On Monday night, SGA heard from President Sian Leah Beilock about Barnard’s support of transgender and non-binary students, fundraising goals, and yup, you guessed it: plans for the Spring 2021 semester. 

Welcome back to SGA coverage! As always, the meeting began with external announcements from the representatives. Some highlights: Avalon Fenster BC ‘24, First-Year Class President, and Menasha Thomas BC’24, First-Year Class Vice President, announced two movie nights for first years this weekend: one for LGBTQ+ students on Friday night, and one for FGLI students on Saturday night. More information can be found on Instagram at @barnard2024. Myesha Choudhury BC ‘23, First Year Class President invited sophomores to volunteer for the virtual tutoring program with students in East Harlem. Krystal Zhou BC ‘22, Representative for Student Development announced a series of events for International Student Education Week, and students should check their emails for information about events happening this week. Bex Allen BC ‘21, Representative for Academic Affairs, encouraged students to become involved with the Committee on Instruction, which evaluates courses and syllabi, and which meets on Tuesdays from 12 pm to 2 pm. Danielle Hopkins BC ‘21, VP for Finance announced the SGA Co-sponsorship Fund and SGA Endowment, which provide funds to student groups by application, and encouraged students to apply to these.

President Beilock shared a few remarks before taking questions from the representatives. First, she stated that this has been the “longest and shortest semester all at the same time”. She thanked the representatives, and the student body as a whole, for all the work they have done this semester in clubs, classes, theses, and jobs. She stated that there has been no more important time to send Barnard graduates out into the world, and noted that many students are taking on internships this semester and that an extra 25% of those internships are now funded through Beyond Barnard. President Beilock expressed hope as campus has slowly reopened this fall, and Barnard prepares to welcome more students back to campus in the spring. She also expressed regret about the last-minute nature of housing cancellation for the Fall 2020 semester and wished that the College could have made that announcement earlier, but explained that they lacked the ability and information needed. 

Myesha Choudhury BC ‘23, Sophomore Class President, asked President Beilock how Barnard plans to engage and support the Harlem community, particularly with more students returning to campus in the Spring. President Beilock brought up the concern about whether students currently on and around campus are acting responsibly, considering other college campuses that have seen spikes in cases after large gatherings. That being said, she noted that she hasn’t seen any irresponsible behavior from students, who are wearing masks, adhering to the community compact, and participating in the mandatory testing program. President Beilock stressed that a key part of attending Barnard is understanding your privilege to be in the city and of the city. President Beilock especially wished to strengthen Barnard’s relationship with the Harlem community, and the mutual benefits that the relationship brings. She underscored the importance of fostering this relationship especially in light of the death of Tess Majors. President Beilock said that the College plans to hire a new Executive Director of Community Inclusion, who will report to Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Ariana González Stokas. President Beilock also expressed plans to connect Barnard faculty and students with STEM classes in Harlem middle schools, in the setting of Morningside Park. She then proceeded to talk more generally about supporting faculty and staff, whether that is through student tutors working with the children of faculty and staff, or student preceptors facilitating online classes. Furthermore, childcare benefits for faculty and staff were extended during the pandemic, and the College is now able to subsidize in-home childcare. President Beilock expressed that there is always more to do, but noted Barnard’s particular ability to “spin on a dime” and quickly enact faculty and staff requests for more support.

Chelsea Sinclair, BC ‘21, Senior Representative to the Board of Trustees, asked about Barnard’s relationship with transgender and non-binary students, and how these students are included and represented at Barnard, particularly in light of the 2015 policy for admitting transgender and non-binary students. (President Beilock noted that Chelsea will also be bringing this topic up with the Board of Trustees soon.) President Beilock first contextualized the 2015 Transgender Policy, which was created after a year of collecting data and holding conversations with alumnae, students, and other Barnard community members, and which states “Barnard will consider for admission those applicants who consistently live and identify as women, regardless of the gender assigned to them at birth.  We will also continue to use gendered language that reflects our identity as a women’s college.” President Beilock noted that not every member of the Barnard community agrees with the College’s continued use of gendered language, and for her, this disagreement does not pose an issue. The Center for Engaged Pedagogy has created guides for faculty about fostering gender-inclusive classroom spaces, and President Beilock mentioned that leading scholars who study gender have been invited to address the faculty about these topics. President Beilock underscored the importance of interrogating and reassessing policies in context of the 2015 Transgender Policy, and making sure that everyone feels included at Barnard, beyond just admissions practices. 

