For Barnard students, feminism has many different meanings.
And on Thursday, at the Student Government Association’s first town hall meeting of the semester, more than 60 students, professors, and staff from Well Woman had the opportunity to share their personal definitions and explain how feminism informed their experiences at Barnard.
SGA is focusing on the topic of feminism this year—the first town hall is usually dedicated to a discussion of Barnard’s funds—as part of an effort across the college to engage in more discussions about feminism.
SGA members said they wanted to provide a space for students to discuss the issues in Barnard President Debora Spar’s recent book “Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection,” including defying gender stereotypes and balancing careers with personal life.
“We could do anything we wanted with the town hall meeting, but feminism is a foundation of Barnard, and we really need to talk about it,” SGA President Maddy Popkin, BC ’14, said.
Women’s studies professor Janet Jakobsen, the director of Barnard’s Center for Research on Women, opened the event with a history of feminism and how it pertains to Barnard students today.
“It’s difference that defines feminism,” Jakobsen said. “There have always been multiple forms of feminism at the same time.”
“The big question is what do they mean and how should they coexist,” she added, emphasizing that factors including race, socioeconomic divisions, and disabilities affect women’s personal feminist identities.
After Jakobsen spoke, students in attendance broke off into small groups to discuss their personal definition of feminism and their paths to establishing their individual views.
“My Barnard experience has very little to do with feminism,” Renee Kraiem, BC ’14and SGA’s vice president for communications, said. “I live a Columbia-centric life, but doing things at Columbia has amplified my feminism because when I’m at Columbia, I identify as a Barnard student.”
“My life is the opposite,” Sophie Ellman-Golan, BC ’14, said in response. “Feminism is a crucial part of our lives.”
“It’s how the world sees us,” Ellman-Golan added.
As for Spar’s book, which also was a topic of small-group discussions, students had mixed opinions on its content.
“Not all women are lawyers,” Stephanie Fernandez, BC ’14, said. “Some women aren’t mentioned in her book.”
“She didn’t emphasize that this was her experience,” Fernandez said. “As a Latina, it wasn’t mine.”
Jo Chang, BC ’15, said that Spar’s book contributed a unique perspective to the feminist discussion.
“I’m here to talk about multiple feminisms,” Chang said. “President Spar’s is definitely one of them.”
Students in attendance thought that the issue was an especially important one to discuss—and certainly relevant to their education at an all-women’s college.
“I enjoyed the emphasis on plural feminisms,” Maya Glover, BC ’17, said. “It accommodates for the intersections we experience that don’t always get talked about.”
“This is the first formal discussion on feminism that I’ve been to,” Helen Cane, BC ’17, said. “I hope there are more, and the conversation continues.”
As for SGA members, they hope to continue discussions on feminism throughout the semester—including at Spar’s next fireside chat on Oct. 14 that will focus on the multiple feminisms that exist on Barnard’s campus.
“We hope that this meeting starts a broader discussion,” Kraiem said. “The fireside chat in November will be a continuation of this, making types of feminism a theme for the semester.”