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Amazian Am Varun Gulati

I am utterly stunned and captured by Varun Gulati's (SEAS '10) response to a column posted in the Spec by Rajat Roy. In his column, Roy makes some strong criticisms regarding the existence of "cultural" groups on Columbia's campus, and how they can sometimes be too insular to merit their funding.

Race was, is, and always will be a divisive issue on this campus. However, we have created a new word that doesn’t spark as much controversy but means essentially the same thing to the layman (and yes, even though we are Columbia students, we, for the most part, are still laymen). This word has some truly nefarious implications, and at Columbia, we have seen how big an issue it can be.

This word is—“Culture.”

I am not joking. “Culture” is causing more harm than good at Columbia. Let me clarify—culture in and of itself is inherently good. Every person needs to be cultured and be exposed to other cultures. However, Columbia does “Culture” in a way that only hurts the overall community. It wouldn’t cost that much in terms of man-hours or money to rectify this situation. In fact, changing this could increase the amount of money available to all students.

And Gulati puts him into perspective.

From the explicit identification as “cultural” within each constitution, cultural groups under the Activities Board at Columbia received only 4.4 percent of student life fees for clubs, the equivalent of less than $7 from each undergraduate. Especially in recent years, these groups have made extraordinary efforts to create collaborative programs and outreach to the entire Columbia community with little funding, contrary to the insinuation that an organization’s “worth” is entirely dependent on its funding.

Through five major cultural showcases in the 2008-2009 academic year, nearly 3,000 students, families, professors, administrators, and New Yorkers were given a glimpse into the communities that make up the diverse cultural fabric of Columbia University. The real problem here is not the lack of open cultural events, but the unawareness and apathy towards these hundreds of events. Ultimately, this causes the perpetuation of repulsively ignorant statements, including “’Culture’ is really a definition of insularism where people of the same group can meet and hook up.”

Bigoted generalizations such as these inappropriately dismiss the genuine interest of the thousands of students who engage in events thrown by the cultural organizations, none of which are exclusive in membership or attendance. To label these groups’ funding needs as unworthy or their intentions as incestuous is oppressive and insensitive. [emphasis mine]

Though Roy does give examples of "cultural" groups that, in his view, make good use of their funding allocations, I can't view as legitimate the argument that "insular" groups don't deserve their funding. What kind of campus culture would we have if we could only experience the "cultures" of those who could successfully market and sell them to their peers? Shouldn't we also value the groups whose priority is to support constituencies that experience a lack of resources or representation?

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