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Op-Ed: Columbia community should guard against turning on itself as it deals with financial challenges, SGA president says

Op-Ed%3A+Columbia+community+should+guard+against+turning+on+itself+as+it+deals+with+financial+challenges%2C+SGA+president+says

For the past two years, I have had the honor of serving as president of the Student  Government Association. Through this role, I have had the unique privilege of working with and developing relationships with all different stakeholders at the college from students, faculty, administrators and staff. These relationships derive from a deep desire to make Columbia the best place it can be for students. 

It is no secret that Columbia has some significant financial challenges, most pressingly is the budgetary crisis that is going to shape the operations of the institution over the next couple of years. As the college works to mitigate its financial crisis, it is important that our community does not turn on itself in a destructive nature, as we saw during the seven-week strike this past fall. Everyone who comes to campus chooses to be here, and we must reclaim the collective institutional pride that we all share.

Currently, Columbia is a very siloed institution, separated by different offices, departments, student organizations and majors. We, as a community, tend to stay confined to our own echo chambers of concern. We need to be looking at these separations and create more opportunities for collaboration and partnerships. 

Entering my role as president, I wanted to see Columbia bring environmental sustainability back to the forefront of our conversations and behavior. One way we did this was through collaboration between SGA, the office of Facilities and Planning and the Science and Mathematics Department as we created an annual Earth Day Clean-Up on campus. 

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Another issue our community needs to work on addressing is financial accessibility for the current students at Columbia. In comparison to other private arts colleges, Columbia is the most affordable option that maintains artistic prestige. During my time here, the tuition has been raised by 20% and I had to work multiple jobs just to make my way through school. This is unsustainable for the future if those increases are not met with appropriate scholarships from outside sources. We are pricing out students from low-income communities and those who pay their way through college, thereby hurting our DEI objectives as an institution.

Beyond just the sticker tuition price, other unanticipated costs can get in the way of a student’s persistence. There are many classes required for graduation where students need to finance their own projects. Students and faculty need to have a real and honest dialogue about how much these assignments will cost to provide greater transparency before students register for those classes. Administration should work with faculty to establish microgrants to help our students who need assistance paying for these required projects.

Furthermore, my experience and so many other students’ experiences have been shaped by Student Affairs and my student organization. When I first came to Columbia, I did not know a single person here. When I attended Convocation, I signed up for two  organizations: SGA and the quidditch team. By simply signing up and going to their meetings, I immediately began to feel a sense of community at this school. The more than student organizations supported by the college provide everyone with a sense of belonging and an avenue by which to make long-lasting friendships. 

The Student Affairs staff is by far one of the greatest assets our college has access to. They are driven to make sure that students have the environment and support to be as successful as they possibly can. Students need support from these folks and when the administration looks at areas to make cuts, I believe they should not compromise one of the primary reasons students stay at this school. 

Attending Columbia, for myself and so many other students, has allowed me to explore and express my own identity in a community that prides itself on what makes us individually unique.

Through SGA, I worked to help upfit this culture by providing an avenue for students to raise concerns, questions and ideas. We did this by working with organizations like the Latino Alliance and BSU, as well as the office for Student Diversity and Inclusion, Campus Security and the Library. Additionally, we have addressed food insecurity by providing regular donations to keep the Columbia Cares Pantry and the Little Food Library stocked. This ensures that no matter the situation—whether a student forgets their lunch or they are unable to afford groceries that week—they do not go hungry at school. Everything SGA has done has been the byproduct of collaboration and the hard work of students who genuinely care about improving our campus experience. 

Overall, I believe what makes Columbia great is the passionate people that make up our unique community. There are a lot of challenges ahead of us, but I am confident that through productive conversations, mutual respect and transparency, we will get through this. It has been my honor serving as president of SGA and I want to thank everyone who has made this experience so impactful. 

Tyler Harding is a junior film and television major at Columbia College Chicago from Commerce Township, Michigan, and the Student Government Association president.

 

Copy Edited by Myranda Diaz. 

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