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AskBwog: Why is Obama Speaking at Barnard?

Drama over Obamanard aside, the president of the United States coming to speak at Barnard is a BFD.  All of his carefully considered appearances are under extreme scrutiny, especially in an election year.  Thus his decision (as DSpar explained, he requested to speak and was not asked) to speak at any college had to have involved a lot of thought, planning, and coffee.  Bwog set out to see what goes into a move like this, and to pick the brains of the big minds on campus.

A Political Move

Flora Davidson, a political science (and CULPA silver nugget) professor at Barnard, was quick to agree that this is a strategic political move.  She explained that Obama’s decision to speak will “help him to highlight a demographic he thinks he can sway in his favor.”  However, she went on, moves like this do not change the mind of voters but serve to “reinforce preexisting dispositions.”  In this case, Obama is looking at women voters.  Rosalind Rosenberg, retired history professor at Barnard who taught courses about women and politics, stated that “Obama’s decision to speak at Barnard signals both that he cares about women’s particular health care concerns and that he recognizes his reelection is going to depend on women’s votes.”

Female (Electoral) Power

Obama won the last election thanks, in no small part, to young female voters.  Ester Fuchs—who taught political science, including the American Parties and Election course, at Barnard for twenty years, worked with Bloomberg, and is now Professor of Public Affairs and Political Science and Director of the Urban and Social Policy Program at SIPA—gave figures to prove this.  In 2008, 70.4 million women voted, while only 60.7 million men did.  The turnout rate was approximately 5% higher for women than men.  This has been a trend since 1980, giving women more power in the electorate and showing that to win an election, one really needs the female vote.  As Fuchs put it, “ignore women at your own peril.”  In the 2008 election, 56% of women voted for Obama while McCain got 43% of female votes. Among the male voters, it was nearly an even split.

It was more than just women, though, Obama relied on the youth vote for his election.  In 2008 there was a 7% gender gap in turnout rates for the 18-24 year-old bracket, with about 1 million more women voters—again, Obama needs the women.  Moreover, in general the 18-24 bracket is a “very important group to Obama.”  The 2008 election saw a surge in this group with a 52% turnout rate versus 2000’s 34.6% rate, a majority of whom voted for Obama.

Women’s Healthcare Debate

Women are especially important politically this year, in case you haven’t been paying attention to Jon Stewart the news.  With debates about women’s healthcare and contraceptives, the GOP has, in Professor Fuch’s words, shown a “general disrespect for young women,” giving Obama the opportunity to swoop in and be the hero.  “In 2011, 92 laws in 24 states were passed restricting women’s access to reproductive health, making it the worst year since Roe v Wade,” says CUDems president Janine Balekdjian, CC ’13.  “Even Mitt Romney’s poll numbers among women are slipping.”  Here, again, we have Prof. Davidson’s idea that this speech will reinforce preexisting dispositions.  Balekdjian thinks his decision “reaffirms his commitment to women’s rights and his dedication to the advancement and empowerment of women.”

Balekdjian thinks Obama’s speech “will draw parallels between Barnard’s project of female empowerment and the Democratic Party’s support of women’s rights.”  Fuchs added that after taking abuse from the Republicans, young women will be attracted to Obama’s support of women.  He is coming to a place where “young women are valued, recognized, and respected,” bolstering the view of Obama as a feminist supporter.  His speech at Barnard will assert that “women count, young women count,” and will “energize young women to come out and support [Obama]” as “the only way to be heard is to turn out and vote for him.”  

National Coverage

Sean Udell, CCSC class president of 2011 and leader of the failed POTUS Project, remarked that Obama’s speech at Barnard will “remind people [women’s healthcare] is still a political issue,” in three months when the Republicans will want voters to forget about the debate.  Choosing to speak at Barnard specifically was smart, according to Professor Davidson, because it’s in New York City.  Automatically, his speech will have national coverage—there have already been articles in the New York Times about us it.

