Dear Columbia: A Letter to Columbia College Chicago by Sung Yim

Last year, I was nominated to represent Columbia College Chicago’s Creative Nonfiction writing department. The department chair solicited a short work sample from me that I was told would be blown up on display as an art installation at President Kwang-Wu Kim’s home. I was also invited to a dinner there to celebrate with the two other student nominees.

I sent in an excerpt of my essay on rape culture, which was almost immediately rejected on the basis that it was too controversial for its purposes. I sent in another which was similarly rejected, and yet another excerpt that they finally approved for display. The department chair used vague, euphemistic explanations as to why certain pieces could not be used, calling the initial piece a little bit too sensitive and requesting a sample of something more appropriate. He was sure to shower my work with unnecessary compliments in doing so—it’s so great and I love it, but—and it was clear to me that he was uncomfortable with his own position of power.

It’s important to keep in mind that my work has always been scathingly political. That is, I would think, part of why the writing faculty nominated my work. It’s also important to keep in mind that they were soliciting short work of a long-form artist. I was clipping and revising each piece I was submitting to them, which took hours of free labor.

This last piece they approved was on ethnic erasure and watching my mother internalize white supremacist standards of beauty. When I arrived at the dinner, I saw that they clipped my already short excerpt to just the first paragraph, erasing all context of the story. They kept a few lines of sensory detail. You couldn’t even tell what the essay was about. If you hadn’t seen my name, it could probably have passed for a white person’s work. The irony was not lost on me, especially in those tense moments when the administrators would unapologetically mispronounce my name while pressing me for opinions on their whitewashed installation of my work.

They plied us with wine and deli meats. They heard me and my friends griping and offered to open up communications with a private trustee. They told me my work would have been of great interest to President Kim in full because of our shared heritage. It was insulting and extremely uncomfortable. It was also not the kind of uncomfortable experience I could put on my résumé later.

I wondered how many hundreds of dollars they put into buying bottles of wine, candles, a catering service with servers in black ties. As my friends spoke openly about living in poverty post-graduation, I wondered why we weren’t offered a modest scholarship instead.

This year, I was nominated to represent the student body again. I was one of two Creative Nonfiction students invited to perform at the undergraduate reading event. This is what I read to them, just after yet another white faculty member mispronounced my name—publicly and on stage.

****

Dear Columbia,

Your faculty members have called me to appear before you today. These are wonderful, woefully undervalued people and I have so much love and respect for them

But after the last time I was nominated for something like this, when my work about whitewashing was effectively whitewashed, it became starkly clear to me that you as an institution, as an administrative body, don’t give a fuck what I have to say.

The crucial message of my work was secondary to you, Columbia. What you wanted was something pretty to put up on a wall and in that process of packaging my work for pleasurable consumption, you rendered my work politically impotent. You stripped my work of its entire purpose and used it as a dress-form for your aesthetics.

Columbia, you don’t give a fuck what I have to say or why. No matter who does actually read it, is touched and comforted by it, and wants it to be heard.

Columbia, all you give a fuck about are funds. You care about ensuring your trustees comfort in their whiteness and wealth. You care about placating the artists you feel you own. You care about your retention rates and name.

You love what I’ve got to say so long as it has no material bearing.

Columbia, you are throwing us a big party and parading us around again and expecting us to be satisfied and even grateful to be given such a grand opportunity to be your shining merit badges.

 

I won’t sit here and act like it’s not a life-affirming gesture. I won’t act like it isn’t an honor to know that your faculty members—your teachers, nurturers, healers—believe my work deserves this platform.

But Columbia, you as an institution? How you’ve rendered my work politically inert again and again?

I will never be fucking satisfied and I will never be happy to be used as a mascot.

I don’t give a good goddamn about standing on your stage and being seen. I don’t give a good goddamn about celebrity, persona, recognition.

Whatever happened to helping people produce good work? Work that leaves somebody wonderstruck and aching. Work that leaves the artist feeling cleansed and whole? Work that gives somebody a reason to keep living for another day. Work that reminds someone of their importance, reminds someone that they’re not alone. Work that comforts and takes the breath away.

