News | Student Life

Students, admins speak out against sexist comments after Obama news

Administrators and students spoke out against the hateful online comments exchanged between Columbia College and Barnard students on Tuesday, with over 1,500 students joining a Facebook group uniting against the animosity as of early Wednesday morning.

After the announcement that President Barack Obama, CC ’83, would be speaking at Barnard’s commencement, some CC students took to Spectator and Bwog to criticize their peers across the street. While their initial complaints were directed at Obama for coming to Morningside Heights but not speaking at his alma mater, their anger led to many misogynistic comments challenging Barnard students’ intellect.

Barnard President Debora Spar and University President Lee Bollinger issued a joint statement Tuesday emphasizing that the nature of the comments was not representative of Columbia students.

“We understand that, for some, there’s an entirely natural disappointment that today finds a convenient outlet in online comments, but we join in the sentiments expressed by so many of our wise and thoughtful students that disrespectful comments are not representative of our community,” Bollinger and Spar said. “Our collective undergraduate student body takes justifiable pride in the uniqueness of their individual schools even as they share so many of their collegiate experiences.”

In a statement, Columbia College Interim Dean James Valentini, said that he can "only reaffirm what President Bollinger and President Spar have said," and that, "We are all excited that Barack Obama ... will return to campus to deliver a 2012 commencement address."

"As Dean of Columbia College, I can sympathize with College students who are disappointed that it is not their Class Day at which the President will speak, but we are after all, all part of one University, and can all share in this event," he said.

Dean of Community Development and Multicultural Affairs Terry Martinez called the comments “sour grapes chatter” on her Twitter on Tuesday and urged Columbia students to “be happy for your friends and neighbors and just chill.”

The Columbia College Student Council released a statement early Wednesday morning denouncing the comments. “We are outraged by the comments made by members of all associations and are embarrassed by our peers who hide behind a computer and use the internet as a forum for malicious comments,” the statement read. “We are all members of the same university community.”

A statement from Barnard’s Student Government Association was not available by press time.

Many students took further activism to the Internet on Tuesday night. Caroline Kim, BC ’13, created a Change.org petition on Tuesday condemning the sexist comments that had been posted on the original articles. It had over 700 signatures early Wednesday morning.

“These blatant demonstrations of sexism and misogyny are unacceptable and point to the undeniable importance of bringing women’s issues to the forefront of the national debate and the Barnard-Columbia community,” Kim wrote on the petition’s description.

Studying abroad in London, Kim said in an email that she was happy with the reaction the petition had received so far.

“I created this petition without any expectation or goal in terms of signatures, but I’m really happy with how many people—men, women, students, family members, and alumni—have taken the minute or so of their time to support this cause,” she said. “But it’s the onus of the students on campus to make noise and demand attention to this issue.”

National media outlets have certainly brought attention to the issue. A New York Times article about the tension expressed in the comments ran lead in Tuesday’s Metro section, and the blog Jezebel wrote a lengthy post highlighting some of the nastiest comments.

Spar told the Times on Monday that the comments were probably the product of “19-year-olds writing at 4:30 in the morning,” and Bollinger said that, while the comments “reflect the views of hardly more than just a few people,” feelings of disappointment from CC students were “completely understandable.”

Kim said she felt that Spar just “shrugged off the matter” in her comments to the New York Times on Monday and that Bollinger only attempted to justify the comments.

“It may not look good in the short-run for either college presidents to formally acknowledge that these issues of sexism exist, but with all this media coverage, people are very aware of them now, and they certainly aren’t not going to just go away if they continue to brush them off,” Kim said. “I’ve been really disappointed in how President Spar and President Bollinger have handled the situation so far.”

Leah Greenbaum, CC ’12 and a former Spectator news editor, created a Facebook group calling for “students from CC, GS, SEAS, BC, JTS, etc. to take a stand against the anonymous mud-slinging.” It had over 1,500 members by early Wednesday morning.

“We wanted to create a group because we really had faith in this community that people would come forward and talk about how much they love and respect our peers at all of our schools,” Greenbaum said.