Obama the “Snob”

But given commentary that Obama is elitist and snobbish for having gone to Ivy League schools and hoping that all Americans go to college, will his decision to speak at Barnard, given its high esteem and affiliation with Columbia, have bad repercussions?  Not according to Professor Davidson, who thinks there is “no downside for him” to speak at Barnard.  “The people who say he is elitist will continue to attack him no matter where he speaks,” she explained.  Balekdjian was more dismissive in her response, saying, “the idea that college is for snobs only is so far beyond the pale that President Obama doesn’t need to spend any time or effort refuting it or justifying his position.”

Why No Columbia?

Nevertheless, speaking at Columbia could alienate voters and also lacks the benefits of attracting the female vote.  Although this is understandable, it is still not clear why Obama did not speak at Columbia last year, after an invitation from PrezBo and the POTUS Project.  Udell is still confused, explaining that he personally sees “no reason for why he didn’t speak,” but Obama gave no official reason for not coming.  Last year Obama gave the Coast Guard Commencement on the same day as CC’s graduation.  Udell does not take this as a good enough reason for him to deny his alma mater, though. “If he wanted to speak, he would have found a way.”

Udell believes that Obama’s negative undergraduate experience plays a “huge” part in why he didn’t speak.  The POTUS Project aimed to show the president that things have changed since he was an undergrad, with letters explaining the changes and expressing how there is a more vibrant life now than while Obama was here.  However, we shouldn’t take it too personally.  As Udell said, Obama “had a good experience at Harvard, but hasn’t spoken there.”  (Unless you count this…)

A Message to Viewers Like You

You may have noticed some people got angry following the announcement that Obama will give Barnard’s commencement speech.  Professor Davidson shrugs it off as “speaker envy,” saying it is “only natural.”  It’s sibling rivalry at its finest, with Barnard getting a speakers “as big a get as you can get,” engendering Columbian jealousy.

Udell thinks it runs deeper than that, calling the arguments a product of misogyny and elitism prominent at Columbia, despite that there are “exceptional students at Barnard.”  The attacks are “just petty” and only serve to make CC look bad.  Udell, who studied Urban Studies at Barnard and was a TA there asserts that Barnard is “just as, if not more rigorous” as Columbia, especially because it is a smaller school.  But at the end of the day, Udell says, “the point is, who cares?  We’re all trying to do great things, and trashing each other is just a waste of time.”

Davidson remarks that commencement will be “memorable for graduates and everyone who is around.  Everyone’s very excited.”  Balekdjian and Udell share bittersweet opinions, with Balekdjian echoing many Columbians’ reactions: “it’s…incredibly exciting for the University as a whole. I just wish I could get a ticket.”

Author’s note: CUCR declined to comment for this article.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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  • nwbar says:

    @nwbar Because you touch yourself at night.

    1. Sophie says:

      @Sophie I do touch myself at night. And I’m good at calculus!

  • oh says:

    @oh this again.

    1. Bwog please says:

      @Bwog please I’m tired of making fun of strong beautiful Barnard girls.

  • why the hell says:

    @why the hell are people still talking about this?

  • bwog, says:

    @bwog, Please stop trying to drag this out. Also, when did Sean argue that misogyny and elitism were “prominent at Columbia?” I feel like I missed that interpretation.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous “Author’s note: CUCR declined to comment for this article.”


    1. The Cucr says:

      @The Cucr This years columbia 5…..weve gotten lamer guys.

    2. ... says:

      @... well, look… if you were part of a political club, and you had some grandiose plan to troll the whole campus and then your few days of fame were cut short by a sitting president that sits opposite of you on the political spectrum pulling off what could very well be, the greatest troll of columbia college in its entirety of all time, you’d probably be a little bit upset too…

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Lol bwog let this shit go already…. How badly do you want hits?

