SGA Bureau Chief Ria Vasishtha covered President Rosenbury’s conversation with Barnard College’s Student Government Association (SGA).

To facilitate dialogue between students and administrators in the Spring semester, President Rosenbury attended the SGA’s meeting to address concerns and discuss Barnard’s next steps. During the meeting, Rosenbury engaged in a candid conversation with student representatives about the fractured Barnard community.

The administration’s past attempts to foster unity among students received little response from students. Barnard’s Day of Dialogue was an attempt to remedy the rising tension and fear growing on campus: through this event, the college hoped students would learn to disagree better. The event faced widespread backlash, but the administration was unaware of the criticism leading up to the event. The conversation naturally shifted to effective mechanisms of sending feedback to the administration.

Rosenbury recognized the communication lapse between students and the administration. The college does not actively monitor social media platforms to respect each student’s autonomy. Rosenbury wants social media to be a space for students to articulate themselves without the fear of “Big Brother” peering over. Instead, Barnard receives a large volume of feedback via email and petitions.

However, Rosenbury makes a distinction between the political messages and feedback in her inbox. If students want to engage in a political discussion, she encourages them to talk to the Center of Engaged Pedagogy or DEI. She notes that her role is to focus on the campus community, not take sides. With many diverse perspectives and competing interests in the school community, the administration cannot account for everyone’s feedback and inevitably makes decisions that favor certain views.

The college received extensive feedback concerning the demonstration policy. Rosenbury clarifies that there is no protest policy, but there is an events policy that has existed for years. The policy mandates 14-day notice for an event and 28 days notice for an event requiring resources like security. The administration is in the process of crafting a safe campus demonstration policy that would exempt protests from the events policy, designate an area and period, and require only 2 days’ notice.

Concerning the chemical attack, Rosenbury recognizes the poor communication with Columbia. Barnard will provide financial assistance. There is a fund available that will cover what insurance cannot cover. She encourages Barnard students to reach out to PCHS, which operates with confidentiality—students will not receive disciplinary action for seeking help.

Student representatives asked about whether the majority opinion was factored into decisions with heavier weight. Rosenbury explained how large student groups cannot speak on behalf of all members. She also pointed out the pressures students have to join groups and adopt a singular point of view because there is no room for diverse opinions within the group. Because student groups are not elected, they are not necessarily representative of all of their members.

Although administrators cannot favor the majority or minority explicitly, Rosenbury explains that there are funds available for events and students can vote to access the funds. She clarifies that this is available to students who are not in the majority as well, supporting every student regardless of viewpoint and identity. 

Rosenbury recognized that the unique climate this year on campus highlights how the supports in place are not working well enough. Reports are up over 450 percent, with 70 percent being evenly split between antisemitism and islamophobia reports. The college understands the distrust between students and administrators on campus and hopes to reconcile the community.

As the college makes major decisions, they craft messages with the diversity of Barnard and close campus culture in mind. While the college does not write with Columbia University’s decisions in mind, it writes with the world in mind: Washington DC is watching campuses, so they are wary of how the public will react. With no “playbook” in hand, the administration is actively looking for ideas, from reading The Chronicle to going on conference calls with other institutions to learn about best practices.

In the upcoming semester, Rosenbury views her role as ensuring the safety and flourishing of every student on campus. She recognizes the importance of higher education in a democracy, learning the skills and confidence to debate ideas. By establishing effective ways to solicit feedback, Rosenbury hopes to lead the campus forward.

Image via Bwog Archives