Derek Turner, CC ’12 and a Spectator columnist, came up with the idea for the group with Greenbaum. He said he respected the administration but wanted to promote a more positive attitude among students.

“What the Facebook group represents is collaboration and interaction on a purely student level, so there’s more understanding, more personal connection, more friendships being made,” Turner said. “The hate we see on Bwog is not due to a lack of administrative interaction but of real student connection.”

The fact that every comment made in the group is attached to a real person—unlike the vast majority of anonymous comments made on the Spectator and Bwog articles—was crucial, Turner said.

Students said on Tuesday night they were hopeful to see more come of the petition.

Kassy Lee, CC ’13, said “flash-in-the-pan” petitions are not worthwhile unless they lead to concrete institutional change. Heben Nigatu, CC ’13, agreed with Lee, although she appreciated the petition’s sentiment.

“It’s hard to change campus culture with a petition, but it does mean a lot that in one night 1,300 people have seen this and are feeling the same way that I’m feeling,” Nigatu said.

Felicia Bishop, CC ’12, was also disappointed with Bollinger’s response and said she expected him to “step up after a few days and say this is an embarrassment.”

“There is a time and place where you act like a president, and you do stuff to lead your campus,” Bishop said. “This is not leadership. This is a weird masking and obscuring of things that are going on.”

Uchechi Iteogu, CC ’15, commented on the original Spectator story announcing that Obama would be speaking at Barnard, writing, “My issue with Barnard students is their ‘Suck it, Columbia!’ attitude whenever something awesome happens for them. It’s pathetic.”

Iteogu said in an email that she realized her original reaction was “unnecessarily aggressive” and believes that these kinds of “intense reactions” reflect poorly on Columbia’s students. She thinks Bollinger should host a forum explaining the Barnard-Columbia relationship and explain his views on the situation.

Bollinger and Spar emphasized the unity of the Columbia community at the end of their statement.

“The larger point here, one we are confident will define the Columbia community’s view of the President’s return to Morningside Heights, is that the first Columbia graduate elected President of the United States will be addressing not only Barnard’s graduates, but the entire nation, from our campus,” Bollinger and Spar said. “That is something that every part of the university can and should celebrate.”

ben.gittelson@columbiaspectator.com

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Columbia College Interim Dean James Valentini declined to comment. Spectator regrets the error.

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cure posted on

I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death. See the link below for more info.

cure @
www.inspgift.com

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Anonymous posted on

Everyone listen closely. Take this advice with you wherever you go, especially anonymous online forums:

Don't. Feed. The. Trolls.

Behold, the ultra-rare occasion where 4-chan frequenters actually have a superior perspective. Trolls exist to instigate animosity and force you to expend time and energy attacking an invisible bogeyman. Someone is getting an enormous rise out of this, and Barnard students are playing right into their game. Meanwhile, students on both sides of Broadway are telegraphing their insecurities and besmirching their respective schools' reputations. The only way to deal with trolls is to ignore them.

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Anonymous posted on

So what were the sexist comments?

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Anonymous posted on

they're not worth reposting.  they were horrible, mean, offensive and degrading not only to barnard women but to all the women at this school.  it's time to move on.  the people who want to build community and live and interact in one cohesive unit far outweigh those who feel the need to bully their peers.  let's all be grateful that we attend this amazing school and move forward. 

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Anonymous posted on

Anonymous troll, possibly CC:

"blah blah Barnard students are cum dumpsters"

"why don't you stay in the kitchenderp"

"go make me a sandwich bichhh"

Barnard reaction:

"These comments reflect the outrageous misogyny of CC students and their participation in a hateful, sex-negative rape culture steeped in patriarchal apologia that...."

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Anonymous posted on

“The hate we see on Bwog is not due to a lack of administrative interaction but of real student connection.”
While I agree to some degree, there needs to be some administrative intervention. Bollinger NEVER attends town halls, where students express their frustrations of feeling UNSAFE on this campus! Your Fireside Chats are useless. It would be great if you made yourself less accessible to alumni/donors and more accessible to your students. 