Instead of helping everyone and their mother sell themselves as a lucrative product.

Instead of making people feel as though worth cannot be without recognition.

And that therefore, they are worthless. That therefore, those marginalized voices without the resources to get themselves heard, without a community to serve their ego, are worthless.

I’m sick to my stomach of how you expect us to view and value each other as nothing but a stack of credentials and opportunities. I’m sick with heartbreak that we don’t value the screaming discomfort of humanity in one another.

I’m sorry. This is not what I thought I was going to read but I’m having a fucking crisis and I don’t give a fuck about all this elitist pageantry

I just want time to write and I shouldn’t even have agreed to do this because someone else might have benefitted from it and I am sorry.

But rest assured, there’s no point in hassling me when I walk away. There is no comforting or sating me. This problem is bigger than me, your writing department, or even you, Columbia. I’m angry at how this entire “literary ecosystem” functions, this circle-jerk of meritocracy, I’m angry about copyright, I’m angry about the fact that art even has to sell for us to survive, I’m angry about the state of higher education under a brutal economic system and our complicity in both.

I’m angry and there’s no changing that and I’m doing everything I can to keep my head down and finish my degree so I can leave you behind and I am sorry. But I’m gonna shit-talk til the day I die.


sung yim
Sung Yim

Sung Yim is poet, essayist, and B.A. candidate of Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crab Fat Magazine, Contrary, Kweli,The James Franco Review, and Hooligan Magazine. They are a bilingual South Korean immigrant residing in Illinois.

Some Things by Sung:
Kweli Journal
The James Franco Review

 

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13 thoughts on “Dear Columbia: A Letter to Columbia College Chicago by Sung Yim

  1. I love this! I love everything you had to say. I graduated from CCC in 2014 and although I was in a different department it’s the institution itself that needs to change because it affects as all. You’re last two lines summed up my last semester to a T. Thank you for writing this.

  2. “The crucial message of my work was secondary to you, Columbia. What you wanted was something pretty to put up on a wall and in that process of packaging my work for pleasurable consumption, you rendered my work politically impotent. You stripped my work of its entire purpose and used it as a dress-form for your aesthetics.” Thanks for this. I taught at Columbia and this kind of whitewashing was also my experience. If the students are feeling it you can be sure that every single person at the school either has to participate in perpetuating this kind of culture or be abused by it. I tried to push back against it but there is no escape.

  3. A thoughtful piece, Sung Yim. It would indeed be difficult to swallow seeing your work used in a manner contrasting to the way you intended it…

    I do have a few questions about your “retort.”

    1. Your piece states: “I saw that they clipped my already short excerpt to just the first paragraph, erasing all context of the story. They kept a few lines of sensory detail. You couldn’t even tell what the essay was about. If you hadn’t seen my name, it could probably have passed for a white person’s work.” I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but I think your point on the matter is that they stripped away the strength of your words, rendered the piece impotent, right? But why are you attributing this distinction to a white person’s work? What inside that “clipped” excerpt makes it passable for a white person’s writing? Are you insinuating that a white person’s writing is impotent?

    2. Your piece states: “I was clipping and revising each piece I was submitting to them, which took hours of free labor.” Do you get paid for your work otherwise? Have you ever published a piece without compensation?

    1. He mentioned a white persons work because the piece was about his Asian mother accepting white beauty standards as the only standard. they stripped the article down so much that you wouldn’t know that, making the author ambiguous.

  4. A thoughtful piece, Sung Yim. It would indeed be difficult to swallow seeing your work used in a manner contrasting to the way you intended it…

    I do have a few questions about your “retort.”

