The strict policies and bureaucratic mire of club funding processes give rise to significant inequities between Columbia and Barnard student organizations, often forcing clubs—many of which seek to have members from both schools—to choose between inclusivity and funding opportunities.
Since 2013, clubs have not been allowed to be dual—recognized by both Columbia and Barnard. Students hoping to start a new club must choose to be funded by either Columbia’s Student Governing Board, the Activities Board at Columbia, or the Governing Board at Barnard. However, to receive funding from ABC, clubs are prohibited from having their membership exceed more than one-third Barnard students.
Funds for student organizations come from student activities fees, paid by each student as part of their tuition to Columbia or Barnard. These fees are collected by each undergraduate student council, who contribute set amounts to the total student activities fees “pot.” In 2018, Barnard’s Student Government Association provided $190,000 in student activities fees, while the Columbia College Student Council contributed $523,716.
During the annual Funding at Columbia University (F@CU) event, the total pot—over $1 million—is divided among the University’s five major governings boards, which include SGB, ABC, and GBB. When the allocations for governing boards for the 2018-2019 academic year were decided upon last spring, GBB received only $77,482 while Columbia’s two governing boards, SGB and ABC, received $624,615.83 combined—a total of eight times more funding for clubs at Columbia versus Barnard.
Though Barnard’s Student Government Association contributes 19 percent to the total student activities fees pot, GBB receives less than eight percent of the total reallocated funds. Additionally, more established clubs receive more funding, a fact that further alienates organizations at Barnard, since GBB itself was only established in 2013.
Given these funding discrepancies, Barnard students starting new clubs tend to choose to become recognized under SGB or ABC, as opposed to GBB. However, this requires that clubs without any specific affiliation to either Barnard or Columbia scrutinize the composition of their membership. In order to be recognized by ABC, clubs must place a cap on the number of Barnard students admitted—pitting the inclusivity of a student organization against its financial needs.
The two-thirds rule particularly impacts clubs who aim to have all female-identifying members, who fear for lack of funding due to proportions of students from Barnard.
“I personally feel like this is incentivizing us to exclude Barnard students from our groups,” Keziah Anderson, CC ’20 and co-founder of Columbia University Women of Color Pre-Law Society, said. “That policy makes no sense for this community. When you’re in class you can’t really tell who’s Barnard and who’s Columbia, and I feel like this incentivizes us to exclude people.”
Barnard has a rule comparable to ABC’s two-thirds rule—in order to become recognized by GBB, a student group’s membership must be at least 50 percent Barnard students. However, groups also provide supplementary funding opportunities, including the JCC Co-Sponsorship, the GBB Co-Sponsorship, and the Capital Investment Fund.
Safia Lakhani, BC ’19 and president of Barnard’s GBB, said that the cessation of dual recognition didn’t create a divide between Barnard and Columbia’s student life communities. However, Lakhani qualified that Barnard clubs did receive less funding than Columbia’s recognized clubs overall.
“GBB as a whole gets a smaller allocation, but that’s because as a governing board we’re much younger,” Lakhani said. “Our clubs are much smaller as well, and we give smaller allocations because of that. Not because we want to, but because we are new and our clubs are new.”
Dual recognition originally ended in 2013 when the president-elect of ABC at the time, Saketh Kalathur, CC ’13, presented his case in front of SGA, claiming it was “unfair” that the funding for Barnard clubs was coming from CC, SEAS, and GS student activities fees.
For Anderson and Nicole Leon, CC ’20, who are in the process of obtaining funding for their group, Columbia University Women of Color Pre-Law Society, this policy has raised concerns about who to include on the club’s board and general body. The club aims to create space for undergraduate women of color to build community and access resources for starting a career in law—a field where in 2017 only 0.66% of partners in US law firms were Black/African-American women, and only 0.73% were Hispanic-American women.
Because their club focuses on female-identifying students, a large number of members on the board and in their general body are Barnard students. But according to Anderson and Leon, they would rather not become recognized by GBB, because ABC is known to give far more funding.
“Especially because we’re specifically a women’s group, we shouldn’t have to exclude people,” Leon said. “We’ve really been trying to make sure that our group is open to both colleges, so even after we graduate there will be one person on our board from each college making sure that the events are accessible.”
All three governing boards also require that an unrecognized club be active for two semesters without any support or funding, making it especially hard for low-income students to start clubs. When GBB recognizes a club, for its first year the latter only receives a total of $100 for the entire year, whereas ABC clubs receive $300 in their first year.
MANSA, or the Muslim Afro Niyyah Students Association, is a currently unrecognized group that aims to create a space for black and Muslim-identifying students to build community and foster intersectional discussions. Maymouna Sissoko, BC ’19, said that MANSA is also choosing to become recognized under SGB—a Columbia governing board reserved for clubs that have activist, religious, or spiritual themes—rather than GBB.
For Sissoko, who also identifies as a low-income student, planning events without the initial funding for the first two months meant that MANSA had to scramble to even have food at its events.
“As a low-income student, it’s like ‘Oh I have extra bananas in my room, do you have plates or knives,’ or ‘Can you go to this event and steal their pizza that they don’t use,’” Sissoko said. “It’s very annoying because it feels like you’re trying to finesse a system that wasn’t built for you to succeed in the first place.”
According to Sissoko, she felt forced to pursue club funding at Columbia because she knew they would provide more funding than GBB, even though she is more familiar with administrators at Barnard.
“I wanted to be at Barnard because I know the administration better and I know that they are more understanding about intersectionality,” Sissoko said. “But SGB gives more funding, they’re much more flexible about advertising, you can book more spaces.”
Due to Barnard students’ relative unfamiliarity with the Columbia administration, Sissoko added that the monetary incentive to start clubs at Columbia also hinders students from obtaining the organizational support needed to plan events, obtain resources, and get projects off the ground.
Co-sponsorship is a commonly used funding opportunity for unrecognized clubs, since it allows for recognized clubs to support unrecognized clubs with their governing board. For example, MANSA’s events are usually co-sponsored by other student groups. However, these kinds of opportunities can often be contingent on friendships between leaders of different student groups. For students who don’t have these kinds of connections, there are few other ways of getting funding for club events other than out-of-pocket spending.
“If we have an event and we want to incentivize people to come, food is a great incentive, but all the students on our board are low-income. We cannot pay out of pocket, and we have lots of obligations as low-income students. I have a job—we literally just don’t have the time. We don’t have the funds or the connections to have the co-sponsorships that we need,” Leon said.
However, Sissoko added that the level of bureaucracy during the club recognition process seems to be a particularly intense for Barnard students, preventing undergraduates from building community across both campuses.
“I feel as thought if students have to fight for something to increase the happiness of other students, then the [club] administration is failing, because that's not the student body’s job,” Sissoko said. “[Their] job is to help students to procure an education in the healthiest way possible—not only physically and mentally, but also spiritually and emotionally.”