Barnard has no rival school. We have no college we’re trained from NSOP to hate, no big matchup game to travel to every year, and no decades-long dispute about which school is clearly superior to the other. Instead, Barnard has the Seven Sisters: Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar, and Wellesley.
The Seven Sisters association was created with the purpose of uniting the institutions that formed to grant women opportunities for higher education. Today, these schools support one another in advocating for women’s empowerment, recognition, success, and inclusion in society. They motivate one another through support—rather than rivalry—to maintain the highest standard of education. This relationship develops in part because students of the Seven Sisters schools choose to devote their college careers to institutions with the same purpose; therefore, they know they share certain experiences and values with other Seven Sisters students.
During my first few months at Barnard, I experienced this firsthand. The weekend following the presidential election, I traveled to Bryn Mawr College with other Student Government Association representatives for the annual Seven Sisters Conference. I participated in workshops on liberal arts elitism, SGA inclusivity and exclusivity, the history of gender and sexuality at women’s colleges, and institutionalizing racial justice. I met students from other Seven Sisters schools, proudly shared programs that Barnard champions, and learned about policies Barnard could incorporate. For example, I learned that Barnard was last to amend its admissions policy to include transgender women—and that out of all of the Seven Sisters, we remain one of the most limited in whom we accept today.
During this weekend, however, I never felt a sense of rivalry or competition with anyone else. We were all proud of our schools and the distinct identities they each held, but we also understood that our respective colleges strove to fulfill the same common mission. From these workshops and conversations, we challenged ourselves to learn from each school’s successes and mistakes in order to make our own schools more adept at accomplishing our shared goal of empowering women.
More than anything that weekend, I was reminded that women’s colleges are a force to be reckoned with. I am reminded of this on an almost daily basis. My fellow students consistently demand that Barnard respect and fight for the rights of trans students, students of color, first-generation students, and all students who were not originally included in Barnard’s mission.
In my First-Year Seminar, Reacting to the Past, I opened my textbook and found, for the first time in my life, “she/her/hers” as the default pronouns. The Barnard Speaking Fellows consistently dedicate their time to showing me and other students how to end sentences firmly when public speaking—without the doubt or questioning tone to which so many women habitually fall victim. When I occasionally let an unnecessary “sorry” slip out, a fellow Barnard student will caringly tell me not to apologize for taking up space. I take my seat at SGA meetings every week, a seat in a room filled with insightful, eloquent, and passionate women whom I am so deeply proud to call my friends and peers. I have more female role models now than ever before in my life.
But what does all of that mean for Barnard? We foster powerful growth for our students and create a supportive community from our common values and empowering mission—but how can we use that community to make real, tangible change on campus and in the world? After all, Barnard is no perfect institution, and as students, we have the capability to hold our school accountable and amend what is unjust.
We can and must go far beyond feeling a kinship with other Barnard and Seven Sisters students. We need to push ourselves to continue to improve our community so that every student feels as though they are not only valued, but quintessential to the success of our campus. We must fight to ensure that our campus is intersectional and inclusive of all sexualities, genders, races, abilities, and socioeconomic statuses. We grow, learn, and thrive in more meaningful and impactful ways when different experiences, concerns, and ideas are shared.
As cis women at a women’s college, we do not need to fight for a seat at the table, because we already have them. So let’s take it further. Who is being represented at the table and who is not? Are the voices of non-cis women, women of color, students of lower income, immigrants, and first-generation students being heard? What seats at our table are empty, and how do we reach out to those who feel insignificant?
These are questions that demand consideration, questions we can ask ourselves when we are empowered by a school that teaches us to take up space unapologetically and work with one another to create a more just world. We can give back to Barnard by pushing it in the direction of justice, using our loud and unafraid voices—fostered by this community and this college—to hold Barnard accountable in fulfilling its mission of empowerment.
Rose Reiken is a Barnard College first-year planning on majoring in sociology with a minor in urban teaching. She is SGA’s first-year class president.
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