This Monday, SGA heard from students concerned about the coronavirus self-isolation practices, as well as Umbreen Bhatti ’00, the Constance Hess Williams ’66 Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies.


This week’s meeting began with a presentation during the open floor portion of the meeting by Fiona Xu (BC ‘20) and Phoenix Chen (BC ‘21). They spoke about the recent self-isolation measures that Barnard has recommended to students who returned from China after January 19, in the hopes of containing Coronavirus (2019nCoV). Practices such as not going to classes or dining halls are selfless acts that protect the student body when the extent of the virus is not yet known. However, Chen and Xu felt as though the Barnard administration had not sufficiently supported the students in self-isolation. 

Students who previously lived in singles were asked to stay in their single, but those who were previously in suites were asked to move to a new suite in the 600s. With regard to this move, they were told by Barnard administrators that they would only need to bring bedding and clothing; however, they arrived to empty 600s suites. Furthermore, students in self-isolation were asked by Health Services to take their temperature twice daily and to use alcohol wipes to clean their personal possessions, but Health Services did not provide these supplies. Two meals were provided per day along with a bottle of water, which Xu and Chen believe was not sufficient. Regarding academics, students in self-isolation were told not to attend classes but didn’t receive any further support from the Dean of Studies’ office about how to make up missed work, or how to communicate with faculty about absences. 

Xu and Chen presented SGA with a list of action items that they would like Barnard organizations such as Residential Life and Primary Care Health Service to enact, both to address the current self-isolation situation and potential further policies of self-isolation. 

They asked for an explanation from Barnard Residential Life about meal delivery, including why there were only two meals a day, and what happened when a student claimed to be in their dorm and didn’t hear Res Life staff knock, while Res Life claims they did, in fact, visit the room. 

They asked that Primary Care Health Service be more clear about what is and is not provided during self-isolation regarding medical supplies, food, and furnishings for students who need to move rooms: for example,  Xu and Chen asked that Primary Care provides alcohol wipes and thermometers. Furthermore, they would like clearer communication about meal and grocery deliveries, and whether students would be expected to pay for these from their own meal plans. 

Xu and Chen additionally asked for clearer communications from the Health Center about their current plans for virus containment as well as future plans for potential virus containment situations. Looking forward they would like to create a self-reporting guideline based on the standards of the Center for Disease Control. Additionally, they would like to establish a separate physical examination room in Primary Care for students who are at risk of contracting the virus. 

With regards to academics, they requested further support for students in self-isolation, such as the provision of recordings of lectures, video calls to participate in seminars, options to defer or later make up assessments, etc. 

Xu and Chen also called on the international office to assist Chinese students on campus and abroad, as these students grapple with travel bans and visa issues. 

The SGA representatives thanked Chen and Xu profusely for their presentation, and many representatives pledged their support in bringing these action items to fruition. Representatives inquired about whether there are still students in self-isolation: Xu and Chen stated that the last student’s isolation period would end today. There were also questions about other negative experiences that Chinese students have had on campus, including a chalkboard message found in Butler Library yet. Xu and Chen did not know if the university planned to investigate this incident further. 

SGA then heard from Umbreen Bhatti ’00, the Constance Hess Williams ‘66 Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies. The Athena Center was founded in 2009, and Bhatti began in this role in April 2019. Since her arrival, she has worked to update what the Center does, to best accommodate the needs of students in 2020. She has seen two major areas of improvement emerge: first, an increased variety of opportunities available to all majors and of varying time commitment levels; second, a more inclusive approach to leadership development. 

Bhatti’s vision for the new Athena Center is a forum for students to learn soft skills such as resilience and creative problem-solving, as well as a starting point for social action projects. She seeks to have a “co-creation process”, where Barnard students, faculty, and other programs such as Beyond Barnard, Well Woman, and Writing and Speaking Fellows collaborate on developing programs and sharing resources. The Center has already developed valuable programming: for example, a workshop last semester entitled “Make Meetings Matter” which helped students develop engaging meetings, and avoid the trap of scheduling a meeting that could have just been an email. Bhatti encouraged students to attend these workshops, and even pitch ideas for workshops that they would like to see in the future. 

One major change to the Center is the phasing-out of the Athena Scholars program. Bhatti took the best parts of the program (such as the capstone social action project that scholars undertake in their senior year) and integrated them into other parts of the Center’s program. She noted that students who are currently enrolled as Athena Scholars will not be affected and can finish their program as expected. 

Barnard gates via Bwog Archives