The Role of Barnard’s Student Life Office

By Olivia Hull
The Associate Dean of Barnard College’s Student Life Office, Jessica Nuñez, first chose Barnard College eight years ago because she felt Barnard students were particularly passionate and devoted to their school. Many students may find this interesting because Barnard, within the context of New York City, is considered by many to lack school spirit; many Barnard students spend their free time elsewhere–downtown, at home in the suburbs, or across the street at Columbia University. There is almost a centrifugal force pulling students away from the campus, presenting a formidable challenge to Student Life. There are few parties, men, or cozy spaces on campus. Because most students are only on campus during the week, Student Life, formerly known as College Activities, holds most of its programming Monday through Thursday, hosting occasional “retreats” or weekend trips. “What works at Barnard [in the way of college programming] is unique to Barnard,” Nuñez says, “We have to come up with an innovative approach.”

Before the Diana Center, the campus itself lacked communal space and seemed to discourage having fun within its gates. Part of Nuñez’s job is communicating with about 90 student groups regularly to encourage them to utilize Barnard space and “get the pulse on what students want from the Diana [Center].” Some have requested TV lounges, couches, and art on the walls. Student Life tries to combat the centrifugal force by making sure programming happens exclusively on Barnard’s campus, to avoid “farming out elsewhere.” “It is important to engage with the [Columbia University] community,” she says, “but not at the expense of doing things here at Barnard.”
If you’re not involved with one of these groups or Student Government Association (SGA), according to Nuñez, each advisor in her department holds office hours where students are welcome to share their thoughts on the school’s wellbeing. These hours are “publicized,” though they are not on the Student Life homepage.
In some ways, community spirit is on the upswing this year. The Diana Center is in full-use, and this spring brings the revival of the traditional “Greek Games” which will be held exclusively within campus gates. A few weekends ago, Barnard hosted the Athena Film Festival, which brought people to the college and kept students on campus. Nuñez notes the high level of intellectual stimulation for students and says that some of Student Life’s programming aims to give students “a chance to relax and have fun.” These activities include the Halloween Fun Zone and the Stress Free Zone.
Interestingly, the New Student Orientation Program (NSOP), which also falls under her purview, primarily focuses on exposing incoming students to life outside the campus community. They offer walking tours in all neighborhoods within Manhattan, as well as the New York City event. Last year, when I was a first-year, the event was held in the Central Park Zoo. Showing off the city can be seen as an interference with a campus focus, or it can be seen as a way to encourage students to socialize with each other. Similarly, the Ticket Booth at Student Life orders discounted tickets for Broadway shows and musical performances off campus. The Ticket Booth works independently of the TIC, a part of CUarts which performs a similar service but on a larger scale. Student Life and Columbia’s Office of Student Development and Activities do collaborate on the Urban NY program, which distributes free tickets each semester to students on both campuses for sporting and performing arts events.
In some ways the dual-identity of Barnard is why we were drawn to this school. We wanted the city and we wanted a safe intellectual community. So where does that put Student Life? Should it cater to our intellectual needs or should it aim sooth our overworked brains?
Olivia is a sophomore at Barnard College and a Staff Writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.
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