Mo Leed, BC ‘22, Representative for Seven Sisters, asked President Beilock more specifically about where she sees room for change in the language Barnard uses to refer to current and prospective students. President Beilock reiterated that the 2015 policy regarding transgender students established the usage of gendered language when referring to Barnard students in general, but noted that it’s important to keep pushing the envelope and additionally noted that she was not at the College at the time of this policy’s adoption. Furthermore, she explained Barnard’s unique position as an undergraduate college of Columbia University that remained a women’s college after Columbia College became co-educational in 1984. This is in opposition to other historically women’s colleges like Radcliffe, which was absorbed into Harvard. Additionally, Barnard has the lowest admissions rate among the Seven Sisters, making it more selective and, therefore, attracts different prospective students than its peers. Part of the development of the 2015 Transgender Policy included a survey sent to 30,000 alumnae, some of whom voiced concerns about maintaining a Barnard identity, but President Beilock did not expand further on these concerns and what they might mean for the College’s continued usage of gendered language.

Solace Mensah-Narh BC ‘21, VP for Equity, asked President Beilock about her views on the role of SGA, and its relationship to both the President and other administrators. President Beilock noted that she had asked this same question of SGA. She stated that her aim in working with SGA is to understand how individual students feel, through SGA’s discussions, surveys, and advocacy projects. President Beilock noted that students and administrators work within different time frames: students seek to accomplish goals in four years or less, whereas administrators must take the longer view of Barnard’s future. President Beilock expressed a desire for different representatives to converse directly with different faculty leaders and offices, citing the work of Bex Allen BC ‘21, Representative for Academic Affairs, and Provost Linda A. Bell, and the work of Danielle Hopkins BC ‘21, VP for Finance, and CFO and Vice President for Finance Eileen Di Benedetto. 

Krystal Zhou BC ‘22, Representative for Student Development, asked about the College’s goals for fundraising, and which areas resources are being allotted to. President Beilock noted that fundraising is a key part of Barnard’s livelihood, saying that “Barnard was founded on an idea, not an endowment”, as compared to the large endowments of its Ivy League peers. She noted the College’s four priorities in fundraising: supporting financial aid, developing Beyond Barnard and funding student internships, supporting campus wellness (including the construction of the new Francine A. LeFrak Foundation Center for Well-Being, and constructing a new science building. Of these, she noted that financial aid is the most important, considering Barnard’s need-blind financial aid policy, and that of the College’s operating budget of around $2 million, about a quarter of it goes toward financial aid. President Beilock also shared that Barnard raised $1.8 million this Giving Day, which is a record for the college.

Flosha Liyana BC ‘21, VP for Campus Life, said that she personally has been reflecting on what she has learned about leadership. To that end, she asked how President Beilock takes criticism, and what her biggest mistake has been. President Beilock confessed that “I make mistakes all the time, probably every day.” She noted that her biggest accomplishment has been creating a culture in her senior team where there is pushback, saying that administrators often tell her when she’s wrong. President Beilock sometimes agrees with them but sometimes doesn’t, which further adds to the culture of productive pushback. She additionally emphasized that she is learning every day about Barnard and how she might push it forward and that her best days are when she is able to help others put their ideas into place. President Beilock said she would reflect on what her biggest mistake has been, and will share it with the reps at a later time. 

Jasmin Torres Piñón, VP for Communications, stated that SGA President Tirzah Anderson has been studying the Barnard archives of past presidents and their legacies. Jasmin then asked President Beilock what she hoped her legacy would be. President Beilock responded that she hopes she doesn’t have to decide this quite yet. She noted a few of her projects of the past three years: a holistic focus on wellbeing, the development of Beyond Barnard, and the creation of Access Barnard. President Beilock said that the most important thing for her has been breaking down “silos” and inefficiency in the College, where departments are not communicating with each other, and similar programs are running redundantly across different areas. To this end, Beyond Barnard responds to both the Provost and the President, to make sure it is serving students in their academic life, as well as their professional life. Access Barnard centralizes resources for FGLI and international students, where the resources were previously scattered across different offices. Feel Well Do Well takes health and wellbeing discussions and puts them into the broader campus discussion. 

In all, this week’s meeting provided a productive and illuminating discussion of President Beilock’s role here at Barnard.

Barnard Hall via Bwog Archives