    1. Your piece states: “I saw that they clipped my already short excerpt to just the first paragraph, erasing all context of the story. They kept a few lines of sensory detail. You couldn’t even tell what the essay was about. If you hadn’t seen my name, it could probably have passed for a white person’s work.” I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but I think your point on the matter is that they stripped away the strength of your words, rendered the piece impotent, right? But why are you attributing this distinction to a white person’s work? What inside that “clipped” excerpt makes it passable for a white person’s writing? Are you insinuating that a white person’s writing is impotent?

    2. Your piece states: “I was clipping and revising each piece I was submitting to them, which took hours of free labor.” Do you get paid for your work otherwise? Have you ever published a piece without compensation?

  5. Although I agree in theory about what you wrote, your rhethoric and tone is condescending and frankly ignorant to issues that you have no experience or understanding of. Also, you generalize entire groups of people and political issues. That is a losing hand. This seems to feed your own personal opinions and ego and is basically a projection of your own shortcomings. Your hatred puts you on par with those “elitists” you hate and the systems you “fall victim to.” College won’t teach you that but life eventually will. Trust me. Columbia is a joke though so we can agree on that. My time there was plagued with ignorant minds pushing hollow mass movements that did nothing but serve pride and ego. That was from the both the admin and the atmosphere in general of the school. Maybe I’m just an overly sensitive big fucking baby though. In conclusion, do yourself a favor and add a little humilty and self effacing humor to your style. That will tell people you have a little bit of wisdom and are not just spewing hate masked as political and social warrior “truth.”

