Welcome to Columbia University—whatever that means. As an undergraduate here, you are a citizen of both a college and the University—much like many of us are dually loyal to a state and to the United States. Except instead of 50 states, Columbia has four undergraduate schools: Columbia College, Barnard College, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the School of General Studies. In the same way you forge your identity as, say, a Texan and an American, at Columbia you will learn to strike a balance between emphasizing your ties to your undergraduate school and to the University. Maybe this will make you feel funny. Or maybe you won't think about it at all. I am a student at Columbia University, and also at Barnard. Dual citizenship at Columbia is perhaps most problematic for Barnard students. If CC, SEAS, and GS are states in the nation of Columbia, Barnard is a bit like Puerto Rico. The college is officially an affiliate school, a somewhat murky technical distinction. It's also located off the mainland (okay, slightly off the mainland). The relationship between the colleges is often convoluted and rarely articulated. It's the backdrop to most interactions you'll have over the next four years—from working with your peers in class, to participating in student groups, to enjoying lazy afternoons on Low's steps—yet it is hardly discussed. And after three years of reporting on this campus, I'm not convinced I understand it myself. Beyond the gates, the discrete territories blur. The confusion isn't helped by thirdparty entities like Facebook, where all Barnard students belong to the Columbia network. Barnard students also receive e-mail addresses at both Barnard.edu and Columbia.edu. Barnard students come prepared to face the confusion, because the school uses Columbia as a selling point. But across Broadway, undergraduates are often confounded by their all-female counterparts. CC campus tours have you believe that the College experience is wholly contained within its borders. (When I visited, the guide did not mention Barnard once.) If a Missourian and a Vermonter meet in Zanzibar, they'll find common ground in their American heritage. Half a world away, what state you're from doesn't count for much. The United Colleges of Columbia have their own identities, but students often say they don't feel like they're in separate schools at all and that the differences—Barnard's status as an affiliate, independent endowment, administration, and trustees—are little more pronounced than those between states. Each college's offerings overlap in most areas, but the borders between schools are not perfectly fluid. Barnardians need to present their IDs like passports to be signed into Columbia dorms, and vice versa. The College has the rigorous Core, and Barnard students complete the slightly less structured Nine Ways of Knowing—a difference that trips up professors of seminars with mixed enrollment. Here's what it boils down to: despite these structural differences, I'd bet Alma Mater's scepter you won't be able to tell your classmates apart. I've eluded many.
Columbia Spectator Staff