She preserved the "American way" by mobilizing people to uphold values like equal rights and freedom of speech. She testified before the Supreme Court in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, helping to protect a woman's legal right to reproductive choice. Now, civil rights attorney Kathryn Kolbert, previously president of People for the American Way, aims to use her experiences to strengthen students' leadership skills as director of Barnard's Athena Center, the newly revamped Barnard Leadership Initiative. "I've been long interested in women's leadership, both because I was very much a part of the national women's movement and worked for a great number of years to improve the status of women through that work," Kolbert said. "I've always been interested in how we can change society and what women can contribute." In April, Barnard President Debora Spar circulated a proposal to modify BLI, an interdisciplinary program that joins curricular and co-curricular opportunities to give women leadership skills. The program was overseen by the faculty committee for the BLI, with economics professor Alan Dye as director then. Spar's proposal suggested offering courses emphasizing different components of women's leadership, an extracurricular component with diverse internships, and a capstone seminar taught by the director. Kolbert has both classroom and courtroom experience—she has lectured at many universities and oversaw a program on law and American life at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center. She produced an award-winning program for National Public Radio and co-founded and served as vice president of the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, where she oversaw domestic court cases and public policy programs. Kolbert has also served as the state coordinating counsel of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project in New York and as a staff attorney with the Women's Law Project and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. Known to many as "Kitty," Kolbert learned of the Barnard position through a New York Times advertisement. A search committee comprising faculty and students was recruited to select a candidate from over 80 applicants to direct the Athena Center. "We had a team of students, both from SGA and the community, interview a number of candidates, and Professor Kolbert was an extremely good candidate," Katie Palillo, BC '10 and Student Government Association president, said. According to Spar, the committee had to ensure "it was someone who not only had great commitment and intelligence but someone who had a real track record of getting things done." Amy Chen, BC '10 and SGA vice president for student activities, and Giselle Leon, BC '10 and vice president for communications, who sat on the committee, sought a candidate who was both compatible with students and invested in the mission of the program. "We were definitely looking for someone who shows experience in leadership, passion for working with students, someone who understands the Barnard community, to develop what resources are already available on campus," Chen said. "I was looking for someone who was accessible to students—not just students [who are] part of BLI and Athena, [but] people who are interested in the mission," Leon said. Kolbert said she saw the position as an opportunity to push Barnard women to aggressively pursue reform. "I had an opportunity to be a contributing member to that movement, and I feel very strongly that students in our schools across the country need to step up and take a strong role in making change," Kolbert said. "The Athena Center has an opportunity to become the premier center on leadership in the country." As part of her role, Kolbert will teach a senior seminar in the spring. APPENDED: An earlier version of this article misstated Amy Chen's position as SGA's Vice President for Student Affairs. Rather, she is Vice President for Student Activities. Spectator regrets the error.
Columbia Spectator Staff