I woke up this past Saturday morning to the sounds of my girlfriend, a current Barnard College senior, shouting excitedly on the phone with her Dominican relatives. Between her high-pitched screams and nonstop jumping, I could hear her speaking to her mother,
“¡Oye! El presidente Obama va hablar en mi graduación!!”
I’m pretty terrible at Spanish, but I knew what she was saying: President Obama will be giving the commencement speech at Barnard College’s upcoming graduation ceremony.
My first thought, after wondering how I could convince my girlfriend to give me her last available graduation ticket (instead of giving it to her Abuela), was: Oprah made this happen. Followed by: Columbia is going to be pissed.
Let me explain.
We all know that Oprah is queen of the universe and that she got Obama elected and that she cures blind people with just the touch of her hand (duh). A couple of weeks ago, this deity woman came to Barnard to tape a special feminism episode for her show, “Oprah’s Next Chapter.” She brought Gloria Steinem to interview, set up her camera crew in Barnard Hall and taped the show in front of an audience of about 40 Barnard students. By the end of this magical morning (I was there, I made eye contact with her, I shared my feelings about lady gay stuff, my life has been changed forever) both Gloria and Oprah were in tears—happy tears because they had been so inspired by us Barnard women.
Here’s where Obama fits in. In my mind, Oprah and the Obamas have a dinner date every Sunday night to discuss how wonderful they all are. During one of these dinners, Oprah entertained the Obama family with tales of her inspirational visit to Barnard College. She also mentioned that she decided not to give Barnard’s commencement speech this year because she is waiting to give it next year, the year that that nice gay girl who was wearing the salmon-color shirt (ME!) is going to graduate. She then of course suggested to Barry (that’s what she calls him) that he should give the commencement speech for the Barnard class of 2012. Because Oprah is his spiritual advisor, the President picked up his phone and called Barnard to tell us the good news.
Ok, so maybe that whole conversation didn’t happen (I mean I think it did, but whatever) but Obama is coming to speak at Barnard in May and I couldn’t be more excited. However, our friends across the pond/street at Columbia University are decidedly less excited, as reported by The New York Times:
Ivy League schools usually cloak their jealousies in politesse, but President Obama’s decision to give the commencement speech at Barnard, and not Columbia, his alma mater across the street, has unleashed online exchanges as nasty as any hair-pulling, eye-gouging schoolyard brawl.
Yikes. Okay then! Let’s get into it.
The relationship between Barnard College and Columbia University is a confusing one. Barnard is an independent women’s college with its own president and board of trustees but it is still technically under the umbrella of Columbia and is considered an undergraduate college of the University. Because of this, Barnard is often subject to a lot of criticism and mean-spirited jokes that come from the Columbia side of Broadway.
Common Criticisms and Jokes Include:
+ Barnard is the backdoor of Columbia: because Barnard students get a degree that comes from Barnard College of Columbia University but went through a different admissions process.
+ Girls who go to Barnard just couldn’t get into Columbia: maybe this is true for some but I know a number of girls who were accepted to both schools and ultimately chose to attend Barnard.
+ Barnard girls are sluts: Ugh. People suck.
+ Barnard girls are lesbians: Many still take this as an insult, which is in itself incredibly insulting. Also, there is already so much drama between the like 50-100 lady loving ladies at this school that I’m pretty sure the school would self-destruct if we were all lesbians.
In a nutshell, Barnard girls are unintelligent lesbian sluts who are out to steal all of the men at Columbia. So that makes sense.
I wholeheartedly believe that most Columbia students do not take part in these jokes and criticisms but unfortunately those who have negative opinions are often the most vocal.
So when I heard that President Obama would be speaking at Barnard College and not his Alma Mater across the street, I knew that outrage would ensue. Within minutes after receiving an email from Barnard that announced the Obama news, I found that the Facebook statuses of my peers were ranging anywhere from “OMG OBAMAAAA!” (a Barnard College senior) to “This is ridiculous and unfair” (a Columbia College student). I knew, however, that the anonymous comments on Columbia’s various campus blogs would be far more vile and insulting than what I found on Facebook.
There are over 750 (and counting) mainly anonymous comments on the article that Columbia’s own bwog.com wrote—an article that merely announces the news that Obama would be speaking at Barnard. Many of the comments are full of scathing words about Barnard, Obama, Columbia, Women, and anything else that a stressed out college student could think to complain about.
