Archive for Meet Seeples

Corporate Pride: The Monetizing of the Queer Experience

Walking down the streets of SoHo shopping district during the month of June, you’ll see several dozen storefronts plastered in rainbow colors. As part of the LGBTQ community, my immediate reaction is, for lack of a better word, pride. I feel represented, wanted, and supported.

As acceptance of queer identities (very) slowly but surely becomes commonplace in the overall American perspective, corporations undoubtedly move with their consumer base toward their political beliefs. This can be a natural phenomena under a capitalist system but upon deeper reflection, it feels exploitative. On the other end of the corporate pride month marketing rainbow is not unequivocal support for queer identities. It is capitalistic exploitation via the monetizing of queer culture and experience.

As a policy student and during this Pride month, I want to inform people how corporation’ support for queer identities can be thinly-veiled, and under the veil is corporate profit and greed.

First, we must explore what Pride is about. Pride commemorates the Stonewall Riots, a rebellion against police attempting to arrest queer people under the archaic sodomy laws in which men (and women) could be arrested if they did not abide by heterosexual, cisgendered norms. At its core, Pride is not about rainbow colors placed on a sock. Pride is about fighting back against a discriminatory system — a system in which corporations have long acted in support — that limits queer expression and rights. Pride is also time to reflect and celebrate the accomplishments the queer community has achieved despite a thriving system against us. Pride is about recentering acceptance as core to our community despite all the pain the queer community faces. Pride has never been about profits.

Corporations do not contribute to the core of the Pride commemoration when they only paint their storefronts, merchandise, and services in rainbow colors. The limited-time offerings of low-quality rainbow T-shirts at higher prices is not an in-depth reflection on the queer experience. It’s a move to use queer symbols as profit. Furthermore, when corporations gain these profits, they seldom put it back into the community that is likely buying their Pride-centric goods and services. Even the corporations that do such a thing, likely by partnering with nonprofits for their Pride campaigns, seldom donate more than 15% of their profits to their partner. This is why Pride and corporations is a largely parasitic relationship – corporations profit off queer culture and its burgeoning mainstream acceptance to then give no true benefit to the queer community.

I recognize that some may say this critique is too harsh. I can acknowledge that the awareness of queer identities and acceptance as social progress is something that corporations actively play a role in. This is simply not enough though. Queer acceptance in all spaces should be a basic human right, and praising corporations for providing an open expression of that acceptance one month out of the year is a diluted accomplishment.

When it comes to Pride campaigns, corporations can take the extra step to acknowledge queer struggle, pain, and history by donating ALL the profits gained from Pride month campaigns back into the queer community through scholarships, non-profit contributions, leftist political campaign donations, and other avenues of economic, social, and political empowerment for the LGBTQ community. Only then can the negative qualities of capitalism be somewhat mitigated to ultimately not exploit the queer experience for corporate profit.

Next time I’m in SoHo, I want to know the places I’m shopping at support my community more than just a rainbow clothing campaign. I want them to support our collective struggle to navigate a heteronormative, homophobic, and transphobic system. I want to know that the money I spend at their stores, on their Pride campaign, is used for my community. If they are going to use queer culture as a design, they must understand queer history and be actively fighting to end the queer struggle.

Join us for Summerfest 2019 in Boston, D.C. or NYC

Just as many of you are planning your next steps, we here at SIPA are making summer plans! SIPA representatives, along with other top graduate programs in public policy and international affairs, will be holding mini graduate-school fairs this summer in Boston, Washington D.C. and New York City.

If you’ve ever been curious about graduate school, this is your chance to get more information in person. Representatives from the following graduate programs will be available to discuss admissions requirements, the application process, financial aid, and more:

  • Columbia University – School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA)
  • Georgetown University – Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service
  • Johns Hopkins University – The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)
  • Tufts University – The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

Come learn from alumni and admissions staff at these free events. Click on any event below to register.

Summerfest Boston
June 19 from 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University
160 Packard Ave.
Medford, MA 02155

Summerfest Washington, D.C. (June)
June 26 from 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Georgetown University Law Center
120 F Street NW
Gewirz Student Center, 12th Fl.
Washington, D.C. 20001

Summerfest New York City
July 17 from 6:00pm – 8:00pm
International Affairs Building, Columbia University
420 West 118th Street, Room 1501
New York, NY 10027

Summerfest Washington, D.C. (July)
July 24 from 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies
1740 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20036

Peter Zheng MPA ’20 reflects on his first year at SIPA

Hi! I’m Peter Zheng, MPA Class of 2020 and concentrating in Economic and Political Development and triple specializing in East Asia, Management, and Technology, Media, and Communication Studies! I was part of the 5-10% accepted from undergrad so I did not have work experience prior to SIPA. I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Pittsburgh Honors College with quadruple majors in Economics, Political Science & Government, Business Administration, and a Bachelor of Philosophy (master’s-level degree) in Psychology within 4 years.

