The latest security development on Barnard’s campus has raised questions about the transparency of Barnard’s administration. A plaque on the southern column of Barnard’s gates states that BC/CU IDs are required for entry, although the policy has not always been enforced. Students are now required to show their ID when they enter campus between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. This decision, like others, prompts students to question the role Barnard’s Student Government Association plays in decision-making.
As last year’s vice president of the SGA, I was personally involved in discussions that allowed me to contribute my opinion as a student. However, many unpopular decisions by the Barnard administration were made without consultation with the SGA or any students. In this particular case, we find a replicable model for collaboration among administrators and students. The importance of this security decision is not in the substance of the decision itself, but rather in the honest attempt to gauge students’ potential reactions and justify changes to our campus experience.
Last spring, Diana Pennetti, Barnard director of public safety, requested a meeting with the SGA executive board to discuss how security concerns had prompted a need for an evaluation. Accompanied by chief operating officer Brown, Dean Hinkson, and associate dean Nuñez, Pennetti suggested that BC/CU IDs be required to enter the Barnard campus after 11 p.m. This was a rare opportunity for us to weigh in on an administrators’ ideas prior to implementation. Pennetti explained that a variety of non-Columbia affiliated persons were being found on campus after hours. One incident involved a man who said he was going to be signed into the Quad, but was later found loitering, apparently uninvited. Pennetti’s presentation to the executive board was compelling and straightforward, so we accepted her reasoning.
Pennetti’s initiative to garner student feedback on a proposal prior to making a decision is unique, and was a step in the right direction. In the three years that I’ve been at Barnard, it appears as if frustrating administrative decisions were largely made without student input. When students expressed their discontent for the decision-making process to SGA and the administrators, I was perplexed to see decision-makers often disregarding such complaints and defending their decisions without much justification.
The SGA advocates for cooperation and participation in decision-making because everyone affected or involved wants to know that they are heard and understood. If representatives and administrators are willing to engage with students in the way we did with Pennetti—by informing others of ideas and considerations and adjusting to one another’s needs and concerns—I know that Barnard would operate like a well-oiled machine. However, that isn’t how it works yet.
When dealing with the immediate and long-term needs of the college, including student input is not only necessary, but extremely valuable. Barnard’s mission is to cultivate self-possessed leaders who consider the needs of the people they lead. The best way to nurture such women is to offer opportunities for critical thinking and problem-solving on this very campus, in our immediate environment. The words transparency and inclusion do nothing for us unless we are willing to act on them. Not every decision will be popular, and it isn’t a secret that the road ahead is not rosy. If we work in tandem throughout the process, I imagine these difficulties will be easier to comprehend and accept.
SGA members serve as leaders of the student body to communicate with administrators about what is important to us, but we are not the only students charged with this responsibility. Likewise, the administration must uphold their responsibility to communicate with us. It is imperative that, seeing as we all have a stake in this college’s future, we all take appropriate steps to identify and ameliorate issues: delineate the timing, contributing factors, and potential consequences of a variety of options, consider the input of relevant parties whether positive or negative, and incorporate new ideas based on discussions. Rinse and repeat. A cooperative effort, whether it is for safety, finances, or fun, is a responsibility that belongs to all of us.
The author is a Barnard College senior majoring in urban studies. She is former vice president of the Student Governing Association and an Athena Scholar.
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