Some Fun Samples of Lovely Comments:
Though I know that most of these negative comments were written by bored Columbia freshmen who had nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon, they still suck to read. I am tired of constantly feeling like I need to prove my intelligence to Columbia.
I have spent so much time in the past couple of days sticking up for Barnard and for Obama that I haven’t been able to think about the other issues surrounding this news. Like, why is a man speaking at a women’s college graduation? Why isn’t Michelle the chosen Obama speaker? What does it mean when a women’s college bumps a female speaker for a male speaker? (Barnard had originally chosen Jill Abramson, the executive editor of The New York Times, to give the commencement speech). Granted, I think that the answer to all of these questions is quite simple: If the President of the United States offers to give the commencement speech of your college, you say yes.
The Barnard/Columbia/Obama “controversy” seems to be rooted in nothing deeper than jealousy. I hope it blows over soon so that I can focus my time an energy on a much more important matter—figuring out how to steal an extra graduation ticket from someone’s grandmother.
Go Lily GO!
As a Columbia College graduate, this sickens me, and I apologize wholeheartedly on behalf of the bitter brats at my alma mater. You’re right, this is coming from a vocal minority that’s just jealous that you ladies go to a school that actually looks out for its students. Congrats, BC 2012!
ALSO, as a Barnard grad myself, I was especially offended to read the Bwog comments that made us out to be “cum dumpsters” and other various sperm receptacles. It was so hurtful and petty. I have dated men from Columbia and my current partner is a woman who chose Barnard OVER Columbia when she was accepted to both. The Bwog comments degraded all of my relationships just because I went to Barnard. Hopefully this cyberbullying will be forcefully addressed by Presidents Lee Bollinger and D.Spar, and we can all move towards a more respectful future for the colleges.
word up lily! you are so smart– we do have lots of other things to ponder, but suffice it to say I’ve never been more proud to be a Barnard alumna. misogyny hurts all of us and I’m sure oprah is scheming about how to make it all better through heavily featuring you in her next chapter.
As a Smithie with a relative graduating from Barnard this year, the comment “He should have spoken at Smith for his political pandering” makes me feel like Dawn from Mean Girls (“You’ve been acting really stuck-up ever since you switched to shortfielder, and Dawn agrees with me.” “Dawn?” “Don’t drag me into this, I’m pitching tomorrow.”). Don’t go blaming your insecurities on us, Columbia.
Seven Sister solidarity. Don’t let the bastards get you down, Barnard!
x2 from the Smithie crowd
Moho here in support of Barnard (and the other Seven Sisters) as well. I also appreciate your “Mean Girls” reference~~perfect.
As a Wesleyan alumna, I would just like to say, I’m pretty sure that person meant Wellesley and not Wesleyan in that comment.
And because the hipsters on campus would want me to point this out: We had Obama speak at our commencement before he sold out and got elected.
My thoughts exactly (i.e. Wellesley instead of Wesleyan). Plus, this anonymous blogger should have said Radcliffe, since that’s the seven sister school associated with Harvard. Then again, haters tend to have their facts wrong much of the time.
Ah yes I noticed that! and that even if they did mean to say Wellesley that would still be wrong because Radcliffe was Harvard’s sister school. That’s part of the reason I found the comment so absurd!
I honestly have no idea what these people’s problems are! Seriously, sometimes I hate my fellow Ivy Leaguers and their unbearable entitlement. GUYS. THE CHOICE WASN’T COLUMBIA OR BARNARD. COLUMBIA, YOU PROBS WEREN’T EVEN ON THE LIST. SORRY. YOUR SAT SCORES ARE NOT WHAT MATTER. NOR DOES THE PROBABILITY OF MORE PEOPLE WITH TESTICLES IN THE AUDIENCE MAKE YOU SUPERIOR. WHINING THAT THE PRESIDENT IS *NOT* YOUR COMMENCEMENT SPEAKER IS LIKE SAYING YOU WOULD LIKE YOUR MASERATI BUT IT’S IN JEALOUSY GREEN NOT MISOGYNY MAROON. CHILL OUT, GUYS.
I have run out of angry shouting breath. Fucking asshats. They make my caps lock go crazy.