What was your first year of policy school like?

Whenever people ask me about policy school, I always say, “It’s a choose your own adventure.” It’s not hard if you don’t want it to be hard, but it can be hard if you make it hard. You prioritize what is important to you.

To me, I value experimental and classroom learning. In my first year of graduate school I took 12 courses at SIPA, 2 courses at Columbia Business School (CBS), and 4 courses at a rigorous online business certificate program outside of Columbia University. Boy, OMG did I learn. It’s probably something I will never ever do again, but I learned a lot and met so many cool humans because of it. So, for that, I am super grateful.

During my first year, I created a startup (but decided to pause after talking to media executives because the media ecosystem is highly distorted, and barriers of entry are super high). I started an independent research project at Columbia Business School with a CBS PhD student, and did research in the management division at CBS, which was a continuation from my summer internship before SIPA. I applied and received five fellowships from CBS/SIPA, joined the board of SIPA’s Technology Student Association, learned how to live alone in Manhattan (Hell’s Kitchen is lit), and met some really cool people who have become dear friends!

What are your plans this summer?

I’ll be spending my summer working at UNICEF as a business operations analyst (networked from a SIPA professor). I was also accepted into a joint healthcare entrepreneurship program at Harvard Medical School and MIT in June. I’ll be TA-ing the Executive Ethics EMBA course at CBS (networked through a CBS professor). I’ll also be creating a new social impact startup, synthesizing both SIPA and CBS resources.

Do you have any regrets?

I used to question whether coming straight into an MPA program without full-time work experience was the right choice, and whether I should have pursued a different degree because my interests span across disciplines. I was considering a deferred MBA or a PhD in Management. I didn’t know if the MPA was worth the investment or whether this degree was right for me.

A year later, I learned it’s not the letters on the degree that matter (our graduates enter each sector at a proportional rate: private sector, public sector, and government) but the connections you make, which land you the opportunities.

As a SIPA student with access to all of Columbia University’s resources, I was able to spend my time pursuing interests at both SIPA and Columbia Business School. This created rare, intersectional opportunities that make this question easy to answer. It was most definitely worth it, and I don’t question it anymore!

Why did you choose SIPA?

Location, faculty, school brand, and job placements (median salary & industry) — These were the most important things to me! I was deciding between 9 schools (Cornell, Georgetown, Duke, Oxford, Brown, Carnegie Mellon, McGill, University of Chicago, and Columbia), but chose Columbia for the aforementioned reasons.

I approached my decision objectively by creating a grad school utility function and allocated criterion with separate weights and running it through Excel. I included additional personal reasons as well: I wanted to be in a progressive city; I’m a foodie so food options were a must; living and tuition costs; and a place where my parents and friends could easily visit me!

The location of SIPA is unbeatable and something you should consider heavily if you are a go-getter and want to network with people. It is so easy in Manhattan! The faculty is top-notch at SIPA and Columbia University as a whole. You have amazing guest speakers e.g., former Secretary of Education John King Jr., Hillary Clinton, Wendy Kopps, and talented adjunct faculty who are working in these fields that bring their work experience into the classroom settings. These are just to name a few!

What is your advice for student starting their first year?

  1. Stay true to your core values. If you don’t like drinking, ditch the happy hours and attend other events that don’t circulate around booze! I don’t drink so I invite people to coffee/tea/food outings and create meaningful connections there.
  2. Don’t lose confidence in yourself and ditch the imposter syndrome! You were admitted for a reason.
  3. Consider taking cross-registered courses for Pass/Fail if you don’t need the credits for a concentration or specialization. Grades can vary across classes, so if you cross register in other schools at Columbia, know that an “A” there may translate to an “A-/B+” at SIPA.
  4. Engage in intentional networking and relationship building.
  5. Taking all of your core curriculum courses during your first year can get exhausting. Frontloading your core can mean doing multiple problem sets and studying for exams every week. I took half the core my first year with interesting electives and will take the other half my second year with some fun electives. This makes the semesters more fun for me. This also gives ample opportunity to spread yourself across Columbia, engage with the greater NYC community, and do fun things.
  6. You’re here for a terminal degree: Spend less time in the library, take advantage of Columbia University’s resources and not just SIPA (you are only here for two years, so maximize the university’s resources while you can as a student), and create your own unique SIPA experience.

If you have more questions about SIPA or want to chat, please reach out! I’m on Instagram at @peteey27 and SIPA Admissions can connect us by email. I’ll show you my favorite food and coffee spots! 🙂

Pictured at the top: Peter hosting a housewarming party with SIPA classmates.

