Friday, January 25, 2008

Complicated Relationships

On Attending a "Sister School"

If you know me, you probably also know that I am a Barnard College alumna. Or, more accurately, you know that I am a "strong, intelligent, beautiful Barnard woman" (that's the unofficial school motto). Which translates into "very-proud-alum-bordering-on-walking-admissions-brochure."

One aspect of my undergrad experience that often vexed me, though, was the relationship between Barnard and its brother school, Columbia University. Explaining the relationship between the schools is complicated - even when talking to other students or administrators on campus. Basically, Columbia University - back in the day - was determined to keep women out of its classrooms. Citing a variety of reasons from the distractions the boys would face from female classmates to the emminent damage education would pose to women's reproductive health, CU trustees kept women off campus for quite a long time. Eventually, however, they were forced to deal with all the uppity women-folk who were demanding education. Their solution was Barnard, which became one of the Seven Sisters Colleges.

But, somehow, overtime, those CU trustees managed to create an independent college with full rights and privileges to Columbia. This complicated relationship has led to much friction between CU and BC students. Phrases like "Barnard to bed and Columbia to wed" or "Barnard: the backdoor to Columbia" are aimed at BC students by CU students - men and women alike. BC students often retaliate by citing the fact that they *don't* have to take CU's core courses (haha!) or that BC women have been attending CU since 1889 - while CU women only arrived in 1983. Let's just say that a lot of love is lost in the university community because the relationship between BC and CU has not been clearly articulated to students, faculty, staff, the world...

So, I was pleased to see a smart article published in the Columbia Spectator better defining the facts of the mattter. I can't say that I was surprised to see that it was written by a Barnard woman.

Rosalind Rosenberg's book Changing the Subject: How the Women of Columbia Shaped the Way We Think About Sex and Politics provides a detailed explanation of how the BC-CU relationship has grown and changed over the years. I highly recommend this scholarly text to anyone interested in exploring how sexism and attitudes towards women's education have evolved historically in the United States.

Here's to dear old Barnard...

And thanks to I.G. for the tip!


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