  6. “Last year, I was nominated to represent Columbia College Chicago’s Creative Nonfiction writing department.”
    Congratulations! That is impressive.
    “The department chair solicited a short work sample from me that I was told would be blown up on display as an art installation at President Kwang-Wu Kim’s home. I was also invited to a dinner there to celebrate with the two other student nominees.”
    Also a huge deal. I can imagine the pride you felt knowing your work is going to be put on display by the president of the school. And a free posh dinner? What college student would scoff at that?
    “I sent in an excerpt of my essay on rape culture, which was almost immediately rejected on the basis that it was too controversial for its purposes.”
    This, unfortunately, is where you lose me.
    I’d like to step back to one of your earlier statements.
    “The department chair solicited a short work sample from me that I was told would be blown up on display as an art installation at President Kwang-Wu Kim’s home.”
    “…on display as an art installation at President Kwang-Wu Kim’s home.”
    “…at President Kwang-Wu Kim’s house.”
    Can you not see why someone might not want an essay on rape culture installed in their home?
    “I sent in another which was similarly rejected, and yet another excerpt that they finally approved for display. The department chair used vague, euphemistic explanations as to why certain pieces could not be used, calling the initial piece a little bit too sensitive and requesting a sample of something more appropriate.”
    Why is this a bad thing? I’m sorry, but while I understand that the core of your work is most likely meant to be intense and controversial (you yourself later state your work is “always scathingly political”) you need to be able to read the room. If the department chair is asking you for something more appropriate, perhaps it’s because of the fact that this piece will be in prominent display in a person’s home and will most likely be a talking point at the dinner to which you were invited.
    I love art, and own several pieces from other artists that I display in my home. I also have friends and family who create wonderful works, some political and controversial in nature. While I value their works and contributions, I would not display the majority of them in my own home. Why? Because it’s my home and I say what gets displayed.
    “He was sure to shower my work with unnecessary compliments in doing so—it’s so great and I love it, but—and it was clear to me that he was uncomfortable with his own position of power.”
    He was uncomfortable because you were not getting the point. He was asking for a work that was appropriate to display, and you kept providing pieces that they did not find appropriate. The juxtaposition you’re going for in their rejections of your work and their “unnecessary compliments” falls short for me; one can enjoy art and simultaneously not want it displayed.
    “It’s important to keep in mind that my work has always been scathingly political. That is, I would think, part of why the writing faculty nominated my work.”
    That’s a fair assumption. You need to realize, though, that sometimes the work you define yourself with isn’t necessarily the thing the masses want. Welcome to art! I’ve worked diligently on many pieces over the years, and an old teacher was interested in buying a piece off of me. I gave her the option of the brooding self-portrait I drew, a charcoal study of skeletons, or a subpar sculpture of a panther. Guess which was picked.
    “It’s also important to keep in mind that they were soliciting short work of a long-form artist.”
    Well, I have to agree, that’s just silly. I’d equate that to someone cropping a piece of mine and I would be similarly miffed.
    “I was clipping and revising each piece I was submitting to them, which took hours of free labor.”
    Annoying, but if you’re going to continue in a creative field get used to it, especially if it’s for a special opportunity. This happens all the time. Does it stink? Absolutely. Is it fair? No. But in this case, you either figure out how to accomplish what they’re asking, or you walk.
    “This last piece they approved was on ethnic erasure and watching my mother internalize white supremacist standards of beauty.”
    Yep, this sounds like something I’d like to discuss over a light-hearted dinner.
    “When I arrived at the dinner, I saw that they clipped my already short excerpt to just the first paragraph, erasing all context of the story. They kept a few lines of sensory detail. You couldn’t even tell what the essay was about.”
    That is terrible, and that would aggravate me, too. But already, we have established that your work is intense in nature and more of a long-form. This is a piece designed to be displayed in someone’s home. Someone who, probably, doesn’t need/want to be challenged politically and emotionally every time he passes through his foyer.
    “If you hadn’t seen my name, it could probably have passed for a white person’s work.”
    This is unnecessary.
    “The irony was not lost on me, especially in those tense moments when the administrators would unapologetically mispronounce my name while pressing me for opinions on their whitewashed installation of my work.”
    I have a pretty easy to pronounce name. It seems anyone over 50 gets it wrong. Starbucks employees rarely get it right. Those administrators are in a school system with millions of students, from all over the globe and all with unique names. People get names wrong all the time; you need to cut some slack on people for that. If I visited Argentina, I wouldn’t be pissed that older folk don’t know how to pronounce my name, or blame it on race.