  • Uhhh says:

    @Uhhh Not to be “That Guy,” but there are a lot more awkward gramatical errors in this article than I usually notice. Maybe reading out loud before you post would help. I did enjoy getting some interesting perspectives on the issue though, so good job in that respect.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous if by ‘that guy’ you mean the one fucking ass clown who trashes the grammar of the article without saying anything substantive in order to boost his/her ego, then yes. you are that guy. so please, on behalf of mankind, shut the fuck up and stop nit-picking.

      1. KITTEH says:


      2. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous You don’t sound unnecessarily harsh at all. I want you to be assured of this.

        1. meta says:

          @meta You don’t sound unnecessarily sarcastic at all. I want you to be assured of this.

  • And then says:

    @And then Like a dying star, the CU community collapsed in on itself due to extreme meta-reflection and over-analysis.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous I thought it was Facebook that killed CU Community…

    2. Astrophysics major says:

      @Astrophysics major Actually, I’ll have you know….

  • Hg says:

    @Hg POTUS is smart and he made an intelligent move. Better to speak with people without brains than come across street and talk with students who are intellectually superior.

    1. Ehhh says:

      @Ehhh Troll level 1/10. You managed to get some people to actually take the time to downvote you, so I guess you deserve one point. But seriously, work on your trolling skillz bro.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous I’m the greatest troll at Columbia. Like four out of five of
        My quotes were featured in that Jezebel article. Props to me

        1. SEAS 14 says:

          @SEAS 14 I was honestly wondering how everyone whose douchey comments were quoted everywhere felt about it. I thought you would’ve felt a little upset at not getting credit, but I guess not.

  • Anon says:

    @Anon Or maybe it’s just because Barnard is awesome.

    1. No, says:

      @No, it’s not. That’s the point of this article.

    2. If barnard was awesome... says:

      @If barnard was awesome... you would be on Barnard’s student blog writing shit instead of here… do they even such blog?

  • Lk says:

    @Lk What is there to speak at BC – just tell them have babies and take good care of your family.
    Thank You

    1. CC'14 says:

      @CC'14 a) You are a misogynist.
      b) Your underlying remark that there is something lesser about motherhood is horrible. I feel sorry for your mother.
      c) You should be ashamed of yourself. It makes me sad that you got into this school.

    2. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous So, I’m supposed to email to report this comment? Fuck that.
      Get Mr. WikiCU to add a Report button.

      1. Chris Silverberg says:

        @Chris Silverberg So this is an *actual* example of someone who is clearly not afraid of the risk of double-marginalization, but is actually too lazy to send an email? Really? You go to Columbia, your entire life consists of sending emails. What’s so hard about sending one more?

        Ugh, Columbia students: entitled to Obama, entitled to a job at Goldman, entitled to a report button, what’s next?

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous As Fuchs put it, “ignore women at your own peril.”

  • Every student in the CU community says:

    @Every student in the CU community Bwog….please….stop reporting on this.

  • Van Owen says:

    @Van Owen Bitches be cray, cray…

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous You know those automatic cat feeders that are like mini water coolers filled with cat food to supply your cats with continuos noms for long periods of time? Bwog is like one of those, but for trolls instead of cats.

  • cc'14 says:

    @cc'14 so, the article actually presents interesting and informed perspectives on the issue, but, Bwog…this is what we should have had the 1st time around. at this point, you’re simply feeding the trolls. enough already.

    also, re: misogyny and elitism prominent at Columbia–duh. this idea of “superior high society” or some such, the rampant pomposity, and the need to conform to what is largely a privileged and vain culture (and the implications that one should feel ashamed if assimilation is refused/not financially possible)…it all disgusts me. it doesn’t take much to see why some ppl would hate this place, honestly.

    but whatever. I’m here only for the sake of the scholarship and the critical assessment of the culture to be implemented for social progress

    in before such inane remarks as:
    -“why don’t you transfer to a state school, then?”
    -“you’re an elitist, too, since you go here!”
    -“you’ve gotta agree we’re better than barnard tho, right???”

    stfu, all of you. stfu.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous marry me.

