On Monday evening, the SGA town hall attracted staff writer Mia Lindheimer – mostly due to the free Thai Market. Little did she know, her eyes would be opened to one of the most heated debates on campus: the Barnard-Columbia relationship. Do we all attend the same “university”? Yes. Are we separate colleges? Yes. So where does that put us?
When I applied to Barnard early decision, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was signing up for. I knew Barnard is its own women’s college, but I could take classes at Columbia as if it were the same college—and that was pretty much it. I loved Barnard enough on its own to make the call that it was my one and only top choice. I wasn’t applying just for the Columbia access, though it was a necessary perk—especially as a prospective Computer Science major who would have to abandon the possibility of attendance if the schools weren’t intertwined. But at the same time, I wanted clarity on the relationship, if only to stop this exact debate. I showed up at the SGA Town Hall in hopes of finding an answer.
Everyone always says it’s hard to put a name to the relationship Barnard and Columbia have, and that’s completely true. Maybe we could name it if it wasn’t always changing; a main complaint from a Barnard first year at my table was that: “Barnard seemed to be building the relationship up in my head from the second I got my acceptance letter till the second I had unloaded all my things into my dorm. NSOP was just a weird combination of building it up and breaking it down, and then as soon as classes started I realized it was all downhill from here.”
Students felt that Barnard was using its relationship to Columbia as a marketing strategy to get students to enroll after receiving their acceptances, as though ideal candidates wouldn’t appreciate Barnard on its own. On top of that, many students remember trouble acclimating to Columbia’s campus, getting emails telling us our LionMail accounts were being shut down, never being able to get into Carman parties to meet new people during NSOP (will swipe access ever be a thing?), and lack of access to food when JJ’s was open during the Jonas blizzard but Hewitt wasn’t.
These changes might seem small, but every year people feel the gap widen, and with it they feel increasing inequality and prejudice from other Columbia undergraduate colleges. LionMail was shut down within the past year, and NSOP changes on a yearly basis.
A Barnard senior at my table recalled her NSOP experience; the theme was “One University,” as a result of strange tension between the colleges after President Obama spoke at Barnard commencement: “They spent the whole time getting the four undergraduate school to bond; many of our activities were together, in a larger group with a mixture of Barnard/CC/SEAS/GS students.” The first years at the table were shocked.
At our NSOP there were only two activities that incorporated students from all four undergraduate colleges, and they were nowhere near as integrated as many students felt they needed to be. There was the outing to the Yankees game, where everyone just stayed seated with their OL groups or NSOP friends they’d made outside of their groups, and there was a “sibling dinner” where Barnard students got packed lunches out of Altschul and CC/SEAS students got lunches from the tents, and we were all sitting there in awkward silence, as it was the last night of NSOP and we already had the friends we needed, and we were tired of small talk. So many Barnard students at the table felt that NSOP had been a missed opportunity to promote friendship between the four colleges, something many of them had come to expect after what they’d heard about the relationship prior to arriving on campus.
Several Barnard students are skeptical of the recent changes in the Barnard/Columbia relationship that seem to have caused rifts in the community; it’s hard to find justification for changing something that was apparently once so good when offered only little explanations like “our catering companies are different and therefore want to charge differently” or “we are trying to promote a stronger Barnard community and identity”.
After the Town Hall, some students debated the impact of Dean Hinkson, who pushed adamantly against a Barnard/Columbia merger while she was a student. Many current students think she is back at it again, hoping to further widen the gap with each passing year and each minor change. There may be some truth in that; the NSOP with theme “One Universtiy” was the year before Dean Hinkson hired right-hand-man Alina Wong to join Barnard, and part of Wong’s job was to help coordinate NSOP. Many say Wong is one of Hinkson’s biggest allies, and pushes Hinkson’s motives onto NSOP. Seniors who experienced the past three years at Barnard say they’ve only felt the community grow apart since. While this could easily be a coincidence, many continue to believe that recent unfavorable changes stemmed from her.
While Barnard students around the table were extremely thankful for Barnard’s independent identity, requirements, programs, and campus community, they were also frustrated about the lack of inter-campus community between the four undergraduate colleges. They were also concerned about Barnard’s lack of resources compared to the other schools (including technology, which is on the way soon, limited access to special interest housing such as Q House, along with sorority housing (which has only a specific number of slots for Barnard students), dining halls and meal plans, etc.) One student said that, “while it would be awesome if Barnard could adequately provide these resources to me, I came to a women’s college within a larger co-ed university for a reason, and interaction within the university shouldn’t make me feel lesser. I’m not less academically capable than anyone at CC, and it’s unfair that the little changes Barnard puts in place create a stigma and feeling of inequality.”
Overall, the conversation with SGA seemed fruitful and many students were in total agreement with their reps, who often face harsh pushback from administrators. This week, SGA is hoping to formulate new plans based off of student input from the Town Hall to work on new changes that will better impact our community and relationship in years to come.
Note: A previous version of this article stated that the 2012 NSOP theme was “One Community” rather than “One University”, and that Dean Hinkson rather than Alina Wong was hired the following year. This has since been corrected to give correct statements.
Another note: A previous version of this article stated that sororities had a limited number of Barnard students who could receive a bid, and that has been corrected to say that there is a limit on Barnard students who may live in each sorority’s house.
A sign of challenge via 2014 Bwog