionally sanctioned fun?
Perhaps this haunt would never have become a habit had my best friend Elizabeth not also recognized its unexpected charms—its vibrant atmosphere, its ample seating, its multiple outlets. We could sit there for hours, talking over the murmur of a Family Feud marathon. It turned out to be one of those friendships where it didn’t matter where we decided to go.
The other day, I returned to our space of choice for the first time since the pandemic. I immediately texted Elizabeth to declare that I had entered a work-free zone. I didn’t have to say more: “grace grace grace. did you go to the lerner game room without me?”
It wasn’t the same, I told her. It’s hard to play foosball alone.
A decidedly good building.
Last year, somewhere on 108th, from the confines of my light-deprived fifth-floor walk up, my roommates and I sipped espresso, chatting about what we missed about campus and hated about our apartment. As we caffeinated, we rebuilt a year lost, mapping memories to corners and corridors. Time after time, I found myself returning to Milbank.
“A good building should feel alive,” I told my roommates, between sips of Café Bustelo. “A good building should have cracks and character, bricks and books, and ideally a stained-glass window.”
This year, I find myself returning to Milbank, a decidedly good building. Each morning, I mold my Doc Martens into the marbled stairs, hollowed by the kitten heels and Mary Janes of Barnard students past. Sunsoaked in the corner of the classroom, I daydream to the clangor of church bells and coos of the pigeons, gazing through the dusty windows that frame Riverside like a postcard. I may even stick my hand out the window, tracing my nails across the mossed and scalloped edges of Spanish tile, wrapping my fingers around the curled stems of ivy vines. If I’m running late, I run a minute later to pause and admire the Kehinde Wiley portraits, even if just for a moment. Some rush by, studying for years without a trip to the rooftop greenhouse or a moment on the benches under the trees. But I prefer to pass the time on windowsills and benches, remembering that I am alive and in a decidedly good building.
The Hartley Rec Room
The day I discovered the Hartley Rec Room was the day my life at Columbia really began. Some people might tell you that Amsterdam Bridge, or Low Rotunda, or maybe even the Van Amringe Quadrangle are the gems of this campus, but these people are ignorant. These are people so taken by the veneer of campus beauty that they overlook the true nucleus of Columbia life. With two pingpong and two pool—billiards—tables, Hartley Rec Room (HRR) is simplicity, it is convenience, it is coziness, it is joy, it is youth, it is fun.
When I say to people nowadays, I’m off to play pingpong, they look puzzled. “Where?” they ask. To that, I say, “If you haven’t broken cue in the Hartley Rec Room, what have you been doing?” Hartley Rec Room is post-Macro-midterm solace, it’s a racket sport cardio workout, it’s friendship and it’s heartbreak. There are people out there who think of pingpong as a “mini version of tennis” or “not a real racket sport,” but these people haven’t experienced the HRR endorphin rush. When I’m smashing a looper or feigning a flick shot, I think back to racket sport legend Billie Jean King’s inspiring advice that “champions keep playing until they get it right,” and I think, No, pingpong is a champion’s sport. Pingpong isn’t “mini tennis”; tennis is mega pingpong. And if that isn’t a metaphor for something, I don’t know what is.
The Minor Latham Playhouse
Have you seen Mike or Greg?
If my ghost haunted the halls of this campus (and perhaps it already does), the apparition of a curly-haired girl wearing rubber boots would weave through the wings of the Minor Latham Playhouse. Ghost tours of the future would list sightings of this phantom—pushing a set of double doors open with her feet while balancing two armchairs on her shoulders, running up the basement stairs in search of a key ring, echoing, “Have you seen Mike or Greg?” as reported by witnesses, or trying on an assortment of earth-toned vests and pastel pants. She would sit in the darkened dressing rooms when in need of a breath, a rest. Her knees would be dusty from rummaging through the rabbit warrens of Milbank Hall, hauling furniture and hand props. Turn any corner and there she may be, drilling stubborn screws, swagging crimson curtains, casting shadow birds on the wall, or running lines in haste.
