Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Meanwhile in Morningside Heights

So, Barnard and Columbia students are apparently at war with President Obama's decision to deliver a commencement speech at Barnard rather than Columbia. Time to weigh in. (Not literally, I'm a heavyweight).

  • There's no excuse for the kind of commentary that has come from some of the Columbia students, and I'm disappointed that neither Barnard President Debora L. Spar or Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger have the guts to call them out on it. For some of the extreme comments, check out this Jezebel article. It should be noted that I find the term "feminazi" to be highly objectionable. In fact, I don't understand why the term "Nazi" is thrown around so casually in so many areas ("Grammar Nazi" etc.). Nothing about Nazism was funny. It was a terrible, terrible part of history.
  • Obama's motives for this choice are interesting. If the New York Times article is correct on the fact that Obama has generally been unenthusiastic about his time at Columbia, then this does seem to be a jab at his alma mater. The decision to speak at a women's college is also obviously an attempt to appeal to women voters, but the choice of Barnard specifically can't be ignored. After all, if it was simply about promoting women's rights, why Barnard specifically? It's certainly a great school, but what about it makes it more worthwhile of his time than Wellesley, Smith, or Mt. Holyoke?
  • Barnard and Columbia have a unique relationship as far as I can tell; I can't think of any other schools where the women's college is "independent" but also gets this kind of access. If you're looking at the women's college experience (which I never was), this would seem to offer you a great opportunity to have the women's college community while still taking classes and pursuing opportunities at a coed Ivy League university. (It's worth noting that Barnard athletes compete for Columbia sports teams.) That being said, many Columbia students are clearly of the opinion that the two are unequal partners, that Barnard students are undeserving of the access they have to Columbia activities and the Columbia name on the diploma. This incident seems to reflect a fairly tense relationship between the schools though this of course could be overstated by the few extremely obnoxious students that are present at every school (unfortunately). Based on these incidents, if I were interested in a women's college (I never was) but also wanted to experience a coed school, I might be more inclined to head to Smith or Mt. Holyoke, where I could be part of an all women's community but still take classes at coed Amherst or UMASS. New York City might have something to do with your interest in Barnard or Columbia, and they don't have that at Smith. And I do know of people who have had great experiences at Barnard and don't mean to knock it as a school. But it is an imperfect relationship.
  • That being said, I highly doubt having Barnard students in Columbia classes is that large an impediment to learning. I know there have been concerns in the past over Barnard not agreeing to contribute to funding of clubs and Columbia students proceeding to kick Barnard students out of said clubs. That's an issue, to be sure. But I would need to see hard data to believe that Barnard students prevented Columbia students from learning course material.
  • And the lesson is, as it almost always is: people should treat others with respect. Life will work much better that way.

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