Friday, December 28, 2012

Columbia SDS Memories Revisited: Freshman At Columbia, 1965--Part 3

After Freshman Week ended, the rest of the student body returned to the campus for the fall term. I had to move out of my Freshman Week dorm room and back to my parents’ apartment, temporarily, until dorm room space became available. For about a week, I commuted from Whitestone to Columbia by bus and subway. A few times I commuted from Whitestone by taking a bus over the Whitestone Bridge to the West Farms Square IRT subway station.

Going to Columbia as a commuter made you feel isolated from campus life. It made you feel that you were attending CCNY, not Columbia, and that you were just going to an extension of high school. A single room on the second floor of Livingston Hall, however, became available. So, by the second week of classes, I was living on campus in a room of my own. I again felt that, yes, I was really in college.

It was a novelty and exciting, but also costly, to buy my textbooks at the Columbia University bookstore, which was then located in the basement of the School of Journalism building. I spent money to also buy a Columbia sweatshirt. In Fall 1965 I also used my student pass to travel up to Baker Field on Saturday when Columbia’s football team was playing there, to watch “my team” usually lose. But I didn’t join Columbia’s marching band. I had lost interest in just being a cog in a school marching band. It involved too large a commitment of rehearsal time. I was much more interested in writing, activism, exploring Manhattan and working in the community in support of African-American people and the Civil Rights Movement. I didn’t want to be tied down to a band practice routine like I had been in high school. Too many other things were going on around campus.

On the second floor of Livingston Hall, I didn’t have much more than a nodding contact with the other guys who lived there. None of the other guys on the floor were in any of my classes or turned out to be politically involved or active in Columbia Citizenship Council. A few of my floor mates were eager to get into fraternities. A few others were on the football team and didn’t seem too intellectual. I disliked the “no women in the dorms, except during special hours, with the door open, and after signing-in” policy of the Columbia Administration. It seemed discriminatory, repressive and unnatural.

Yet once I had settled into my Livingston Hall room I still felt more personally free than I had ever been. I was on my own, with my only specific obligations being to make appearances in those classes I was taking and not to exceed the maximum limit of allowable cuts.

Initially, I was a major in government because the courses listed in Columbia’s government department course offerings list appeared more interesting than the history department’s course offerings. I scheduled early morning classes so that my school day would be over by 2 o’clock on most days of the week. I would then have most afternoons free to do whatever I felt like doing.

At first, I awoke early enough to make my 8:10 or 9 o’clock classes. But by the middle of the semester, I usually preferred to sleep late, instead of attending class. I would cut early morning classes as often as possible and often end up reading what I felt like reading, or browsing around in the local public library or in Columbia’s Butler Library.

I started to listen to WQXR radio, after waking up in the morning or before going to sleep each night. I also began to listen to top 40 hit AM radio on WABC and WMCA. I read the New York Times frequently and bought the Sunday Times each weekend. I went to sleep by midnight, except on Friday and Saturday night. I ate my meals often in the John Jay Hall dormitory cafeteria, but I also ate dinners in restaurants on Broadway and purchased sandwiches from the deli on Broadway, which was called “Take-Home.” I remained thin because I preferred to spend my money on books and magazines, instead of on food. I didn’t have enough money for both books and food.

All my Fall 1965 courses were required. The course which most interested me was my required English Composition course which was taught by Professor Stade. Stade related to his students in a friendly, egalitarian way. He was the only Columbia professor whose office I would bother to visit when classes were not in session, in order to engage in intellectual discussion.

Stade was in his early 30s when I first met him. He had once been a roommate of Amiri Baraka’s in the late 1950s, when Baraka still called himself “Leroi Jones” and hung around with the white upper-middle-class liberal beatniks. As a result of his past friendship with Baraka, perhaps, Stade seemed to be more anti-racist in his consciousness than the other white English Department professors at Columbia.

As Stade aged and his hair became white in the 1970s and 1980s, he became more politically conservative in his ideological views, although he always remained a very friendly person. In the 1960s, however, he was anti-war and anti-racist in both his lecturing and writing. Stade was also one of the earliest Columbia professors who didn’t feel obligated to wear a suit and tie when he came to class. He participated in an anti-Viet Nam War read-in and used his class time to criticize, sarcastically and satirically, LBJ’s foreign policy.

Around lunchtime and in the early afternoon, I found myself habitually hanging around the anti-war Independent Committee on Viet Nam [ICV] table on the plaza in front of Low Library. A Columbia Teachers College graduate student named Mel would generally set up this anti-war table and be there from about 11:30 a.m. until sunset.

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