Two sisters, wearing identical black dresses that their mother bought them, stand around a jammed printer in Barnard’s Office of Career Development, screaming at each other. One sister is frantically trying to unjam the printer while the other is trying to print her own file. Both are headed to the career fair, which is about to start.
Gabriela Martin, a Barnard sophomore, recounts the story from her perspective: Her older sister had jammed the printer while printing her résumé before Gabriela had a chance to print her own. And then, in the middle of the shouting match, her sister left for the career fair, leaving Gabriela stuck with a jammed printer and no printed résumé. Her sister, Ariela Martin, a Barnard senior and former Spectrum associate editor, clarifies: “Because I needed you to learn how to unjam a printer,” she admits. “It was a life lesson.”
Barnard’s class of 2020 has 606 students—27 of whom have a sister who went to Barnard. In many ways, Barnard is a sisterhood. According to the school’s admissions policies, it is meant to be a community of like-minded, talented students linked by their common pursuit of obtaining a liberal arts education. The female sibling pairs on Barnard’s campus embody this ethos of sisterhood most concretely. Though the proximity of sisters at Barnard can create support systems, familial tensions may implode, as they did for the Martin sisters in the Career Development office.
“What do I say? What do I eat? How do I do this?” These were the questions I asked my older sister, Tess, as she finished moving me into my dorm room my first year. Tess would return to Barnard a week later to move in for her senior year. The year in which we overlapped would bruise, but in the end leave us closer than ever.
Three years later, Tess moved me into my single in Sulzberger Tower to start my last semester at Barnard. Tess showed me the ropes, the best professors, the shortcuts, and gave me some tough love when I was prioritizing Cannon’s over my homework. I wondered if sisters currently attending Barnard together felt the same, or whether the proximity produced a higher ratio of bittersweet to sweet during their college experiences.
Gabriela and Ariela Martin live only a floor apart in the Bayit, a Columbia-owned Jewish co-op on 112th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam. The geographical closeness is very new for the twins—they didn’t go to high school together—and yet they seem easy-going about it. “Basically, I’m like the grandma!” Ariela says. Gabriela chimes in, “And I am like the cool aunt.”
I observe the body language of the two sisters. Ariela looks at her younger sister with watchful admiration as she speaks and prompts Gabriela to clarify when she is unclear. Gabriela describes Ariela’s watchful, omniscient eye, with which Ariela advises her younger sister on social media post etiquette, faulty friendships, and boys. Gabriela concludes, “There’s guidance a sister can provide that a mother can’t.”
Gabriela de Camps, a senior at Barnard who goes by Gaby, takes over that same motherly role when it comes to her younger sister Alexandra, a first-year at Barnard. “You’re going to filter out all her ‘ums’ and ‘likes,’ right?” Gaby asks me as Alexandra begins to answer my first question. I reassure her that I will.
Like the Martin and de Camps sisters, Tess and I have, from a very young age, been able to fit together like clasp. My first year was a period of exploration into areas marked on my sister’s map. She did not try to stop me, but she was there to catch me when I fell, knowing that any fall would help me build the strength to pick myself back up again. Tess had to take a step back to let me stray off the beaten path, so I could ultimately find my way.
When I ask about their shared experience at Barnard, Gabriela smiles as she tells me how they accidentally signed up for the same Spanish class once, and Ariela dropped it the next day. “It was just too close for comfort,” Gabriela explains, but Ariela rolls her eyes and corrects her, “It was at 8:40!” They make it clear to me that their closeness does not make their lives on campus less independent. “We both have our own Barnard,” Gabriela says. Ariela nods, and adds, “There’s space for two Martins.”
Gaby tells me she is surprised by how much she has been seeing her sister Alexandra. “We have been hanging out a lot, which is very strange for me,” she says. “I wanted to let her have her college experience like I had mine. I didn’t want to be on top of her all the time.”
Perhaps this is because they are away from their home in the Dominican Republic. And yet, they seem to have made New York a second home. Alex is a triplet, and both her sister and brother, in addition to Gaby, are in New York as well: One at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and the other taking a gap year. Gaby nods and smiles, “Now all of us are here.”
For sisters at college, proximity is a game of trial and error. For international students, like the de Camps sisters, the transition from home to college is a different game of distance, so a friendly face can be a big help.
Tiffany and Margaux Barclay, seniors at Barnard, are fraternal twins originally from Barcelona, Spain. Their dorm rooms were right next to each other their first year. They have been living in the same dorm together since, finding a balance between spending time together and leading independent lives outside.
Although they are on different career paths—one pursuing a career in fashion, the other in applied math—the twin sisters recently took a class together to fill a general education requirement, with a strange result—as Margaux recalls, they were accused of copying each other. Tiffany chimes in with gusto, suggesting that trying would be silly, since it’d be so obvious if they copied each other. “Who would do that? We share a last name!”
But are admissions policies different for sisters? Are sisters encouraged to enroll at the same time? According to Jennifer Fondiller, who serves as both the dean of enrollment management and the assistant dean of the college, there is no special policy for sisters, but the applications of students with a family connection might get a third read. “I want to make sure that we are thorough and give those applications a very thorough analysis,” Fondiller says.
Fondiller clarifies that this does not mean comparing sisters with one another. “When a student has a sister or sibling applying, I want that sister to be admitted for who she is, not because of whose sister she is.” She says that a sister’s success at Barnard is not a prediction of the other’s experience: “We are not looking at trying to duplicate that sister.”
Isabella Dejrassi, a senior at Barnard, and her sister Sofia, a first-year, have been carefully titrating the space between them, as if they were measuring a chemical solution. “Our friends are always different, the people we attract or like are different people,” Isabella says. Sofia continues: “She invites me places, and I can be friends with her friends. And I think it’s also good that she’s going to graduate and I’ll have my own time here.”
But going to a school with her sister wasn’t Sofia’s initial choice. “I was going to go to Bucknell, which is like the complete opposite of Barnard,” Sofia tells me. It was only after visiting both Bucknell and Barnard in the spring of her junior year of high school that she decided Barnard was the better move.
The same happened for the de Camps sisters. “Every year, [Gaby] would say this is your school, your school,” when she’d talk about Barnard, Alexandra says. But she didn’t want to hear any of it. “Every year, I would say I am never going to Barnard.”
Similarly, the younger Martin reveals, “My brother goes to Yale, and Ari went Barnard; when I was looking [for colleges], I was like,’I am going to go to XYZ and that is going to be my [own] place.’” That place surprisingly turned out to be Barnard.
Sister applicants may have taken Barnard’s statement, “students live as part of a powerful sisterhood, with fellow students, faculty members, and alumnae providing encouragement, support, and lasting friendship,” a little too literally. Even so, I thank Barnard for giving me a sisterhood of women—both literally and figuratively—to challenge, joke, and look out for me.
As Ariela Martin says, “Barnard really grows with you.”
“And it pushes you to grow,” Gabriela adds.
Have fun leafing through our second issue, and subscribe to our weekly newsletter, As We See It!