The responses to Obama's decision to speak at Barnard are not "completely understandable." Like many current CU students, Obama DID NOT feel supported by this institution while enrolled.  He is NOT obligated to do this school any favors. If Bollinger continues to ignore the needs of his students, there will be plenty of other future rejections. 

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Anonymous posted on

I totally agree. Given that speaking at Barnard is far more politically savvy than speaking at Columbia, I think it's silly to read too much into whether he actually meant it as an insult. No matter what, I seriously doubt that he meant it to have the effect it did. The thing is, though, that when I first read the announcement, I thought: "If by some chance I ever get famous, I'll do something similar." I have no love for Columbia as an institution. It barely cares about it's students' well-being; it's much more interested in building and selling an image. I love many of my peers and professors, I've experienced wonderful things here, I've learned an immense amount, but every day the vicious bureaucracy of this school makes me feel worse. I can completely understand why Obama doesn't want to speak here because if I were in his shoes, I wouldn't want to speak here either—I'd feel like a worthless, grubby institution that didn't care a lick for me when I was giving them tuition had changed its mind just to mooch off of my success.

Now, I'm grateful for a lot of stuff at Columbia. As an institution, it does a lot to prepare students professionally and academically. This only makes it more disappointing, though, that its student body is so profoundly alienated—clearly it has the resources to make it better. I'd like to see the administration start putting that right beside academic rigor and alumni-buttering in its list of priorities. 

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Anonymous posted on

trace the people who made these kinds of insulting online comments, and put them on probation. While we are at it - try to instill some civility in the posters - don't know how we can do this - so that the minimize the nasty remarks about GS and athletics.

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Anonymous posted on

 The spec is sexist!  Why are there more men in positions of power in the spec (if you ignore token females they put in just for show.  The spec is more sexist than the Daily Show!! Who has the scoop?  Who has the scoop?  Who has the cold, hard, facts?  Not the spec, not the bwog.

only (ONLY!)  specsucks.wordpress.com

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Anonymous posted on

Cool, isn't that the blog written by disgraced former president of CUCR, William Prasifka? I heard it's really good.

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Anonymous posted on

while they comments 

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Anonymous posted on

It is frank. Obama did not like his time at Columbia so he chose not to speak at low. I remember he said his life at Columbia was like "a monk".
It is Columbia College's fault that the school did not provide good study experience to the president

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Anonymous posted on

OFFICIAL SGA STATEMENT ON PRESIDENT OBAMA'S VISIT
As the Representatives of the Barnard College student body, we are honored to welcome President Obama as the Class of 2012's Commencement speaker.  This is a truly defining moment in the history of the College, and we feel privileged to be students here at this exciting time. 
We are extremely disappointed and embarrassed by the disturbing reaction of some of our counterparts throughout the University.  We are deeply hurt and horrified to have been met with an overwhelming wave of hate speech from our peers.
The disappointment that the President will not be speaking at their commencement ceremony is understandable. Regardless of this disappointment, the misogynistic comments that have bombarded the Internet are unacceptable, degrading, and offensive, not only to Barnard women, but to women everywhere.
We firmly believe in the importance of women's colleges, and take immense pride in our outstanding education.  At Barnard College, we are proud members of a community of bright, globally-minded, ambitious women. We look forward to working with our administration and all students across the University to combat this hatred moving forward, and, as always, to representing the voices of our student body. 
The Barnard College Student Government AssociationMarch 7, 2012

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distantdrummer posted on

You are learning well how to "kiss-up and get in line". There is no telling you that the back of the bus is where you belong, unless a man  wants your seat. You set the women's movement back at least 50 years.  I know that your are in awe of the man, but think about those women and children that were killed in their homes in Afghanistan this past weekend. This war and the Iraq war have cost the lives of uncountable innocent women. I know that your course load and the sanitized news media does not afford you much information to make a valued judgement of the President. Mr. Obama has said that he intends to keep the war going until 2014 even though we are loosing. This is so often demonstrated in business, that those in decision making capacity are not to be questioned. And so those who are mere mortals, don't question authority. You may have the honor of having a president and a future  war criminal as the speaker for 2012. That would beat Richard Nixon. 

