On Monday night, the SGA Rep Council met with Dean Leslie Grinage and Vice Dean for Campus Life, Nikki Youngblood-Giles to discuss Barnard’s COVID-19 response this semester and next.

The meeting opened with a statement of land recognition by SGA President Tirzah Anderson BC ‘21, who stated that the land which Barnard College currently occupies historically belonged to the Lenni Lenape people. Tirzah expressed a commitment to deconstructing settler colonialism, both within SGA and at Barnard as a whole.

During external announcements, most reps urged students to apply for committees. The application forms are available in SGA’s most recent email and all applications are due by Friday, October 16th at 11:59 PM (ET).

This week’s guests were Dean Leslie Grinage and Vice Dean for Campus Life, Dean Nikki Youngblood-Giles. Dean Grinage is in her second year as Dean of the College, where she oversees all student services and has already worked with SGA senior staff this year during the SGA retreat. As Vice Dean for Campus Life, Dean Youngblood-Giles supports the offices of Student Life and Residential Life. She was promoted to this role this summer, and was previously one of the Deans for Beyond Barnard, along with AJ Aronstein. The Deans had previously received a list of questions from the representatives, however, they were not able to answer all of the questions due to time constraints.

The reps first asked Dean Youngblood-Giles what her goals were in her new position. She responded by saying that she wanted to enhance collaboration between student departments: to this end, she has been developing Access Barnard, which will leverage resources for international students, Opportunity Programs students, and first-generation, low-income students. 

Then both Deans responded to three questions about housing: firstly, how will housing operate in the Spring 2021 semester and onward; secondly, whether guaranteed housing will still exist post-pandemic; and thirdly, the possibility of reopening the housing grant in the spring or giving further financial support to students in other ways. 

In short, the Deans don’t know the answers to these questions yet. Historically, students returning from a leave of absence no longer receive guaranteed housing. With the acquisition of the 121st residence hall last year, there was the hope of more housing availability; however, the pandemic has made the future of guaranteed housing uncertain. Dean Grinage further clarified that there weren’t any conversations to suggest that guaranteed housing won’t exist after the pandemic, but there was still uncertainty surrounding the matter. 

If the College is unable to open residence halls, Dean Grinage explained, there are some options available. She mentioned the sizable financial implications of students carrying financial aid off-campus in the form of housing grants but noted that the College has not yet decided on this matter. As for on-campus housing, Barnard worked to secure dorm space at Columbia this semester, and it might be possible to secure more, depending on the demand for housing. The College will be sending out a survey by Wednesday to collect student input on housing, and during the meeting, Dean Grinage took the opinions of a few SGA reps.

The reps then asked how Barnard is envisioning the future. Dean Grinage assured the Rep Council that Barnard is committed to providing world-class education, and extra-curricular experiences that enhance that. The College’s focus is still on getting students to graduation and preparing us for the next steps we choose to take after that. Planning for the future, however, requires paying attention to the current circumstances, and looking at Barnard’s finances, housing, and curricula (in short, Dean Grinage described this as all the offices whose leaders come to SGA meetings). Dean Youngblood-Giles also mentioned that Barnard is still in the process of re-accreditation that began last year, which will necessarily inform the College’s plans moving forward.

The Deans proceeded to discuss the current testing plan, and how this plan might look next semester. Since August, Barnard has conducted 4,500 tests, with one positive test. Dean Grinage said that If there are students in residence next semester they will be required to participate in the testing surveillance program, like anyone else who accesses Barnard campus. For more information about Barnard’s pandemic response, access the Covid-19 Dashboard or the New York State Covid-19 Tracker. The Deans also expanded on the College’s plan to phase in campus access. Starting this Wednesday, students will be able to reserve study spaces on Futter Field, the ground floor of Milstein, and other outdoor spaces. Students must be in the surveillance testing program to access these spaces, and this phase-in will occur slowly with continual reassessment. 

Due to time constraints, the Rep Council decided to open the Speakers List and take questions from the reps, instead of proceeding through the list of previously collected questions.

Solace Mensah-Narh BC ‘21, VP for Equity asked how the study space reservations will be upheld, and making sure that students stay only for their allotted time. Her concern came from Barnard’s “interesting” relationship with Public Safety. Solace further asked what student and staff input there was for Wednesday’s reopening. Dean Youngblood-Giles responded that the reservations would work on the honor system and that through the reservation platform, students would receive a message when their reservation had elapsed. As for Solace’s question about Public Safety, Dean Youngblood-Giles expressed that the College did not want to get in the habit of asking someone to ask people to leave. Furthermore, this week’s decision was made with consistent student requests to slowly reopen campus for research and study opportunities. 

Tirzah asked about the current state and the future of Access Barnard. Dean Youngblood-Giles stated that Access Barnard enhances campus functions that are already present. The first floor of Milbank is being refurbished to support the 3 teams under the Access Barnard umbrella, and this new space will include a student center. Dean Youngblood-Giles also brought up a new, college-wide, peer mentoring program, the first phase of which will consist of matching 3–5 first year and transfer students to a junior. This will be a paid position for the junior mentors, and more information will be available in the coming weeks. 

Solace inquired about the status of the lists of demands presented by Black alumnae as well as OP students. Dean Grinage encouraged the signatories of these letters to contact her directly about meeting together. The introduction of Access Barnard will hopefully meet some of the demands of the OP letter for greater institutional support. Additionally, many of the demands are curricular in nature (Solace specifically mentioned the requirement for every department to have a race-based class). Dean Grinage noted that demands of this type were beyond her purview as Dean and that she was in discussion with the Provost’s Office. Furthermore, the Center for Engaged Pedagogy is doing pedagogical training with faculty about student concerns. 

Emily Ndiokho BC ‘22, VP for Campus Life, mentioned that students rarely see concrete, actionable steps after the presentation of lists of demands. She asked how SGA might support administrative transparency and progress updates. Dean Grinage mentioned her goal to establish a mission statement within the Dean of the College division (about 100 staff), to better guide their support of students. 

Danielle Hopkins BC ‘21, VP for Finance, brought up this semester’s last-minute cancellation of on-campus housing and asked if there was a date after which the plan cannot be changed. Dean Grinage referenced President Beilock’s September email to the student body, which described the decision-making timeline. By late October, the College will announce their intentions for the spring semester (the possibility of on-campus housing, how many students could live on campus, and the housing application process). The plan will be revisited as necessary, and in December, the College would announce any changes to the October plan. The College is trying to avoid a large, last-minute change of plan in December, particularly considering that the spring semester starts earlier this year. 

Tirzah inquired about Barnard’s hiring freeze, particularly with regards to the positions of Director of Title IX and Dean of Studies, both of which are currently held by interim staff. Tirzah asked this in light of Barnard’s “up in the air” financial situation. Dean Grinage confirmed that there is still a hiring freeze. As for the interim positions, she is hoping to “uninterim” these roles whenever possible, and there is no specific timeline for hiring staff members to permanently fill these roles. Dean Grinage mentioned that SGA reps are invited to participate in the search for a Title IX director. 

In all, another enlightening and engaging SGA meeting. I was particularly struck by the excellent questions the reps posed, both the questions that were previously prepared and those asked in the meeting.

Greek Games statue via Bwog Archives