Adjusting to Life at Barnard

by Claire Walter

What they don’t tell you: attending Barnard, is, essentially, like volunteering yourself for a a four-year-long identity crisis. (Not necessarily a bad thing! But a thing nonetheless.)

Going in, I knew that the relationship between Barnard and Columbia was unusual. So unusual, in fact, that there was really nothing like it anywhere else in the college world. This truth has been re-enforced a thousandfold in the past month as I’ve settled into there rhythm of college life here. There’s no other way to put it: during your time here, it is inevitable that you will be at some point confused as to whether you belong more to Barnard or to Columbia.

For starters: Columbia boys are everywhere. In our classes, in our dining halls, lounging in our study spaces. I was not prepared for this. There are boys in all my classes except my Barnard-freshman-only seminar, and I’m still not sure what to make of it. Also unexpected: I have three out of five classes at Columbia this semester, which surprised me.

The takeaway: Academically, we are one large melting pot. I’d heard about this, but wasn’t really sure how it worked in practice. Guess what? It’s definitely a thing, not just something you hear parroted by the tour guides to placate parents into considering a small liberal-arts oriented women’s college for their 21st-century daughters.

Yet there are still uncomfortable moments. Sometimes, when I am over at Columbia taking any of my three classes there this semester, I can feel the imposter-syndrome start to creep over me –– especially in a class where I don’t know anyone particularly well. But then I remember that I, too, attend this university.

Dorm Life: I notice that I enjoy coming back to the safe, quiet haven that is the Barnard campus after a weekend night out or a long nighttime stint at Butler. It feels distinctly more homey than the vast open expanses of the Columbia campus, or the raucous 24-hour party-fest that is Carman, and for that I am thankful. It makes me happy to identify as a Barnard student. Our dorm situation fosters community in a way that a hallway of singles (cough, John Jay) does not.

Clubs/Sports: Everything is mixed. Which adds further to the general conflation of your Barnard vs Columbia identities. Barnard girls play sports for Columbia teams, and so we are technically both Lions, the mascot of Columbia, and Bears, the Barnard mascot. Trying to have the appropriate amount of school spirit for athletic teams, while maintaining a distinctly “Barnard” identity, is thus probably the most confusing of all.

In the end, it all comes down to self-perception. You are a Barnard student, and you are also a Columbia student. How you choose to balance these two identities is entirely up to individual choice –– and that is both the good and the bad of it. As for me, I’m still figuring it out. Luckily, I have almost four more years to do so.

Claire Walter is a first-year at Barnard and a staff writer for the Nine Ways of Knowing.

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