This week, SGA heard from Dean of Beyond Barnard A-J Aronstein to learn more about support for students graduating into an economic recession.

Welcome back to this week’s SGA meeting recap! The night kicked off with external announcements from the representatives. Solace Mensah-Narhl BC ‘21, Vice President for Equity, started things off by encouraging students to start thinking about potential equity issues in regards to move-in next semester. Audrey Pettit BC ‘22, Junior Class President,  reminded juniors to enter the raffle to win a “Barnard 2022” T-shirt. Parker Watts, Representative for Inclusive Initiatives, announced that a forum on disability and ability during midterms will be held on December 10. Norah Hassan, Senior Class President BC ‘21, reminded seniors to keep checking their emails for graduation applications and opportunities for free senior merch. 

This week’s guest was A-J Aronstein, Dean of the organization for post-graduation support Beyond Barnard, as well as Senior Advisor to the Provost. On the agenda was an informative discussion on job searching during the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.

Aronstein began his short presentation by acknowledging the unique challenges faced by the graduating classes and outlining Beyond Barnard’s three general goals that have adapted to current conditions: (1) fine-tuning Beyond Barnard’s structure to prepare for expansion, (2) assessing and integrating what they have learned from the virtual year thus far, and (3) designing an inclusive planning process in 2021. Aronstein also took a moment to encourage students to continue pursuing majors that they are truly passionate about because majors do not dictate one’s career path.

Aronstein then went on to share some information on how Beyond Barnard has continued to support students on their post-graduate journeys during the pandemic thus far. Firstly, Beyond Barnard’s Summer Colloquium 2020 event was a huge success, with around 75 events and programs related to planning for post-grad life. Many of these events are still available to watch on Beyond Barnard’s YouTube channel

According to statistics from Fall 2020, students are still utilizing Beyond Barnard as a virtual resource, citing 1,164 appointments from this Fall semester (down by only five percent from Fall 2019). Fall grants were also expanded to 100 to account for the pandemic, an increase of 25%. Aronstein also placed an emphasis on maintaining Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) all year, with another Opportunities Fair coming in Spring. Beyond Barnard has also appointed Lindsay Granger-Weaver as their new Equity Lead. In response to student interest, Beyond Barnard will also be working toward adding an option to self-identify in Barnard Connect, as well as the ability to opt-in to be notified by Beyond Barnard when there are employers specifically interested in hiring diversely.

Going forward, Beyond Barnard will be looking for more community input as they begin to shape their strategy for the next five years. Aronstein ended his presentation on a hopeful note, announcing that 89% of the Class of 2020 is either in graduate school or working (compared to 90% in 2019).

Vivian Todd BC ‘23, University Senator, started off the Q&A by inquiring about the remaining 11% of students who were not in school or working. Aronstein gave more insight into the process that Beyond Barnard uses to source this information, explaining that it comes from a combination of self-reporting via surveys, research on graduates’ LinkedIn profiles, and direct information from graduate schools via the National Education Clearing House. The information about the 11% is less detailed, with Beyond Barnard only knowing that their status is “still seeking.”

Parker Watts, Representative for Inclusive Initiatives, went on to ask if there were any patterns in demographics as to who tends to be unemployed or not in graduate school. Aronstein started by addressing patterns by major, about which he stated that there are no majors that tend to be more or less employed. In regards to patterns concerning racial and ethnic groups, Aronstein stated that, due to a small sample size of self-reporting, Beyond Barnard only looks at reports on racial and ethnic group patterns over a three-year period, and therefore such information cannot yet be derived as it relates to the pandemic. However, Beyond Barnard does look at yearly usage of their resources, and according to Aronstein, this data is proportional across all groups at Barnard, including all racial and ethnic groups and first-generation low-income students.

The next question came from Solace Mensah-Narhl BC ‘21, Vice President for Equity, who asked to hear more about the kinds of support alumni from the Class of 2019 and older are seeking from Beyond Barnard. Reflecting on the current economic climate, Aronstein explained that alumni of zero to five years are looking for support in applying to graduate schools at much higher rates than those of eight to twelve years, who are experiencing higher rates of job changes, both voluntary and involuntary. Aronstein gestured toward the security and certainty provided by graduate school as the reason behind this, as more students are looking for ways to reduce future risk. More than ever, however, Barnard alumni are reaching out to Beyond Barnard to offer help, and Aronstein again urged students to take advantage of the Barnard network through Barnard Connect and Beyond Mentoring.

Avalon Fenster BC ‘24, First-Year Class President, asked if more jobs would be made available in the Spring and if they will be available to first-year students. Aronstein stated that first-years are coming in at higher rates than usual this year and that they should continue to reach out to Beyond Barnard if they are seeking a job. Aronstein also mentioned the availability of more virtual tutoring opportunities open to first-years.

Chelsea Sinclair BC ‘21, Senior Representative to the Board of Trustees, asked if there were any specific fields that have been hit harder in regards to job opportunities during the pandemic. Aronstein succinctly explained that all industries that rely on being in-person, such as the fine arts and museum jobs, have experienced the most impact. On the other hand, education has ballooned, now making up 17% of jobs, as compared to 11% in years prior. As a follow up to this, Aronstein was asked if Beyond Barnard anticipates a different economic landscape in 2021 compared to 2020, to which he replied that the organization cannot give accurate predictions in this situation, but that seniors should start making a plan now and reaching out to the resources available to them, including Beyond Barnard.

Solace Mensah-Narhl BC ‘21 sought more detailed information about Beyond Barnard’s plan to implement an “opt-in” program on Barnard Connect and Handshake, as mentioned above. Aronstein explained that this program is not yet in place, but that the organization intends to allow students to anonymously self-identify on these platforms, rather than the inefficiency of the current process, which requires employers to reach out to Barnard seeking to hire diversely, followed by Beyond Barnard reaching out to identity-based student groups with these opportunities.

Audrey Pettit BC ‘22, Junior Class President, asked specifically about Beyond Barnard’s support for graduates seeking freelance or contract work. Aronstein emphasized that, due to the nature of these jobs, students and alumni should come in for individual meetings to get started with opportunities.

Tirzah Anderson BC ‘21, SGA President, inquired about Lindsay Granger-Weaver’s aforementioned new position as Equity Lead for Beyond Barnard. Aronstein went into more detail about specific initiatives, including another opportunity fair in January with a theme of “Advancing First-Generation Low-Income Students,” as well as sharing some insight into how Beyond Barnard has been giving talks to employers who are interested in diverse hiring to create fair and welcoming environments for the students once they are hired. Aronstein stressed that Beyond Barnard is trying to incorporate their policy of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion into every choice they make, rather than reserving it for isolated conversations.

The final question of the night came from Norah Hassan BC ‘21, Senior Class President, who asked for some general advice for seniors who are juggling their school workload alongside job applications. Aronstein recommended that seniors “dip their toes in” by Christmas, suggesting that the students create a plan for their application process and polish up their resumes. Spacing out the process is key, and he recommended seniors do a little work every week, with January being an appropriate time to start applying for jobs.

Aronstein ended the meeting with some words of inspiration for students who are concerned about the process, especially right now, reminding them to be good to themselves because they will get rejected, but they will also get accepted.

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