    Should they have known, or at least asked, how to pronounce your name? Yeah, that’s a smart idea. But if people mispronouncing your name leads to “tense” moments and you find their behavior to be unapologetic, it’s because you are reading entirely too much into it. It shouldn’t be a tense moment. Someone got your name wrong. Correct them. Move on. The reason they seem unapologetic is because it shouldn’t be a big deal.
    “They plied us with wine and deli meats.”
    Those jerks that invited you to free food and drinks provided you with free food and drinks? The horror.
    “They heard me and my friends griping and offered to open up communications with a private trustee. They told me my work would have been of great interest to President Kim in full because of our shared heritage. It was insulting and extremely uncomfortable.”
    Yeah, that can be awkward. I assure you their awkwardness was most likely a symptom of you obviously not enjoying how the situation played out. People say stupid things all the time in the hopes the situation will get fixed. Did you let them know you felt insulted at the time? Or did you remain at the party with the free food and drinks?
    “It was also not the kind of uncomfortable experience I could put on my résumé later.”
    So, that means you won’t mention the party. Does that also mean you won’t mention being hand-picked by Columbia faculty to represent the creative non-fiction writing department? Guess we’ll have to wait and see that resume.
    “I wondered how many hundreds of dollars they put into buying bottles of wine, candles, a catering service with servers in black ties.”
    Why is this a part of the story? Your letter so far is dealing with your work misrepresenting you and faculty making you uncomfortable. This is like if I wrote about how horrible a doctor visit was and I wondered about how much he spent on magazines for the waiting room.
    “As my friends spoke openly about living in poverty post-graduation, I wondered why we weren’t offered a modest scholarship instead.”
    Ah, there it is. Why throw a party and have the school’s best and brightest network with faculty and other leaders in their fields? Just give you money instead. This is conceited as all get out. I’m representing my department and I get an installation and a nice dinner with the opportunity to talk to people? Just give me money.
    “This year, I was nominated to represent the student body again. I was one of two Creative Nonfiction students invited to perform at the undergraduate reading event. This is what I read to them, just after yet another white faculty member mispronounced my name—publicly and on stage.”
    Mispronounce my name once, shame on you…honestly, how hard is it to grab someone and tell them how to pronounce your name? Especially after explaining how tense it made you at that dinner.
    And thanks for adding the faculty member was white.
    ****
    “Dear Columbia,
    Your faculty members have called me to appear before you today. These are wonderful, woefully undervalued people and I have so much love and respect for them.”
    You clearly don’t. You literally just waved away a perceived slight from a faculty member, who is oh by the way white. Way to devalue someone down to just their skin color.
    “But after the last time I was nominated for something like this, when my work about whitewashing was effectively whitewashed, it became starkly clear to me that you as an institution, as an administrative body, don’t give a fuck what I have to say.”
    I’m not going to fault you for being pissed that your work was chopped up. But your “scathingly political” work was not what they were going for. It’s pretty clear. Your work ABSOLUTELY HAD TO BE POLITICAL, as you kept submitting works for them to come back and say, as politely as possible, “This is not the type of work we want to display.”
    Honestly, there are screwups on both sides. Columbia should not have asked for a long-form writer to provide a short piece for installation, nor should they have asked for an installation from a scathingly political writer for a private home. Similarly, if you cannot understand why your controversial works were rejected or watered down, that’s on you.
    “The crucial message of my work was secondary to you, Columbia. What you wanted was something pretty to put up on a wall…”
    Yes. Literally right there. That’s exactly what they wanted. Art doesn’t always have to slap you across the face and tell you how terrible a person you are. Art can be pretty and fun and lighthearted. When you submitted pieces and they rejected them, citing they were too sensitive or not appropriate, this is what they meant.
    “…and in that process of packaging my work for pleasurable consumption, you rendered my work politically impotent. You stripped my work of its entire purpose and used it as a dress-form for your aesthetics.”
    I agree that your work being altered sucks.
    “Columbia, you don’t give a fuck what I have to say or why. No matter who does actually read it, is touched and comforted by it, and wants it to be heard.”
    Swearing in an open letter to your peers and the administration is a sure sign of disrespect and immaturity. You’re not emphasizing your point, you are emphasizing your emotion in a way that could have been conveyed in a better way.
    “Columbia, all you give a fuck about are funds. You care about ensuring your trustees comfort in their whiteness and wealth. You care about placating the artists you feel you own. You care about your retention rates and name. You love what I’ve got to say so long as it has no material bearing.”
    Perhaps it’s the jaded American college graduate in me, but wake up. America is a business. Colleges are businesses. They do need to keep funds going. If their retention rates fall, the school drops in notoriety and does poorly.