The story they would tell, these ghost tour guides of the future, is of a girl who staked her claim straight out of the gate. Eighteen and eager, she wore pigtail braids and gingham, danced as a troll and traipsed as an orangutan. At 19, she mopped watermelon guts and chocolate blood from the floor. At 20, she sat on the corner of the stage, joining an impromptu chorus of “Mr. Blue Sky” in a play that proved spookily portentous of the quarantine to come, and cinematized a disco in Cork. At 21, she greeted fellow ghosts in empty red seats. At 22, the stage was hers to share once more; she crossed the Mediterranean Sea, grew from lad to lady, sprung from an Elizabethan age to modern ecstasies, “about to understand …”
Every night the ghosts gather around the lone lamp center stage. Mine, I suspect, will join the ensemble of that prestigious crew. Theaters are spaces built for ghosts, for surplus stories, and so a part of me will always linger in the MLP.
The Writing Center
Its warmth comes from its people.
The Writing Center is the only place on this campus that I would not watch burn. In fact, if the Writing Center was (god forbid) burning down, I would run inside and burn with it.
I, like many anxious first-year students, stumbled upon the Writing Center out of fear—specifically, fear that I wasn’t as intelligent as my peers, a status confirmed or denied by the grade I would receive on my first LitHum essay. My analysis of oak trees in the Iliad earned me a 78%. But I continued to visit religiously—not least because I believe my session with Elizabeth transformed a D paper into a C+ paper. Rather, my visits were spurred by something other than letter grades: It was warm. Not literally—as we all know, Columbia’s electricity is crap. Its warmth comes from its people.
If you skip up the steps to Philosophy and make a sharp right turn upon entering, you’ll find yourself at the wooden doors of 310. You’ll be greeted by John—not verbally, only through subtle eye contact—who sits snugly at a corner desk, broadcasting heavy metal hits on days electrocuted with rays of sunshine and smooth jazz on those overcast by gray skies. Jason will probably arch his eyebrows above his desktop, shifting his gaze from the master scheduler—or the pixelated image of a plump dorayaki that consumes his screen—to check in on you. His soft gaze, combined with Kip’s contagious laughter, tells you it’s okay to tip-toe further in.
So you take a seat at the communal table, snag a fun-sized Snickers bar, and maybe flip through a few old New Yorkers before your session. You listen to the consultations happening around you: “Let’s imagine that you’re putting these writers in conversation with one another”; “I hear you saying this … does that align with the intentions of your project?” among many absurd phrases that make writing sound like building a personalized amusement park. Then, when you’re scanning the walls, pausing on the miscellaneous party bags that have been cast as room decor, you’ll realize what you don’t hear: “right,” “wrong,” “good,” and “bad.”
When it comes time for your session, you think you know what to expect: warmth. But warmth arrives in varying degrees. Bridget will ask you about your life’s story. Helen will make a day-by-day plan with you. Ellie will make you laugh. I will offer you tea. So even if you look outside to find the fiercest storm brewing, you know you’re warm.
The Kent Tables
Have a surprisingly good cry.
This city, with its practically infinite experiential offerings, crucially lacks one thing: places where you can be both alone and outdoors. Throughout these four years, I’ve lost count of how many moments necessitated such an environment—times when I needed to be in the open air but loathed the possibility of entanglement in a dreaded stop-and-chat. It often feels like Columbia’s campus is too small to even walk from Lerner to Pulitzer without brushing shoulders or making eye contact with someone you recognize.
The closest to this ideal of solitude I’ve found on campus is the row of tables across the entrance to Kent. If you time it right, you can avoid the mass exodus of students to/from East Campus during the passing periods between classes. If you really time it right, you can find the perfect vantage point to see lower campus baked in the orange glow of the late afternoon sun. Read a book. Write in your journal. Have a surprisingly good cry. Enjoy the sublimity of the moment.
The product of class struggle.
In college I learned that the disciplines were invented here. They probably shouldn’t have been, but they were, so we might as well have fun being inside of them. Lucky for us that they each have a building—we can really kick around.
