Barnard College Versus Columbia University — What You Don’t Know

Barnard and Columbia

By Judy Estey
07/01/2014
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By Judy Estey
Unigo Campus Rep at Barnard College

A major issue that Barnard students deal with while in college is being at Barnard versus being a Columbia College student. Students applying to Barnard face the difficulty of deciphering the relationship between Columbia University and Barnard College, and the confusion does not necessarily end once they enroll. It’ll take a while for students to discover just what their place in the university is.

The BC-CU relationship is a total anomaly in the collegiate world. BC students have unrestricted access to Columbia University classes, professors, libraries, and events, while still maintaining their own campus and faculty, which are open to Columbia students. Academically, Barnard students have a different set of requirements — the Nine Ways of Knowing — compared to the Core Curriculum at Columbia College. In an odd example, Barnard students do not have to take the swimming test required of CC students in order to graduate. Their diploma, however, says “Columbia University.”

While most students major in their subjects through Barnard departments, some majors such as physics and East Asian Language and Cultures are taken at Columbia. Conversely, the theatre, dance, and art history departments for Columbia are housed at Barnard. So while people might only imagine Barnard students running across the street to take classes at Columbia, Columbia students are also found in Barnard classes depending on their major, personal interests, a particular professor, or interest in smaller class sizes.

“It feels like we’re like Fu [the Columbia Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, a.k.a. SEAS] in some ways… like the three undergraduate schools at CU are Barnard, SEAS, and Columbia College,” explained Esme Murdock, a junior philosophy major.

“There’s only a difference if you allow people to let there be a difference,” argued Anna Law a junior environmental policy major, referencing the rumored hostile issue of the distinction between Barnard students and Columbia students.

But sophomore Caitlin Casiello disagreed.

“You get more stigma from Columbia kids than I expected,” she said.

This stigma — the idea that Barnard students are in some ways academically inferior to Columbia students — does not appear in any way in the integrated classrooms. Rather than using Barnard as a “back door” into Columbia, many students at Barnard applied directly to BC because they wanted to have a small liberal arts experience and a more communal campus.

“I think Barnard has a lot of school spirit while Columbia does not… in that sense, I’m glad I went to Barnard and not Columbia,” said Rachel Danis, a junior psychology major.

She cited “Big Sub Day,” when a sandwich the length of the entire campus is set out for students, and “Midnight Breakfast,” an event at midnight before the first day of finals when alumna come and serve food to students, as examples of Barnard’s school spirit. In fact, these are two events that Columbia students often participate in.

“The Barnard environment brings more spirit to the larger university environment,” she said.

However, not all students feel that Barnard has delivered on creating a warmer, more connected atmosphere than Columbia’s campus.

“I really don’t think Barnard has a lot of school spirit,” Casiello said. “I’m not sure Columbia has a lot of school spirit either.”

Olivia Kurz, a junior comparative literature major, agreed.

“It’s kind of isolated,” she said. “Barnard and Columbia together are pretty isolated.”

Or, as freshmen Sarah Patzer observed, “I was a little surprised how much city life defines having a social life here as opposed to a campus social life.”

Anna Law agreed, “There isn’t really a campus. I’m never on the Barnard campus.” However, she added that, over the years, “Barnard spirit builds up. When I was a freshman I had no particular opinion, but now I’m really glad I go to Barnard and not Columbia College. I feel like that’s the case for a lot of people.”

If nothing else, “There’s sort of a camaraderie between the women at Barnard,” said Fatima Abdul-Nabi, a sophomore urban studies major who commutes from home.

Of course, BC students discover other things about Barnard. Many students report surprise at discovering the little aspects of Barnard life.

Devan Shea, a junior women’s studies major, reported amazement over “how cheap the laundry machines are.

“Every time I go to the laundry I feel like I’m getting a great deal,” she said.

Lan Li, a junior neuroscience major, found some insight of her own.

“The bathrooms on the first floor of Barnard hall were sub par while the bathrooms on the 4th floor were decadent,” she said.

Not all revelations have been positive. Laura Chen, a junior anthropology major, groused that she didn’t realize that, “the Nexus was going to be built during most of my time here.”

The Nexus, Barnard’s new student center, started construction during the summer of 2007 and is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2009 — making it a welcome surprise for incoming students, if not for upperclassmen.

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