On Feb. 14, College Council (CC) voted to make Uncomfortable Learning (UL) a CC/Office of Student Life (OSL) recognized student organization (RSO). Now under the umbrella of CC, the group must be open to everyone and can no longer receive funding from anonymous donors, as it had previously done since its founding in 2014. The group must now submit a proposal for any of its potential sponsored events or speakers before the Finance Committee, which will present a recommendation for CC to vote on.
Last year, the group garnered national attention after inviting several controversial speakers whose events were subsequently cancelled. In October, UL invited writer and outspoken critic of feminism Suzanne Venker to speak at the College, only to rescind the offer shortly thereafter. In February, when the group invited author John Derbyshire, a self-described “race realist.” President Adam Falk himself canceled the lecture, stating in his all-campus email that “many of [Derbyshire’s] expressions clearly constitute hate speech.”
Last March, in response to the controversy concerning UL, the College changed its policy regarding speakers brought to campus, mandating that only an RSO can bring speakers to campus. In addition, the College specified that student groups must report any funding they receive from non-College sources.
Though UL is now an RSO, the group’s mission, according to club president Zach Wood ’18, is still the same: “to broaden the range of dialogue on campus and spark debate.”
“My aim is to be deliberative, decisive and receptive to constructive feedback,” Wood said. “For speakers, the aim is to fulfill the mission.”
The club currently only consists of Wood, the club’s previous leader who is currently studying away for his junior year at Columbia, and Hank Lee ’19, who joined the club only this current year as vice president. When the club underwent review in the CC meeting last week, Lee joined the meeting to provide more information to CC members before they voted.“We’re open to student input, open to anyone who wants to join and absolutely our goal is to bring in speakers who inform and educate productively,” Lee said.
“My main interest in getting involved in the club was to see more political conversation on campus and more conversation around issues that are challenging or issues that don’t get addressed super frequently,” he said.
As a new member of the organization, Lee is looking forward to the future of the club rather than fixating on the divisive incidents of its controversial past.
“For me personally, I have not worried about the controversy element in the past, as someone who wasn’t part of the club last year,” Lee said.
“Instead, what I’m thinking about it, is: Are we being positive and productive in what we are trying to bring to campus?”
While a 14-member CC majority voted to approve the club, three members dissented, including Lizzy Hibbard ’19.
“One of the things that frustrates me most on CC is how we delegate time during those meetings,” Hibbard said. “For example, we spent several meetings talking about [approving Purple Valley Track Club], but we only spent one meeting discussing the approval of UL.” Hibbard felt like she did not have all of her questions answered and was concerned with the consequences of the upcoming leadership changes.
“In terms of how this might change UL, we will have to approve budgets for any speakers that UL wants to bring in,” Hibbard said. “When we vote on that, members can’t vote one way or another based on political reasons, but they can vote based on ‘perceived value to the community.’”
At press time, UL does not have anything planned for this semester, though Lee said that its first potential speaker may critique Social Security.