By Olivia Hull
For once, it’s the freshmen who know what’s going on around here. Ask any first-year, and she’ll tell you all about her Constellation, about the trip to the aquarium, and the girls on her floor. Ask an upperclass woman and she may reply, “I don’t know anything about it,” or “a conste-what?”
Constellations is a new program at Barnard that was developed with the intention of, according to the Barnard website, “cultivat[ing] an intimate group identity within the larger Barnard College community.” Each first-year student has been placed into one of seven Constellations corresponding to their floor in the Quad, creating a group of people with whom they can attend monthly events and, ultimately, navigate their new universe. In October, upperclass women will also be inducted into the Constellation corresponding to the floor they lived on during their first-year at Barnard.
“It’s a formal way for upperclass students to assist in the transition of new students into the community,” says Avis Hinkson, Dean of Students and Barnard class of ‘84, who spearheads the Constellations program. The program was introduced to Hinkson when she was hired in February as a way to enhance community at Barnard.
Former Orientation Leader (OL) and current Pictor (Constellation for the 4th floor) leader Sruthi Swami (BC ’12) says New Student Orientation Program (NSOP) often stops “really abruptly” at the beginning of classes, giving new students few opportunities to strengthen relationships formed during the weeklong orientation period. Unlike NSOP, Constellation programming continues throughout the year. Swami, one of seven paid Constellation leaders who were chosen for the position last April, when Constellations were called “Barnard Circles,” estimates she spends 6-8 hours on her Constellation each week. This includes a 45-minute biweekly meeting with Dean Hinkson, and a two-hour event once a month. The leaders arrived on campus August 17th to begin training with different offices on campus, including the Furman Counseling Center, Well Women, Residential Life, and the Office of Career Development. The Constellations program hopes to collaborate with these resources over the coming year.
“It’s always nice for an underclass woman to know an older face,” Swami says. “They always stop me in the street and ask me tons of questions.” In addition to programming and casual individual counseling, the leaders maintain Constellation Facebook pages and blogs. The Constellations budget exceeds that of the RAs by a wide margin, but much more is expected of them; they must plan events to accommodate nearly 250 Barnard students five times every semester. (There are 90 students on each Quad floor including all four dorms—soon, add to that upperclass women and in the spring, alumnae.) It’s a huge task for one individual to undertake.
Though the RA position seems somewhat similar to the role of the Constellation leader, Swami is quick to point out the differences. “Students have a closer, day-to-day bond with the RAs because they live together,” Swami says. “They will still be [the students’] primary contact on campus.”
|Currently Dean of Students, Hinkson
graduated from Barnard in ’84.
“We all do a little redefining as new members of a community,” Hinkson says. “We hope the Constellations will help students find themselves, and find their voice. Not only are they meeting students in their hallway, but also the entire floor, as well as giving them entry points into other class years.” Hinkson hopes that the Constellations will be incorporated into Barnard traditions like Greek Games, where students might compete as a Constellation rather than as a class. “It would be fun to have Constellations against Constellations, a mixing of the classes,” Hinkson says. “The increased school spirit will be seen as a real benefit.” Right now, first-years are in the process of coming up with nicknames for their Constellation, “in true Barnard self-definition style,” Hinkson says.
Sevan Gatsby (BC ’12), who leads the Fornax Constellation says her first event, “Barnard Loves New York,” went spectacularly. After dragging her girls down to the aquarium near Coney Island, she took them to the beach nearby. “It’s so far away so it’s actually great to go to as a group, because you’re never going to go on your own,” she says. She’s since been updating the Facebook periodically, and “curating” an updated list of events for the other Fornax “stars,” or students of the Constellation, to attend. She remembers struggling as a first-year, not really having anyone to go to for advice. Since then, she’s always wanted to be an OL, but was never selected. Constellations was her last chance. “As a Constellation leader, I can be an OL for an entire year,” she says. “I thought it was really cool to meet upperclassmen when I was a freshman. Even one year of experience makes a big difference. You’re defining yourself, not just as a member of the Barnard community, but as a member of Columbia University, and the city at large.”
Gatsby doesn’t have a lot of experience planning huge events. “I’ve planned dinner parties,” she says, with a laugh. “It’s daunting because it involves planning events for people of all different classes. My hope is that upperclassmen will see it as an opportunity to become leaders themselves.” She’s looking forward to collaborating with other organizations, especially her RAs, who can take advantage of her resources as a Constellation leader. She says Constellations is something that can only be implemented at Barnard; it wouldn’t work on a university-wide scale. “That’s why we’re special,” Gatsby says. “We’re trying to foster pride in Barnard, so that you can say ‘I go to Barnard’ with pride.”
Sophomore Sara Powell says she agrees that Barnard lacks community, and that she’s also at fault. She spends most of her weekends downtown or in Brooklyn, but had a nice community from her high school when she came to Barnard. “I feel sort of indifferent to [Constellations],” she said, but adds that she would attend an event depending on the topic.
|With “Constellations,” we can all be stars.|
When asked what the term “Constellations” refers to, Hinkson quoted Dictionary.com. “Constellations,” says Hinkson, refers to “‘any various group of stars to which there has been assigned a name, or, a brilliant outstanding group or assemblage.’ Barnard women are stars in their own right, but they’re all the more special when they’re together with other amazing women. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
“I think it’s a great idea,” says Jennifer Senior, a sophomore at Barnard. “I made really close friends on my floor last year. This kind of activity could get us together again.”
“The Constellation is really cool, it’s a nice opportunity for more bonding,” says Emma Lipner, a first year in the Fornax constellation. “I went to the aquarium and it was really fun. It’s a really fun, non-committal way to meet people.”
Olivia is a junior at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing. She will be in Constellation Pyxis.