As a student who decided to pursue a master’s degree during the pandemic, one of my biggest concerns was the possibility of feeling excluded in the new digital environment that we all found ourselves in, therefore worsening the isolation.
Though I was mentally prepared to not have as many opportunities to experience the promised range of diversity, Columbia University, as well as my department, ensured that we were aware of the several resources available to us in-person and in a virtual environment to give us the best experience in the circumstances.
Columbia University, set in the urban and bustling background of New York City, is a highly coveted Ivy League institution that hosts an attendance of over 6,000 undergraduate and over 22,000 graduate students. As an establishment of its repute and importance, it becomes imperative that Columbia make efforts far and wide to include students from diverse socio-economic, ethnic, gender and sexual backgrounds. This, therefore, means that students from varied backgrounds are represented in the student body. This is but one of several students- and university-led initiatives to promote and enhance inclusion and a sense of belonging on campus.
At the university level, the University Life department focuses on enhancing the out-of-classroom experiences of the students. In collaboration with University Life, student groups like the Indian Students Association at Columbia (ISAC) and other country-based or ethnic groups organized several events such as Diwali, Holi, and Ramadan, allowing us to make new memories on these family favorite festivals. Several of my friends also invited me to LGBTQ+ group events at Columbia which were not only educational but also convivial. I also got an opportunity to increase my awareness through the events held during Black History Month and Women in STEM initiatives.
There are times when merely events with academic and other groups are not enough to completely eliminate feelings of isolation and a lack of belonging. I have had several students speak to me about how the Columbia Psychology Services, helped them address their mental health issues in times of isolation during COVID, helped them come to terms with hate crimes that happen around the city/country and news of gun violence in the state, country and internationally, especially those driven by discriminatory motives, which can be devastating to many.
In 2020, Columbia’s Working Group on Inclusive Public Safety began its focus on creating an inclusive and equitable campus community. As an extension of Columbia's work to fulfill its commitment to anti-racism, the group’s charge was to recommend concrete strategies to ensure inclusive safety for all on Columbia’s campuses. The working group was composed of students, staff and faculty from both the Morningside and Medical Center campuses who collaborated with leadership from the Department of Public Safety.
Though great progress has been made, this work is and will be an ongoing process. Columbia University has, in my experience, made significant efforts to include me and my fellow students in a diverse society and community far from home, thereby allowing us to pursue our academic endeavors with full concentration and dedication.
M.S. in Mechanical Engineering (Robotics and Control Track, Dec'22)
Columbia University, U.S.