I don’t even remember how I heard of Barnard. There may have been some college research material available but there was no Googling or worldwide web when I considered my choices and so Barnard was the only school to which I applied, based solely on some vague knowledge that it was a place full of great women, especially great writers, and I needed desperately to be a part of that culture. I was also lucky to have immigrant hardworking parents who never expressed horror at the sticker price, never made me feel that I wasn’t worth it, but rather that this was what they and I had hoped to accomplish and that they were nothing but proud of me. Moving into the dorms (as they were called before ‘residence halls’ became the term of art) involved hoisting massive stereo speakers (in the paleolithic age before Apple) but again, no complaints from Dad. I was a lucky girl.
I stuck to known elements when I first arrived on campus; people who looked like me, who were friends of friends, who were interested in the same things. Within short order I realized that this was an opportunity of a lifetime; I drooled over the course catalog, I relished sitting on the floor of the Butler stacks, discovering random volumes of knowledge I didn’t even know I was seeking, and mostly, I opened my heart and mind to the most interesting and diverse group of women that I would ever come across. Where are my classmates now? Well, the one who sat next to me in Intro to International Politics became the first rabbi of the world’s largest LGBTQ synagogue; a fellow Political Science major became President of the Museum for African Art, a third is the current Chair of the Barnard College Board of Trustees and yet another was Suzanne Vega, singer/songwriter. Everyone became a success in her own way. What we all learned here at Barnard is that we may not always know everything, we may not always have the answer but we know we can get it and we know that we can do it, and if we run into obstacles, we have a host of women behind us, in front of us, all around, to support us, enlighten us, challenge us.
Barnard’s future as a women’s college was a very hot topic in my undergraduate years. Columbia, hungry for a larger applicant pool and more resources, and looking to the Harvard/Radcliffe relationship as an example, was negotiating for a merger and our new, and very young president, Ellen Futter, now President of the American Museum of Natural History, led the movement for a collegial and cooperative arrangement whereby we got the best of all worlds. I’m often asked how Columbia’s change to a coed college in 1983 impacts our experience now and I can only acknowledge that we are now more purposeful and thoughtful in our approach to women’s education; it is an articulated mission, rather than one that is simply assumed to be understood. Our students are stronger and better leaders for the future as a result. My time here, first as a student, then as a staff member following a career change supported by resources at BC that followed me as a graduate, has made me appreciate the strength and friendship of generations of women, from retired deans to my 25 year old BC alum assistant, who has become one of my best friends, to the woman I will tearfully, gratefully, lovingly watch graduate from Barnard in a year from now – my daughter.
I hope you choose to make Barnard your home.