Didn’t catch last night’s meeting of Barnard’s Student Government Association last night? We can’t imagine what you were doing that was more important. In any case, Barnard Bureau Chief Dassi Karp was there, and she reports back about Beyond Barnard and other initiatives that just might work.
Barnard’s SGA meetings have fallen into a consistent pattern in the past months: administrative or student guests, time for questions, then vote on an endowment fund proposal. This week, the guests were Nikki Youngblood Giles and A-J Aronstein, Associate Deans of Beyond Barnard. The two spoke about, you guessed it, Beyond Barnard, the school’s new initiative/department that combines certain student services. The meeting ended up being a whirlwind of assurances of quality and organization with illustrations of how things might not actually get better. Sound fascinating? I actually learned some things–read on and you can too.
Beyond Barnard combines Barnard career development, student employment, internships, and fellowship programs into one space and one integrated team of seventeen full time staff. Career development and student employment reorganized themselves last year as well (I spent such a long time in the wrong office once, before I realized), but hopefully this time it will stick. “We had all these great services,”said Youngblood Giles, “and we wanted to bring them all together in a way that will target resources from the very beginning.” This involves creating intentional activities and programs under a “single and unified entity.” This is a big promise, as the reorganization hopes to create a clear and helpful system instead of the mess of services that have existed until now. A common complaint among Barnard students is the need be savvy about using employment and advising services, instead of them being readily accessible to all.
The visitors didn’t go into a lot of detail, and mostly just expressed hopes for a better organized and accesible future. But our representatives, of course, had questions. The most hard hitting and consistently dodged question was posed by Senior Class President Ambika Mookerjee and Junior Rep to the Board of Trustees Tamar Dayanim. Both asked about the relationship between Barnard Career Development, and now Beyond Barnard, and Columbia’s Center for Career Education. Barnard students often find that because of the weird (nonsensical, frustratingly and unnecessarily complex) relationship between Barnard and the rest of the University, they are often not presented with the same opportunities as their CC/SEAS/GS peers. This includes not allowing Barnard students into certain career fairs as well as the difference between quantity and often types of jobs posted on Columbia’s LionShare and Barnard’s Handshake job sites. It seems, moreover, that this is not due to the preferences of employers, many (most? Its unclear how to quantify this) are equally as happy to interview and hire Barnard students as they are with their peers across the street, and may even assume that their outreach, both online and in person, reaches students of all the colleges. It is the schools themselves that at time seem to be getting in the way of Barnard student success. This assertion was thoroughly evaded by Youngblood Giles and Aronstein. Instead, they responded by describing their office’s often successful efforts to create independent relationships with major employers. “We don’t want them to have to look across the street to find you,” said Aronstein. “We want to companies to know that if you want brilliant women, you come to Barnard.” And sure, Barnard does have a unique identity, and I think Barnard students appreciate the work done to make that recognized. But do you know where else employers go to look for brilliant women (and people)? Columbia University! The general sentiment seems to be that Barnard students are more than willing to “cross the street,” if only the institutions that are meant to support them stop blocking the way.
In response to other questions about internship and fellowship options, Youngblood Giles name-dropped a few student successes. She also emphasized that opportunities exist, and students need to learn where to look for them. For example, she cited graduate programs that may require leaving New York: To pursue specific interests, “sometimes, it means you have to move to Iowa. And they’re going to pay for you to be there, and they’re going to love you and nurture you.” Aronstein added, “just like corn.” As this is only semi-jokingly my ideal future plan, no proposition that night has sounded more exciting. Iowa, if you’re reading this: I’m ready. Treat me like your corn.
Rep for Academic Affairs Shreya Sunderram asked about the possibilities of increased funding or academic credit for unpaid and low paid internships. Grants are limited and very competitive, she said, which undermines many students abilities to pursue professionally and academically relevant opportunities. And grants that are provided are often insufficient–living in Manhattan is really expensive for many students. This isn’t just a problem for explicitly low-income students, she said, because “honestly, unpaid internships suck for everyone.” The visiting administrators didn’t really agree with the assumptions of the question, saying that there is funding available for students who look for it. I read facial responses of SGA reps in the room as generally disgruntled, with a glimmer of hope that maybe their summer plans will not be accompanied by existential and financial dread this year. But maybe not.
As promised, the meeting ended with an endowment fund proposal and vote. Each year, SGA uses this fund to create grants for programs or ideas that benefit the entire Barnard community. Last night, Rep for Inclusion and Equity Kashaf Doha presented her plan to purchase grad school test-prep books and software for students to use. First-generation/low-income students will be given priority for using the books, and all students will have unlimited free access to the software. SGA voted unanimously to fund the proposal up to $4851. Even when Barnard’s administration accidentally does its best to undermine student success, SGA has our collective back. So that’s better than nothing.