SIPA Students Compete in the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge

On May 1st, a team of five SIPA graduate students represented Columbia University in Philadelphia for the inaugural Total Impact Portfolio Challenge, organized by the Wharton Social Impact Initiative and the Good Capital Project. After months of preparation, the Columbia team was one of five out of 25 teams who earned advancement through two initial rounds to the final presentation round of the competition, which began in August 2018. The final presentation was made during the 2nd annual Total Impact Conference.

The Columbia team members are Alecia Hill MPA ’19, Ji Qi MPA-DP ’19, Marc Tannous MPA ’19, Kingsly Wang MIA ’19, and Mingyi Xu MIA ’19 (pictured above). They were very proud to represent Columbia and to have been selected for the final round. They would like to thank the many advisors who helped them throughout the process, including Anna Ginzberg (U.S. Trust), Cary Hanosek (Merrill Lynch), Ethan Powell (Impact Shares), Andrew Hornung (Brookmont Global Eguity), Professor Inna Okounkova, Professor Deborah McLean, and Professor Colm O’Cinneide.

The Total Impact Portfolio Challenge is designed to train students to construct and execute a 100% impact portfolio, incorporating publicly traded securities and private investments to achieve a market rate of return and specific impact targets according to the mandate of a hypothetical client.

The Good Capital Project (GCP) is a collaboration to drive more capital towards purpose-driven investments. Founded in 2017, GCP is an Intentional Media Company. Sharadiya Dasgupta is the Managing Director of GCP and is a SIPA alumna (MPA ’17, Economic Policy).

Interested in Learning about Impact Investing?

We asked the team what advice they would give for incoming and prospective students if they want to learn about impact investing:

Join the Columbia Impact Investing Initiative (CI3) and apply to be a CI3 consultant or a MIINT team member.

If you are interested in the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge (TIPC), consider applying your second year. The process begins in August and is greatly benefited by experience – including in CI3 – connections, and relevant coursework. It would be helpful for your TIPC team to have at least one person with substantial investment / portfolio optimization experience (and ideally a CFA charter holder).

For students interested in impact investing, explore courses in the following areas:

  • Courses focused on the implementation of impact, such as: Community economic development; social value investing; PPP.
  • Courses focused on the measuring and evaluation of impact, like: Impact investing courses; impact frameworks and tools like the GIIN’S IRIS, GIIRS, Toniic; and ESG standards like MSCI, Arabeque, Sustainalytics, and Bloomberg.
  • Courses focused on traditional finance and quantitative skills, including Statistics, International Capital Markets, Multi-Asset Portfolio Management, and non-SIPA courses. (SIPA students can cross-register at other Columbia University graduate schools, including Columbia Business School.)

Life as a Program Assistant: It’s Pretty Sweet

Note from Admissions: Congratulations to the students that walked across the stage at SIPA’s graduation yesterday – including our program assistants! We’re extremely happy for, and proud of, the graduates of the SIPA Class of 2019.


Hello everyone! Congratulations to all our readers who were recently admitted to SIPA and welcome to those who are considering applying during the next cycle.

I am writing this post to shed some light on the work of Program Assistants and to talk about what you can expect if you receive an Assistantship while at SIPA!

First of all, program assistants (PAs) are SIPA students that work in SIPA affiliated offices to support full-time staff with daily operations, program management, event planning, etc.

Assistantships are only open to students during their second year; in Spring semester of your first year, you will receive an application form that will let you apply en masse to all open assistantship positions. These positions are competitive, so I encourage students to develop relationships with the people you are interested in working for.

So What Do PAs Do?

Again, it is very much dependent on where you end up working! At Admissions, I assist full-time Admissions staff with daily administrative tasks and the processing of student applications. I also help with communications, by documenting things on campus, writing for the Admissions Blog and occasionally featuring on Columbia SIPA social media accounts!

As an admissions representative, I also meet with prospective students and answer questions from applicants throughout the year.

If you attended Admitted Students Day, I also helped plan and staff the event!

Other friends of mine work for a variety of other offices on campus. For example, one of my good friends works for SIPA News and is a veritable journalist; his job is to attend SIPA events and to write reports for the website. Another one of my friends is the PA for the Urban and Social Policy concentration, and he works with USP faculty to plan events, speaker series and monthly happy hours/mixers.

In general, we all work about anywhere from 12-20 hours a week, depending on our time commitments and the demands of our work. Ultimately, it’s a great way to earn extra money and to connect with new students and staff here at SIPA. So if you’re about to attend SIPA or are considering applying, definitely start thinking about PAships!

L-R: Julia, Sam, Dylan, and Kier

Special shoutout to Fall 2019 PA Niara Valerio! You can see what she and another former PA, Rahel Tekola, are up to here.

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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