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Fireside Chat: DSpar and the Sorting Hat

Bwog’s Conspicuous Presence of Testosterone Mark Hay crossed the street with his wand last night.

Barnard women: President Spar has a problem with you. Or rather, with your sense of identity. As she told her cowed subjects amassed in Sulzberger Parlor for last night’s Fireside Chat, over the last year she was disturbed to hear bright and outgoing students tell her that, “Barnard had less of a sense of community than [they] would have liked.”

Initially DSpar dismissed this as a problem of construction obstruction and, like so many, placed her faith in the infinite wellspring of hope that is The Diana. But niggling doubts led her into a deeper investigation, talking with anyone from students to board members, by which she concludes this: There is a strong Barnard identity, but it is tied mainly to the individual aspirations and post-graduation success of the strong, independent Barnard students. And any identities formed while on campus? Well, they’re formed in niche clubs, exclusive organizations, and typically those that are “across the street.”

It is identity, but it is not what DSpar refers to as “rah-rah” identity – the kind of total school bonding she associates with sports attendance at her alma Georgetown. But “Barnard doesn’t have a football team … and probably will not for some time,” and alumni giving is down to 30 percent, and it would be impossible to revive such things as the Barnard Greek Games (because, Spar says, “they’re too 1920s”), so Spar has set out to devise a new way of forming a sense of Barnard community – of uniting 570 incoming students under the Barnard banner without a football team, a forced camping trip (in the style of Dartmouth).

Well, DSpar has mulled it over and now has a proposal – still in the early stages, but she is rather excited about it and it shows. Her new system, based on experiences with creating devoted and enduring communities among the “pretty homogenous” population of Harvard’s Business School, would create societies (example: the Margaret Mead Society) with eighty or so incoming students being arbitrarily assigned to a society. Friendly competition and association with designated alumni (possibly to be involved in regular dinners and/or outings with their affiliated society) would serve to foster a close, inclusive sense of Barnard community both among lost, sheepish freshmen and across class lines. Or as Dean Denburg so elegantly puts it, “It’s what happens at Hogwarts.”

The plan, though, is still in extreme infancy and, to paraphrase DSpar, still has about nine million problems to be worked out. So DSpar called last night’s Fireside Chat to hear student opinions on this plan and begged the audience to “please be honest, as I’m learning most Barnard women are.”

And honest they were. Concerns were raised as to how the societies would be organized: Would students have designated housing? Couldn’t that breed animosity? Perhaps they could all take their first-year seminar together, or have a residential seminar, but would that work? Would it be better to align by interests or are those too transient? Should our sorting hat be completely arbitrary or use some undecided criteria? Would this breed Gryffindor-Slytherin style rivalries (much to DSpar’s chagrin, the Hogwarts label just would not die)? Could groups gain common space in the Diana? How would alumni be divvied up? Would alumni associations breed discontents, or could they be shared among all groups? How would one encourage attendance or facilitate cross-class integration? What sort of events and competitions would come about? Would they be too exclusionary? And what of the effects of such societies upon the international and visiting students DSpar is so eagerly seeking, not to mention the mass of commuter students who could not partake of a residential aspect?

Despite a healthy dose of doubt and criticism, the plan was well-received by most attendants; the majority of students prefaced their comments and concerns with iterations of first off, I love this! … but. The bulk of the discussion, if at times suffering for a bit of echolalia, kept a constructive tone and both the students and DSpar seemed eager to realize this goal as soon as possible. One attendee proposed creating common rooms as early as the supposed January opening of The Diana and DSpar herself hopes to implement the program by next September – an upbeat, go-get-‘em attitude characteristic of her flexible, proactive and quite affable character. Compared to the bog, caution and strictures of most dialogue “across the street,” the flair and spark of last night proved quite heartening, if perhaps naïve (time shall tell on that point) to Bwog. Yet it is clear, and DSpar will admit, that the plan still has serious flaws to hammer out. And to that ends, she concluded her Chat with a solicitation for volunteerism. Barnard women: DSpar wants you! … to help her turn your school into Hogwarts.

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  • BC09 says:

    @BC09 Debora Spar is awesome. Don’t worry I think she noticed that we are not HBS when she applied for the job.

  • BC14 says:


  • suggestion says:

    @suggestion I say they make an investment in recruitment for that football team, and really focus on making it the cornerstone of the campus identity.

  • Go and says:

    @Go and fuck yourself you insecure prick.

  • hopefully says:

    @hopefully this helps ameliorate barnards ranking and keeps them from slipping below #30

  • umm says:

    @umm sections of eighty people is exactly how they start law school. just ask a law student how much they care about their section mates after their first year to see how this goes.

    most colleges take the opposite approach for good reason. harvard and yale house all their freshmen together before they’re sorted into hogwartsian (really oxbridgean) houses/colleges. this allows them to bond as a class, select friends from a wider pool than their living situation/interest groups might otherwise allow, and even for the creation of new groups based on interests that would be underrepresented in smaller sections. of course, at the real oxford and cambridge you have colleges for the entire time, and it really does feel like you attend that little college as opposed to the university as a whole.

    1. also says:

      @also I didn’t see that this was based on her business school experience. bad, because she assumes undergrads will behave in the same way as grad students who go off to get MBAs as a proxy to network. undergrads have different social motivations, particularly at barnard and columbia, where social networks on campus are always fragmented by the distractions of the city.

    2. Whoaaa says:

      @Whoaaa Calm yourself. First of all, Barnard DOES house all of their first years together–there’s that thing called the Quad…maybe you’ve heard of it?

      And I’m not quite sure why you think Spar’s experience at HBS is a bad thing. Barnard definitely does need some community help, and Spar is using her past experiences to try and come up with something that fits the College’s needs…that doesn’t seem negative to me.

  • bc12 says:

    @bc12 I love D Spar!

  • hogwarts says:

    @hogwarts hogwarts, hogwarts, hoggy warty hogwarts teach us something please.

  • I'm pretty sure says:

    @I'm pretty sure “niggling” isn’t a word.

    1. Niggling says:

      @Niggling adj.
      1. Petty, especially in a nagging or annoying way; trifling: a pointless dispute over niggling details.
      2. Overly concerned with details; exacting and fussy.

  • bwog says:

    @bwog take note: new section on SSOL:
    Ethnicity Survey

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