As our Class of 2017 seniors graduate and go off into the real world, we are reminded of the wisdom they have imparted upon us through their final contributions to and reflections on their time on Columbia's campus. Below are two articles published by the Columbia Daily Spectator featuring an op-ed from and a profile on two of our seniors, Miranda Kantor, former head copy editor at Spectator, & Aharisi Bonner. For the full articles, check out "Caring about commas" and "Senior profile: Aharisi Bonner, BC' 17."
CARING ABOUT COMMAS
BY MIRANDA KANTOR | MAY 16, 2017, 2:04 PM
Most people don’t like being told what to do. For many people, one of the most frustrating things is to be told to change or rearrange something they have written.
If you relate to this feeling, I have to say that even as a copy editor—whose job consists of telling mildly irritated person after mildly irritated person to change seemingly inconsequential aspects of their writing—I don’t blame you. Our egos, when it comes to our own writing, are somewhat fragile. Writing is hard to do, and we get attached to those words and sentences that we spent hours and days slaving over—even in seemingly impersonal news articles. It can be maddening for another person to tell you that your writing includes errors or inelegant phrasing.
Over the past four years as a copy editor I have grown used to arranging my face into a gently apologetic smile as I recommend a correction or change to an article. Sometimes I feel myself slipping into using the stereotypical strategies of women in the workplace who want to make sure that they don’t come across as “pushy, aggressive, or competent.” I use the royal “we,” as in, “How would you feel if we moved this sentence here?” or “Could we add this comma so we express our thought more clearly?”
A previous head copy editor wrote in her senior column that she had heard the copy section described as “the bastard child of Spectator.” It’s probably because I’ve read too many Victorian novels, but this metaphor rings true to me in a cynical kind of way. As a writer or an editor, you love and appreciate your copy editors, but you kind of wish you could send them away to a convent school to be raised by nuns alongside the other illegitimate children of the gentry, hear from them only in annual letters that begin with “My dear Papa, I am very happy here,” and forget all about them.
As I said before, I do understand this feeling. After all, who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma? Caring about the placement of commas, the precise arrangement of subject and participle, or about the fact that the word “naïve” contains a diacritic can be seen as linguistic snobbery. I join in scoffing at those members of the so-called grammar police who insist on telling people all about the errors in their language on social media.
And yet, being a copy editor is not the journalistic equivalent of commenting *you’re on someone’s poorly punctuated Facebook post. Yes, we care about where your commas are, but that’s because we want to protect the intended meaning of your writing and help express your compelling thoughts. Yes, we care about ensuring that the word “black” is capitalized here and not there, because we want Spectator to consistently respect the dignity of our readers’ and writers’ identities. We care about whether you spell your name with an accent or a hyphen, because when you read your byline in print, we want you to feel the full pride and weight of your authorship. We care. We care because language is immense and powerful and complex and sometimes confusing, and because we think your words are important enough to pore over. Caring this hard about the language and writing of others makes the copy editors at Spectator sometimes kind of annoying! And it makes us feel vulnerable. It is painful, embarrassing, and frustrating to care. But it has also been thrilling, profound, hugely rewarding, and frequently hilarious. I’m glad I cared.
SENIOR PROFILE: AHARISI BONNER, BC '17
BY AUBRI JUHASZ | MAY 16, 2017, 2:27 PM
With its purple walls and posters proudly demystifying female reproductive health, Barnard’s Well-Woman office has been Aharisi Bonner’s “safe haven” during her time on campus.
After a stressful first year, Bonner gravitated toward Well-Woman, a program run by the college that promotes health and wellness through peer education and community programming. Since choosing to prioritize her own wellness, Bonner has worked as a Well-Woman peer educator and a resident assistant on the wellness floor of Sulzberger Hall in order to encourage others to do the same.
“My first year, I faced the turmoil of realizing I did not want to be a biology major and was not cut out to be pre-med,” Bonner, now happily an urban studies major with a concentration in sociology, said. “It was really hard and difficult.”
But during an on-campus weekend leadership summit—a precursor to the current Barnard BLUE Series—at the end of her first year, Bonner met several students who allowed her to talk through her experiences in a way that was productive and comforting.
“That weekend provided me a great space to learn and grow,” Bonner said. When she learned the students were peer educators, she knew that she wanted to apply so that she could provide the same kind of support to the campus community.
During her time with Well-Woman, Bonner used her role as an RA to foster greater collaboration between the two offices and provide more wellness programming for students. Her interest in identity and access also led her to participate in conversations that questioned the accessibility of Well-Woman to all those on campus.
“We had a series of conversations about what we could do to make the space more accessible and what we could do to improve Well-Woman as a program and a resource,” Bonner said. Those conversations focused on improving the accessibility of the space for students of color and those who do not identify in the gender binary.
As a result of these conversations, Well-Woman now offers listening hours specifically for people of color and has become more conscious in the language it uses when promoting its programs.
According to Bonner, one of the most important skills that she learned as a peer educator was the ability to assess and provide for the wellness needs of a community. This past year, she translated these skills to her work with Health Leads—an organization based in Harlem Hospital that connects people with government services such as food stamps, daycare, and English as a Second Language education.
“A family literally now has food because you helped them go through a federal grant application and it was approved,” Bonner said. “That was really meaningful for me and while I learned a lot in the Well-Woman space, the skills I learned allowed me to help others in another community.”
Bonner hopes to continue working in the field of public health and to eventually earn a master’s degree.
This summer, she will work as a dean for the Sadie Nash Leadership Project—a feminist nonprofit that seeks to empower young women of color by providing education and the tools for them to combat systems of oppression in their own communities. Bonner describes her new job as an opportunity to combine her work as an RA and a peer educator.
But regardless of where her career path takes her, Bonner will continue to prioritize her own wellness and the wellness of others.
“One of the greatest lessons I've learned at Barnard is to be kind to yourself,” Bonner said. “I think taking time out for yourself and being well is so important. If you aren’t well, you can't give that much to anyone around you or to yourself.”