Lawyer, journalist, and media innovator Umbreen Bhatti, BC ’00, will serve as the new Constance Hess Williams ’66 director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies starting next fall, Barnard President Sian Beilock announced in an email to the student body on Thursday.
Founded in 2009 by director Kathryn Kolbert and former president Deborah Spar, the Athena Center oversees the Athena Scholars Program, a program offered to Barnard students that involves courses on leadership and gender, and provides special programming and networking events. After Kolbert’s departure, Victoria Gordon, former chief of staff for the Athena Center, served as interim director of the center during the year-and-a-half long search.
Under Spar, the Athena Center came under significant criticism for having too narrow of a focus, with students citing that its opportunities and curriculum centered largely on careers in corporate fields while lacking support for those in STEM fields. In an executive report commissioned by Beilock and Provost Linda Bell in 2018, the mission of the Athena Center was described as “linked to white corporate feminism.”
According to Beilock’s email, the search for a new director was significantly guided by these criticisms and involved feedback from the campus community at large. The email also stated that Bhatti, in her new role, will continue to work with faculty, students, staff, and alumni to build the center’s current program while ideating future steps and developing the trajectory of its programming.
Bhatti graduated cum laude from Barnard College with a major in political science. She then attended the University of Michigan Law School, and co-founded islawmix, a social media platform for providing nuance and commentary on the depiction of Islam in news outlets.
Bhatti was also a John S. Knight fellow at Stanford University in 2014, a 10-month long journalism fellowship. Immediately prior to being named as the new Constance Hess Williams ’66 director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies, Bhatti worked as the director of KQED’s innovation lab, the Bay Area’s NPR and PBS station.
“Umbreen joins the Athena Center following … a campus-wide reflection process that included a semester-long series of listening sessions,” Beilock’s email read. “Your insights served as a crucial source of guidance during our search for a new director. We are pleased that Umbreen is taking on this important role at Barnard, as we work collectively to further the Athena Center’s progress.”
Read the full email below.
Dear Members of the Barnard Community,
We are delighted to announce that Umbreen Bhatti ’00 has joined Barnard as the Constance Hess Williams ’66 Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies. Umbreen brings a fresh perspective and considerable expertise to the Athena Center, with a focus on helping our students develop the skills they need to address today’s opportunities and challenges in creative and original ways.
Umbreen graduated cum laude in political science from Barnard in 2000 and earned her J.D. in 2005 from the University of Michigan Law School. She returns to the College with a wealth of experience—as an innovator in media, a civil rights lawyer, a mentor to students, the co-founder of a nonprofit, a journalism fellow, and a consultant. Most recently, Umbreen served as director of the innovation lab at KQED, the Bay Area’s NPR and PBS station. In 2016, she became the lab’s first full-time employee and steadily grew it from an experimental start-up to an essential operation by working closely with KQED’s journalists, technologists, and membership and development teams to spark new ideas and launch programs that serve an informed and diverse audience.
Umbreen joins the Athena Center following the retirement of Kathryn Kolbert, the Center's Founding Director, and a campuswide reflection process that included a semester-long series of listening sessions with students, faculty, alumnae, and staff. Your insights served as a crucial source of guidance during our search for a new Director. We are pleased that Umbreen is taking on this important role at Barnard, as we work collectively to further the Athena Center’s progress.
Over the next several months, Umbreen will work closely with faculty, students, staff, and alumnae to build on the Athena Center’s current programs while envisioning next steps designed to continue empowering our students with the skills needed to make their mark on the world.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Victoria Gordon for the excellent work she has done as Athena’s Acting Director and to, once again, welcome Umbreen back to campus.
Sian Leah Beilock, President
Linda A. Bell, Provost and Dean of the Faculty