Yesterday afternoon, the Barnard Columbia Solidarity Network (BCSN, for short), an alliance of activist groups on campus, released a welcome letter to Barnard’s new president Sian Beilock. This alliance currently includes Divest Barnard for a Just Transition, Undocumented Students Initiative, Student-Worker Solidarity, Columbia University Apartheid Divest, CU/BC Branch of the International Socialist Organization, and No Red Tape.
The letter begins by introducing BCSN as a” coalition of student groups mobilized in a common struggle for liberation” that opposes consolidation of power, wealth, and resources “in the hands of a few” at Columbia. It then goes on to list a few recent victories for activism at Barnard and Columbia, including Barnard divesting from companies that deny climate change, Columbia divesting from the coal industry and private prisons, and student workers winning a $15 minimum wage.
After this introduction, BCSN cuts to the chase in expressing their concerns about President Beilock’s appointment: “the Barnard community was effectively locked out of the presidential search process”, they write, because student and faculty representatives were appointed rather than elected, and student concerns were trivialized. Debora Spar has left what BCSN considers a troubling legacy, as she failed to address needs of low-income students, undocumented students, students of color, and other groups of marginalized identities. And it seems that BCSN is not particularly impressed with President Beilock’s history, either; they cite her work at University of Chicago taking “a leading role in the administration’s assault on graduate student workers’ right to unionize”. In addition, the writers of this letter found President Beilock’s and Provost Bell’s statement on the events in Charlottesville wanting, as that statement failed to condemn white supremacist ideology, “explicitly defend the rights of students of color”, and “state what you [Barnard] will do… to stand for racial justice”.
BCSN remains optimistic that they can work with President Beilock to impact positive change at Barnard, however. The letter concludes with a list of “community demands” that reflect the main priorities of the groups making up this alliance. A brief summary of these demands is as follows (quoting from the letter):
- The banner policy must be revised so that student organizations can display their banners on Barnard Hall.
- Barnard must provide assistance (in all forms–financial, legal, health-wise, academic, etc.) to undocumented students at Barnard. Barnard must guarantee housing during breaks and other increased in-house resources to support undocumented students.
- Barnard must stop retaliating against contingent faculty for union activism. Sian Beilock should publicly address the concerns raised in this letter from the Barnard Contingent Faculty union. … We demand that all student workers are paid within two weeks, the elimination of the student contribution, and $15 per hour for volunteer positions at direct service organizations such as Well Woman, SVR, CUEMS, Nightline, and Community Impact… Barnard College must become affiliated with the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent labor rights organization that investigates factories where collegiate apparel is produced.
- We demand a rape crisis center that is physically open 24 hours/day including all days during which students are housed on the University campus, an increase in queer and trans* staff of color at SVR, and a hotline staffed by trained professionals who are equipped to address the experiences of trauma in marginalized communities and can provide immediate accompaniment to services off campus.
- Barnard must continue to work with students to democratically determine reinvestment priorities.
Why release a letter from a coalition that has seen little action since fall 2015? “Collective solidarity is always stronger than the sum of one group, individual, or space,” Lili Brown, BC ’18, a representative of BCSN who helped organize and draft the letter, explained. “The success of one group is completely the result of the solidarity and support of other groups; as student organizers we know and appreciate that we can’t make change on our own!”
BCSN is hopeful that the history of student activism on campus, as well as BCSN’s strong present stance as a unified force, will make a positive impression on President Beilock. The statement ends: “welcome to Barnard, a community of artists, scholars, and activists for social and economic justice.”
The coalition has yet to receive any response from the president’s office, or from any of the numerous faculty members across departments to whom they forwarded this letter.