So I kicked a little, and in college I learned that Avery is a hearth, a mound, a roof, and walls. The point of the sixth floor of Philosophy is to dramatize, dramatize, dramatize, and the point of the seventh is to develop an analytic of power. Casa Hispánica is the origin of modernity, no matter what Maison Française tries to tell you. Schermerhorn’s highest calling is to give deep, ecstatic pleasure—Dodge’s, too. Both are miracles of consciousness, which is sometimes individual and other times collective.
I am quite confident that Fayerweather is the product of class struggle. Inside, my freshman year, a professor wowed me. Her speech patterns made me think of a jellyfish pumping itself up from the depths of the cartoon sea: out, in, out, in, out, in. Now, I secretly give people the jellyfish test. It’s not standardized, and it’s very difficult to grade. People who pass it are worth keeping around. I think I’ll continue to give it for a while longer, after college.
Looking toward home.
I arrived in Morningside as a sophomore, just a semester before Covid began. Living in an apartment on 110th, I knew little about the dorms and quads and buildings of Columbia and Barnard. I navigated to appointments and new classes with a campus map on Google Images, zooming in on bold blue names. In the afternoons, I walked home from class by St. John’s on Amsterdam, passing the community garden on 111th Street, and along Broadway, the Duane Reade, the shoe repair shop, the flower shop. I had no ties to either campus, and little connection to its students. I felt, rather, a warmth for the neighborhood, which I still knew only for its pedestrians, dogs, buildings, and surrounding sidewalks.
Before its closing in the spring of 2020, I would amble towards Xi’an Famous Foods on 101st Street, taking my plastic container of noodles up to the park between Broadway and West End on 106th to sit by the statue of Ida Straus. She and her husband, Isidor, died on the deck of the Titanic, folded in each others’ arms. Before their deaths, the couple had bought a house on 105th and Broadway, right where the avenue bends uptown. Now, the water pours from beneath Ida’s bronze dress as she leans on one arm and looks toward her would-be home. In the days of Xi’an Famous Foods, a man with a bag of Wonder Bread often came to perch beside her and throw crumbs—sometimes whole slices—to the birds.
The week before I left New York that spring, a man visited Ida to plant tulips in the shape of a heart. I came to the park with a sandwich from the deli and a book I was reading for class. It wasn’t the last, or even tenth to last, time I would head to the park for a meal. But that day, despite lingering homesickness, I was the happiest I had been since before high school. The man with the Wonder Bread scattered his crumbs with a vengeance as I gathered my things and made my way back uptown. Ida watched me when I left, the tulips beneath her still unopened in their little ring.
A gray space.
Reunion Courtyard is the name of the plaza located between the Vagelos Alumnae Center and Barnard Hall. The courtyard used to have a bench overlooking Claremont Avenue where I sat my freshman year, when I lived nearby, in Brooks. Sometimes, I would kneel on the bench, rest my hands on the parapet, lean forward, and look as far left as possible. The wind, rushing in from the Hudson, would cool my cheeks. Then I would swing my head north, toward my future sophomore dorm and Riverside Church. A classmate I met my first semester told me Bob Dylan met his girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, the one clutching his arm on the cover of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” there.
When I began to write this, I realized I didn’t know the plaza’s official name. The official map on Barnard’s website leaves a gray space between the Alumnae Center and Barnard Hall, as if nothing is there. The other day, I took some time between classes to visit the courtyard. To my surprise, a white tent occupied the space. The bench was no longer. Instead, a small sign hanging from the rafters welcomed me to the Barnard Center for Toddler Research. I padded onto the blue rubber gym flooring, presumably installed for the children’s safety, and continued my search for a name. In the six-inch space between the tent and Barnard Hall, I found a plaque affixed to the building’s 104-year-old façade. To read it, I had to take a photograph, so I hoisted myself over a concrete block, which functioned as a weight for the tent, and stuck my arm out for the best angle. The inscription read: “In grateful recognition of the many ways alumnae giving strengthens the College and advances Barnard’s mission, this plaza was dedicated in 1993 and named Reunion Courtyard.” In the gray space that is Reunion Courtyard, I was at once 22, 18, an alumna, a toddler.