    And look, another peppered in whiteness remark, despite the board of trustees having non-white members on it that you effectively whitewashed in this statement.
    “Columbia, you are throwing us a big party and parading us around again and expecting us to be satisfied and even grateful to be given such a grand opportunity to be your shining merit badges.”
    You’re a strong writer and the school wants to let you know that. I assure you, for as mad as you are that you’re going to these dinners and parties and having your name be mentioned [although mispronounced], there are other students salivating at the chance to be wined and dined and have chance to meet people and network.
    “I won’t sit here and act like it’s not a life-affirming gesture. I won’t act like it isn’t an honor to know that your faculty members—your teachers, nurturers, healers—believe my work deserves this platform.”
    Don’t expect you to be grateful, but it’s an honor. Which is it?
    “But Columbia, you as an institution? How you’ve rendered my work politically inert again and again?”
    I get the anger in being misrepresented. But your misrepresentation goes as far as an art piece in some person’s home. You haven’t been silenced. Your work is not inert. It may be inert when it comes to the president’s home, but that’s as far as it goes. They asked you to represent the department again.
    “I will never be fucking satisfied…”
    That’s apparent. Stop swearing to make your point.
    “…and I will never be happy to be used as a mascot.
    I don’t give a good goddamn about standing on your stage and being seen. I don’t give a good goddamn about celebrity, persona, recognition.”
    If you didn’t give a damn, you wouldn’t be on stage with an open letter begging for recognition of your persona.
    “Whatever happened to helping people produce good work? Work that leaves somebody wonderstruck and aching. Work that leaves the artist feeling cleansed and whole? Work that gives somebody a reason to keep living for another day. Work that reminds someone of their importance, reminds someone that they’re not alone. Work that comforts and takes the breath away.”
    This is subjective. Sorry the world and art is changing and isn’t always awe-inspiring and captivating.
    “Instead of helping everyone and their mother sell themselves as a lucrative product.”
    I’d love it if everyone was super nice and I could make a lot of money with my art. But that’s not how the world works. To make it in any industry, you have to make a name for yourself with a strong portfolio. Simple as that.
    “Instead of making people feel as though worth cannot be without recognition.
    And that therefore, they are worthless. That therefore, those marginalized voices without the resources to get themselves heard, without a community to serve their ego, are worthless.”
    Who are these people? Why is it Columbia’s fault these people aren’t being heard? Are you referring to yourself, the two-time creative nonfiction writing department representative who is on stage with an open letter criticizing the need for recognition despite this being a cry for attention and recognition?
    “I’m sick to my stomach of how you expect us to view and value each other as nothing but a stack of credentials and opportunities. I’m sick with heartbreak that we don’t value the screaming discomfort of humanity in one another.”
    Ok, you need to calm down about life a little. What do you think is the main point of school, where you learn particular fields of study by earning credentials and finding opportunities? You are sick over the fact that, in school, learning and studying comes before the “screaming discomfort of humanity”? There are groups you can join for that. There is a student wellness center for that.
    “I’m sorry. This is not what I thought I was going to read but I’m having a fucking crisis and I don’t give a fuck about all this elitist pageantry.”
    Then why are you here if not to elevate yourself and your message? If you didn’t care, you shouldn’t have forced yourself to try and survive the ordeal a second time.
    “I just want time to write and I shouldn’t even have agreed to do this because someone else might have benefitted from it and I am sorry.”
    Agreed.
    “But rest assured, there’s no point in hassling me when I walk away. There is no comforting or sating me.”
    This is obvious.
    “This problem is bigger than me, your writing department, or even you, Columbia.”
    This problem is bigger than the people you blamed for this problem, after spending this whole letter bringing down the faculty..
    “I’m angry at how this entire “literary ecosystem” functions…”
    To be fair, I know nothing of the literary ecosystem so I can’t comment on your anger.
    “…this circle-jerk of meritocracy…”
    …you mean you hate when people are recognized for their hard work? That sounds silly.
    “…I’m angry about copyright, I’m angry about the fact that art even has to sell for us to survive, I’m angry about the state of higher education under a brutal economic system and our complicity in both.”
    You’re angry about art being a low-paying field, and the state of education? Hey, so am I! But I knew that when I got into the field. You can be mad all you want, but directing that anger towards a faculty that invited you to an event makes you sound ungrateful and petulant.
    “I’m angry and there’s no changing that and I’m doing everything I can to keep my head down and finish my degree so I can leave you behind and I am sorry. But I’m gonna shit-talk til the day I die.”
    I’m going to insult this school while being given a platform to do it.

