My friend Elizabeth and I were on the subway to the New Student Orientation Program-promoted Yankees game when an upperclassman marveled at our fast friendship. She was impressed that, despite my being a Barnard student and Elizabeth being a Columbia student, we had shockingly discovered a common interest in politics, writing, and gun reform.
We didn’t quite know what to say to this; her comment was certainly not an insult, but it didn’t exactly sound like a compliment either. We shrugged, uneasy, and mutually chose to ignore the electric fence that was set up between us. We had never noticed it before.
Around that same time, I went to the sibling hangout—the only mandatory NSOP programming that truly integrates Barnard and Columbia students. It was also one of just two times incoming Barnard first-years would explore Columbia’s campus before the beginning of the semester, despite the fact that many of us were mere days away from taking several of our classes there. Not to mention that Barnard students are not allowed to eat on Columbia campus for the extent of NSOP, but I digress.
At the hangout itself, groups of students from each school filed in the room, laughing and talking, until the orientation leaders sat us down and asked, “Do you have any questions about the relationship between our schools? Don’t be embarrassed. There’s no tension between us. We can celebrate our differences!” The experience felt oddly reminiscent of a sixth-grade sex-ed class. At that moment, everyone in the room was hyper-aware of their status, or their implied lack thereof. The suggestion of tension, “nonexistent” as it may be, inadvertently created it.
While this is an issue that starts with NSOP, it certainly does not end there. Rather, in time it just fizzles out of conversation. It is not the fault of any particular orientation leader or organizer, but rather a deeply ingrained tradition of building barriers between the two sides of 116th and Broadway.
As the fall semester of my first year rushes by and my circle of Barnard and Columbia friends grows wider, things only become more complicated. Oftentimes, the Barnard girls can’t get in to the parties in Columbia dorms so none of us go, and we all miss out. We apologize profusely, insist that our Columbia friends should go without us if they want, but no one wants to be the jerk who leaves their friends stranded in the East Campus lobby. The common thread between students from both schools is that no one understands why it has to be this complicated, especially seeing as everyone is disadvantaged by the outcome.
So far as I can see, there is no reason to believe that Barnard students are an inherent threat to Columbia dorms. Just as both CC and SEAS fall under the overarching Columbia University, so too does Barnard: So why can’t we use our points at Café East, or have a variety of mutual NSOP activities, or visit our friends without suspicion? Why does the University put so much emphasis on us all being one and the same while simultaneously mandating rules that drive us apart?
Many of these issues seem especially present during students’ first years, when they are most vulnerable to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and depression. The beginning of our college careers is also the time when we meet our closest friends, significant others, and creative partners. By the start of our sophomore year, most students have, for better or for worse, decided where they belong. And yet, I can’t even imagine how many relationships and experiences I’ve been denied because Barnard isn’t in on the fun.
As long as our community is separated by aimless and archaic regulations, this tension will always pervade, no matter how vehemently it is denied by both students and administration; the only solution is to create a more cohesive system between the two schools, from the first day of NSOP onwards.
Generally, students choose to apply to Columbia or Barnard for distinct reasons, and are most likely searching for an experience unique to their respective college. But if we are going to consistently combine our resources, and laud our dual-school relationship, why should we perpetuate this arbitrary distinction on each other’s campuses? And why, socially, should Barnard get the short end of the stick?
This would be ridiculously easy to change. A sign-in system that scans both Barnard and Columbia IDs would be both simple to design and attain, especially since we already have systems like this in place in Butler, Lerner, and the Milstein Center. An NSOP schedule with daily coordinated events would be no more difficult to plan than one completely divided. And, if the schools’ dining offices worked out an agreement, Barnard students could be allowed to use their points freely at any of the cafés on Columbia’s campus. Just because it has always been this way doesn’t mean it always has to be, and implementing new systems like these—as arbitrary they may seem to students who are no longer first-years—could be the first step towards truly becoming the unified university we market ourselves to be.
Isabelle Robinson is a first-year at Barnard College studying English with a concentration in something, probably. If you can’t find her trading her remaining dignity to be signed into EC on a Friday night, she’s most likely at JJ’s rage-eating mozzarella sticks. If all else fails, shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Debbie Downer runs alternate Thursdays.
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