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achillesserpent posted on

wow. crying, whining, and poor me. what a wonderful world you must live in if this is a big deal; if some online chatter and posts; like those we encounter on youtube and other websites on the internet, hurts your feelings. Run to mommy and daddy like your 7 years old. Please do a public service , be a ciitzen, and jump off the GW bridge.

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Anonymous posted on

You don't go to Columbia.

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achillesserpent posted on

You are correct.

Is this where I offer you a treat? or let you go outside? or give you you`re favorite chew toy?

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Swat69 posted on

Obama could have chosen Bryn Mawr.  Maybe he should have:  it's in Philadelphia, in a swing state (unlike New York), and a presidential visit to Philly would aid in all-important get-out-the-vote efforts.  Philly would feel patted on the back by a president recognizing that city's many distinguished academic institutions (Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Swarthmore, UPenn, etc.). 

In fact, Democratic presidents usually make a point of giving a speech at UPenn for all the above-mentioned reasons, and almost never visit Cornell, for example.  Cornellians should not feel slighted by such an obviously political decision, and they don't.  They recognize that Ithaca will go Democratic anyway, and unlike Philadelphia doesn't have a lot of votes.

The decision to go to Barnard instead probably reflected Obama's time in Morningside Heights, and an appreciation of it.

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Anonymous posted on

There's a buzz going around that those comments were made by feminist activists to raise awareness on campus. Whether it is true or not, as a male Columbia student, I want to emphasize that I for one love Barnard and think nothing less of them. 

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distantdrummer posted on

Maybe the real issue is that the example of Barnard is that the feminist fight for freedom and equality is dead.Originally, the school had schedule Jill Abramson, the executive editor of the New York Times, to be the graduation speaker. She was bumped when Obama called and said that he wanted to speak. The Barnard administration has given the students an important example, "When men call, you jump". The school capitulated in classic style. Consider the impact that this will have on those graduating and how it shows "a women's place" in this man's world. The school administration thinks that they will  capitalize on having President Obama speak. "Please allow me to intro introduce myself...Please to meet you.Hope you guess my game" (Rolling Stones) . This only shows the narrowness of there insight and leadership. Consider if the school had taken the commendable route of simply saying to Mr. Obama, "We are sorry, but we already have someone scheduled to speak, but we thank you for your call". That would of been the call heard around the world! You could not imagine the mountain of positive press that would of generated. What a power move that could of been. Think of the empowerment that action could instill in the graduating class. They could of held their heads up proud and said, " we don't jump when men call!" And anywhere that Obama would then try to speak would be the looser. The respect that Barnard would attract from around the world would be legend. You could not give a more empowering graduation message to the graduating class and women everywhere who are part of the struggle.There is still time for the students of Barnard to correct this error. And being honored in this way, possibly, Ms. Abramson would agree to speak.  Beggars can't be choosers. Choosers are not beggars. 

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achillesserpent posted on

Are you guys seriously telling me that you guys complained to university administrators about something written on the Internet?????

How did that conversation go? "Good morning Dr.X, I went on the Internet yesterday and saw something I didn't like. My feelings are hurt. What is the administration at CC going to do to resolve this imminent threat to campus culture (while also prioritizing and balancing the workload required to critically care for the pain and suffering I've sustained from this horrific, barbaric, heinous and outrageous Acts. By the way, I could not complete my essay on the lack of culinary and ethnic diversity available in vending machines because I was too busy organizing a protest in support of the campus student organization "tp". We are looking to engage a dialogue with university officials and administrators about their hypocritical attitudes and business practices regarding their recent purchase of one one hundredth ply toilet paper made out of a disappointing 95% re recycled-90% recycled paper rather than the more "green" options available. If the university takes sustainability Seriously they will begin the campus initiative of removing all toilet paper from campus buildings in an effort to set an example about our commitment to preserving natural resources and sustainability. It's led by Damian-- an albino hermaphrodite turned trans-gendered transsexual gay-lesbian-confused former orthodox judeo- Christian mormon turned contemporary African Buddhist Islamic mormon that suffers from a rare autistic spectrum disorder: a down syndrome autistic diabetic hypochondriac hybrid condition.

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Anonymous posted on

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