  7. Somewhere in the mire that is this run-on bellyache, this stunning testament to victimhood, I noticed two particularly interesting excerpts from the esteemed author:

    “Columbia, you are throwing us a big party and parading us around again and expecting us to be satisfied and even grateful to be given such a grand opportunity to be your shining merit badges.”

    “I won’t sit here and act like it’s not a life-affirming gesture. I won’t act like it isn’t an honor to know that your faculty members—your teachers, nurturers, healers—believe my work deserves this platform.”

    I cannot think of a more striking illumination of the contradiction that is this open letter. Value me, but not this way.

    Good luck in the real world the rest of us adults live in.

  8. Sung,

    While I agree with several of your points, the overall tone is so petulant and egregiously self-indulgent that it compromises the merit behind them. I am about to finish my degree at Columbia, and can speak to this open letter from my own personal experience as a student working their way through the system. I understand your frustration upon arriving to the party at the president’s house and seeing your work edited in that manner. I completely understand why you would feel insulted and uncomfortable. That being said–your work was installed in someone’s home. Frankly, they have a right to be subjective in what they choose to display.

    I assume your goal is to be a working artist, based on your projected frustration at spending hours of free labor editing the pieces submitted to this opportunity. As a working artist myself, I must tell you that it is crucial to understand the difference between creating your personal work, and creating work for someone/something else. You have a right to freely express whatever scathingly political views you choose, but be aware that it is nobody’s obligation to circulate or pay for them. To expect that reveals an ignorance to the views and desires of others, and a deeply embedded sense of entitlement. You chose to be a student and pursue work in a creative field, which indicates that you aim to make a living in this capacity. Take it upon yourself to understand what that goal requires.

    As a writer, you have the benefit of working in one of the most cost-efficient and easily circulated mediums. The world is a click away from accessing your creation–if you want to share work that is personally meaningful and relevant to your perspective, take advantage of the numerous platforms at your instantaneous disposal. You have the benefit of living and studying in a part of the world where you can freely express your views, even speak against the institution by which you are being recognized, without consequence. You have the advantage of living in a time where communication can circumvent the globe in an instant. Use it. Dwelling on the instances where you felt your work was abbreviated and your points made “impotent” is counterproductive; find a way to get the full message out there, you have plenty of options.

    Yes, the system of education in this country is obnoxious–we live in a nation where people are crippled by debt before even beginning their lives as working adults, and in any creative profession, the difficulties are exponentially greater. Writing an open letter and reading it on the school’s stage may release some of the anger this system perpetuates; but, essentially, it does nothing to address the larger problem. If expressing your views through writing is your aspiration, you are ultimately wasting your time insulting a platform that you could be using for your own agenda. Taking action will do far more than spewing words in fighting against the broken economic machine that higher education is becoming.

    As artists, we have a unique ability to influence the minds of our time. See the potential in situations like being invited to fancy parties, uncomfortable and ridiculous as it may be. Accept the free food, and wield your voice in conversation to influence the viewpoint of the people there (who might actually be able to do something to help the situation). You have more power than you know, but you will compromise that in behaving like the world hasn’t met your expectations. Take everything you are learning from those remarkable professors (I have been fortunate to have many incredible teachers at Columbia) and use it against the conventions that anger you, that suppress your voice and inhibit the change you desire for those you care about. Take it beyond open letters. There are innumerable sources of struggle that shape every person, and you cannot assess that if you’re focused on race. Labeling something as “whitewashed” does not acknowledge culture, background, ability, individualism–that term is trapped at the surface of a much deeper truth, and frankly, in using it so repetitively, you are sequestering yourself into a very myopic category. Blaming generalizations will inhibit your capacity to understand, and alienate your potential audience (which you do need to be cognizant of if you want to make any kind of living as a writer). I understand feeling suppressed and misunderstood; regardless, know that making generalizations undermines the merit of your perspective.

    Best of luck to you. Apply that critical lens of truth to yourself first, then to the exterior. There will be many battles to fight out there, and by comparison you have only addressed a small, privileged rift in academia. Keep in mind that you are far from the only one fighting, and don’t blame other people for silencing you–in truth, you are the only one that can.

  9. Instead if criticizing your audience, maybe you should find an audience that appreciates you for who you are. It seems rather unbalanced that you crucify Columbia for who they are while demanding being respected for who you are. Sometimes artist need to say ‘no thank you’ to projects that take us away from our core.

  10. During my time at Columbia there were several incidents of prejudice in regards to the students art and lives. Our work was often steered in the direction of identity politics even if our work engaged other topics and approaches. I don’t doubt this experience and its implications.

    One the biggest problems is Columbia had set itself up as an institution that claimed to be addressing social issues, but had not adequately trained its faculty to understand and challenge diverse perspectives.

