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SGA Town Hall on Diversity

Fancy napkins, blue tablecloths, and mood lighting.

Last night, the Barnard Student Government Association’s first Town Hall of the semester asked some pretty lofty questions—what does diversity mean? What can diversity mean? What should diversity mean? Bwog’s very own Katheryn Thayer reports back with some answers.

Minori Takahashi, the Representative on Diversity, welcomed the program’s participants with a short speech urging us all to embrace our diversity. She urged the crowd to recognize that we are defined by race, sexuality, religion, income, and other characteristics of identity. Diversity is about more than statistical heterogeneity, she said—it’s about being part of a cohesive student body at Barnard.

To facilitate group discussion, sheets of questions were placed on each of a half-dozen formal dining tables, which were cheerily decorated in Tiffany’s blue.

The questions included:

  • Do you think that Barnard’s advertised diversity accurately represents the diversity that actually exists on campus?
  • How important are your raacial, socioeconomic, gendered, cultural, and religious identities to your day-to-day life at Barnard?
  • Do you feel that the Student Government Association represents you? Do you feel that Student Government is generally accessible and willing to hear your concerns?

This third question was fairly ironic, seeing as how Town Hall events are mostly populated by SGA members and faculty, but was discussed to a much lesser extent than the other, more meaningful, discussion sparkers.

After almost 90 minutes of heartfelt group conversations about race, sexuality, economic status, and identity, participants were sluggish to approach the open mic. Eventually, though, volunteers sidled up to share their ideas about the Barnard community and how it could be more inclusive and could cross more social boundaries. Locutors brought both individual students and the college community as a whole to task, calling on us to personally interact with new groups and people as well as expressing a need for the college to institutionalize meaningful networks.

This wasn’t an easy topic for people to speak candidly about—political correctness, rigidity, and nervousness about the importance of the appearance were all blamed for limiting diversity but were also undeniably present in the discussions. But Barnard, along with its diverse student population, is taking steps towards eliminating these divisions. The college’s scholarship program was recently recognized as being among the best in the country and student government is hosting discussions like the one tonight. But the progress is just that: a movement in a positive direction, with much more hard work and thought needed. Speakers shared stories of separate Welcome Weekends for white and minority students, a lack of visibility of sexually androgynous students on the school website, and professors being unable to comprehend some students’ inability to pay hundreds of dollars for textbooks. Both faculty and students lamented the tendency for diversity programming to happen on Columbia’s campus. Perhaps more events like this one and an ongoing discussion of diversity will facilitate diversity of groups attending Barnard events.

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  • i love says:

    @i love katheryn thayer!!

  • CC'11 says:

    @CC'11 That’s dope. I wish Columbia/the OMA would hold such a discussion. There’s such ridiculous segregation on this campus based on every ethnicity/race possible. I’ve met so many wonderful people here but just can’t shake that segregation tension.

  • Question says:

    @Question I wonder if this diversity talk mentioned the amount of Jewish presence on this campus: I was so shocked to find out that 43.5% of Barnard is Jewish: (I think this was from 2008 or 2009- look at the side part for percentages)

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous I’m sure it did, since religion was one of the topics discussed.

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