Strong, Beautiful Barnard

Tom Matlack addresses the relevance of women’s colleges in modern America and concludes that “there is indeed still a place for a women’s college in 2011 America” because

“Barnard had the resources of an Ivy League school but the feeling of a small liberal arts college…there are plenty of men to interact with in sports or social clubs, but…the school had remained all-women on purpose…for the right young woman Barnard would provide a unique education and inspiration that a coed facility could not.”

I think that Barnard is a superb institution and a valuable member of Columbia’s 4-school undergraduate community. The emphasis on social support and looking out for each other seems much stronger than in Columbia College. That and the gender exclusion make Barnard not unlike the Marine Corps in a way, which is why I think the Marines at Columbia tend to “get” Barnard pretty seamlessly. Having the cohesive social unit makes it easier and more wholesome to do something as stressful as complete an Ivy League degree.

It was also enriching for me as a white male, especially coming out of the all-male Marine Corps infantry, to attend a few Barnard classes as the underdog on female students’ turf. From the outset, I saw the value in taking on that humbling role for a while.

What I think really sets Barnard apart from more cloistered women’s colleges is being networked into Columbia. Barnard girls have a fairly sheltered environment but they are also forced to interact professionally and academically with men. Socially the interaction is more voluntary, since students have the choice to stay within Barnard’s active social community or to make the pilgrimage across Broadway to Rest of Campus, but having the option is critical to holistic development.

One thing the school does need is a more nuanced approach in place of what appears to be its obsession with rape, sexual assault, and gender oppression – there’s a way to address these issues that is empowering, and then there’s a way that’s largely fearmongering and victimizing. I fear that Barnard way too often takes the latter approach.

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