    So I saw and others pointed out a whole pile of unconscious “isms”: racism, sexism, ethno-centricism, prejudices against Christianity or religion in general, and LGBT prejudices. All the while maintaining the claim of “liberal and open minded”.

    Part of the problem is not merely are certain faculty Poorly trained in regards to diversity, certain teachers are poorly trained in understanding underlying cultural assumptions. They are poorly trained in philosophy, cross cultural anthropology and psychology. As well as poor instruct on basic professional practices and behavior? I asked myself how? Why?

    I have not entirely come to a conclusion. But much of the multicultural vanguard production of the recent past occurred entirely independent of large institutions. It occurred in the margins by and for the marginalized. It often occurred without theory. It occurred out of urgency and necessity. It contains a whole world view.

    In existential psychology there are the terms Umwelt, Mitwelt, and Eigenwelt, or a natural, social, and personal worldview. Today in postmodern multiculturalism it is indeed the height of arrogance for any faculty at a place of cultural higher learning to assume the personal and social world view of the student. what needs to happen is the skilled practice of dialogue and listening first. This does not mean something can not be challenged. It is just that the act of challenging and critique is completely relative to the worldview of the critic.

    In some way this is the inevitable crisis of our era. Because it is natural for a student or young person to want to hand over some of their own authority as part of the student-teacher-institution relationship. And the student naturally will struggle to regain their own authority and agency. But in an atmosphere where there are huge assumptions being made in regards to the world view of the students, in an era of evoloving and changing ethos it is natural for huge misunderstandings to occur.

  11. I’d be interested in knowing a little more about the life experiences of the people who have spent so much time excoriating you above. I’ve found that many of those who deny marginalization, who use phrases like “social justice warrior” and “real life will teach you” and “grow up” and “take yourselves less seriously” are those who have not experienced any meaningful marginalization themselves. Not all–but many.

    I write, myself. Not much; not yet for public consumption. I admire your courage in putting your words into the world, courage I haven’t yet found at the age of….well, at an advanced age. I can imagine how frustrating it would be to have the intent and the tone of your words taken out of context, their impact removed and their essence diminished. (And, having a fairly unpronounceable last name, I can understand THAT annoyance as well–especially when it’s mispronounced repeatedly by the same person.)

    I don’t know that I would have responded in the same way you did; probably not, I’m guessing, simply because I was raised as a “get along, don’t make waves” person. I don’t yell, I seethe. Politely. And then (sometimes) I write about it, just for myself, because “don’t make waves”.

    I can say, though, that I admire your guts: you called out the people who had READ your work, who KNEW your subject matter and tone, and who–knowing those things–still wanted you to submit work for their purposes–people who then rejected and/or bowdlerized the very work THEY had requested, essentially for being too much like the work they’d admired enough to want to exhibit in the first place. Down the rabbit hole we go!

    I could go on for days about the state of literature, but there’s not much left to say.

    Keep shit-talking. Please. Regardless of what Columbia does, or what some people think, there’s value in your words.But you knew that.

  12. Hey don’t listen to these white devil’s advocate dudes that have nothing better to do than pick apart your work on a comment thread. You know your experiences better than anyone, especially white folks that don’t understand what you’re saying and are part of the problem. I understand how you can be grateful (which you also expressed in this letter) while being critical. I disagree with previous comments on this thread that suggest you must be solely grateful to Columbia because of the praise they gave you because 1. this issue is more than just one event that Columbia held, and a long standing issue of racism and white supremacy in academia, and 2. being critical and honest is always important, 3. the praise and recognition given by Columbia was CONDITIONAL.

    “We can give you exposure and recognition, but only if you write about nice things that we will heavily edit…?” That’s an insult. Not being honest about how they were going to present your work is an insult, and I highly doubt they would do that to artists with more social and financial capital. You just don’t edit an artist’s work without their consent and input. That’s not uplifting your students, it’s using them. Thank you for sharing this letter.

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