    2. also says:

      @also pomposity ftw

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I don’t know about you guys, but I think it is about time Barnard gets to see a sexy Black man in action

  • K West says:

    @K West I just don’t thing bwog likes Barnard

  • I get it says:

    @I get it So, you don’t like Barnard. You don’t like that it exists. You don’t like that someone ELSE gets to do the things you get to do without doing what you had to do to get them. Because these four years were supposed to be worth the shit you put up with in high school. No one understands what you had to do. You didn’t go out with friends on the weekends. No, you couldn’t, because you had to become valedictorian and volunteer and undergo an ordeal to write the perfect application essay. This degree is supposed to be the validation that makes it worth it. So, you devalue Barnard. Say that those women, nay girls, are stupid. They are slutty. They should not be taken seriously. Say it till you believe it. Crack those jokes under your breath. Guess what, honestly, you did it. You have made most Barnard women, at one point or another, doubt that they were intelligent enough to be here. Doubt that they made the right decision, right at NSOP. Right when they came, bright-eyed and hopeful. Cheers! Just want to let you in on a little secret. You’re going to leave here one day to work a job or internship alongside students from…state school. The horror. Maybe even community college. They might even be better than you. Maybe even smarter than you. They might get the full-time offer, and you may not. Realize that where you get the degree doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you learned. Or keep believing that you are the smartest of them all.You hold on to that. Drop Columbia in conversation at every party you go to. Do what makes you happy. I just hope you realize how petty you really are.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous “You don’t like that someone ELSE gets to do the things you get to do without doing what you had to do to get them.”

      I urge you to get a thesaurus ASAP. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the verb ‘do’ used so lazily/ambiguously in a single sentence. Wow. First, learn to construct a sentence with more substance. Really, there are a couple bookstores nearby. I’ll donate to the cause.

    2. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous >So, you don’t like Barnard. You don’t like that it exists. You don’t like that someone ELSE gets to do the things you get to do without doing what you had to do to get them.

      One point at a time: No. N o. Yes, obviously…how unreasonable!

      Sorry, I’m pretty sure Barnard doesn’t automatically confer superior perspective on all its students, either. Columbia students aren’t deluded into thinking they’re smarter just because they have Columbia degrees. If anything, they overestimate the perks. But that’s the thing–a Columbia degree is valuable because it’s a status symbol, and that often translates into preferential consideration by employers. That’s not an outrageous claim to make. And we’re aware of this fact. Your diatribe reeks of bitterness, jealousy, and insecurity.

  • Thomas Vinciguerra '85 says:

    @Thomas Vinciguerra '85 To answer the original question—why is Obama speaking at Barnard and not CC?—it’s possible that Occam’s Razor, i.e. the simplest answer is probably the right one, may apply. In brief, the President didn’t have that great an experience at Columbia and probably feels little affection for the place. He barely mentions us in his memoir “Dreams of My Father” and when he does, it’s pretty much without affection. He writes of spending his first night in New York City sleeping in an alley, of hearing gunfire after dark, of encountering a dead neighbor on his landing. Sometime after graduating, he wrote his former roommate, Phil Boerner, “I am still amazed when I think of what we put up with there.”

  • Sean Udell says:

    @Sean Udell Is classy

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Bwog stop it! Are the people at Bwog not satisfied with all the damage they have done to Columbia and the students at Columbia and Barnard? Do the people at Bwog feel the need to cause more pain?

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous CUDems president – intelligent remarks. CUCR – lack of response.

    Score one for the libs. If only national politics worked like this.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous And she’s hot. Although admittedly the new Republicans president is not bad looking either.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I am guessing ‘anonymous’ is republican bitching and itching. Stay cool.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous This article was necessary in order to consolidate the issues and present them coherently and objectively. It did just that. Good journalism – thanks bwog.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Not saying that Barnard girls aren’t just as smart as CU kids (and I am sure that many are a hell of a lot smarter) – just saying that the Barnard classes that I’ve taken have all been easier than my CC classes.

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