As a Columbia graduate, I am deeply saddened to see students from my alma mater speak this way and would like to apologize on their behalf. Seriously, kids: that’s not okay. Moreover, as this article points out, there are so many other, more important issues with which we should be concerned right now!
Obama doesn’t owe any college his presence right? It’s not about entitlement. Also, live events/performances are great and all but anyone who really wants to see Obama’s grad speech can wait for it on Youtube.
I think this problem is rooted in more than jealousy. As a CC student, I view the “tension” as indicative of sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny that is embedded into our collective campus culture, student life, and curricula at this university.
I agree 100%!! I think I used the wrong word when I said “rooted”…
Ooh, that’s interesting that Jill Abramson was already booked! Aside from gender, I wonder what Miss Manners would say about a host who dropped a scheduled speaker because another, more distinguished speaker materialized. Rude!
I graduated Columbia College and was always jealous about how many hot gay looking ladies there were on Barnard’s campus. The first time I had a class over there I felt like I was in Disneyland. Rock out strong/beautiful [hottie] BCers!
What a pointless article. Of course the Columbia students are going to be jealous and frustrated. They very narrowly missed out on having one of the coolest people in the world speak at their commencement. They lost out to a school across the street from them that is related to their school in a complicated way. Of course there’s going to be jealousy and even a few ugly things said (though the comments you posted weren’t very ugly.) Is Columbia capable of being sexist/elitist/snobby? I’d be shocked if it wasn’t; after all almost all college can. But don’t use this as evidence of that, if you were at Columbia you’d probably be pissed too.
When it comes to taking offense with how different groups treat each other, let’s stay focused on the real offenses. The Lord knows there are plenty of them — no need to get outraged over a reaction that may be slightly bratty but is completely predictable, even to someone who knew nothing about Columbia.
I completely understand why Columbia students would be jealous and I honestly believe that they have every right to feel jealous! What I was getting at (and could have, perhaps should have, gone deeper into) was the underlying issue that the Obama news brought out into the open–the relationship between Barnard and Columbia. It is sort of weird to go to a school that I worked very hard to get into and that I am very proud of and often feel as if I am somehow less-than people across the street. It is one of those things that isn’t always a huge deal, doesn’t always feel terrible, is something that I don’t really want to complain about because I know very well that the relationship between Barnard and Columbia is a strange one. But here’s the thing, those Bwog comments on the Obama article are not out of the norm. Comments like these are posted everyday on Columbia blogs, most notoriously on Bwog.com.
Here are some more examples of comments on the Bwog Obama article:
“While you guys were perfecting your deepthroating techniques and experimenting with scissoring and anal play, we were learning Calculus (usually by sophomore year of high school).”
“Barnard is full of academically inferior students that are able to use OUR campus, take OUR classes, and are stereotypically easy to get in bed. We feel like we worked our asses off to get here, and it’s annoying as fuck that Barnard can get the milk for free, so to speak.”
“this is why we hate you cum dumpsters.”
“It’s feminazi’s like you that give us women a bad name. If your reading comprehension skills were on par with say, a seventh grader, then maybe you would have realized your inference that I was criticizing women was completely invalid – I find fault with Barnard students and Barnard students only. I have absolutely nothing but respect for Columbia women as I AM ONE.”
I wrote for bwog.com for about a year and had a great time. I liked all of the people and the environment and the diverse staff of Columbia College, Engineering, and Barnard students. But after about a semester, I stopped reading the comments under my articles. Often times, just a mention of Barnard in one of these articles would warrant at least one hateful comment towards Barnard students. Some of the stuff I wrote had my name and school on it, which then (no matter what the article was about) sparked at least one comment about how I was a dumb Barnard girl and a terrible writer.
I know that this is not how all of Columbia feels and I also know not to take what internet commenters say seriously, but when this gross attitude completely overshadows the more important issues (like what Obama’s presence at Barnard means for women’s rights) while also completely undermining the intelligence of Barnard women, I feel like something needs to be said.
my god. those comments are horrible, lily!
There’s being pissed and then there’s being misogynistic and fucked up because of your anger. I go to Columbia myself and I heard some really crappy things said about Barnard and her students in the wake of the Obama thing – and not just on the street or campus, but in student publications like Bwog and the Spec.
There are a lot of other things to be upset about here too.
Um, like Obama’s refusal to support gay marriage.
“I have spent so much time in the past couple of days sticking up for Barnard and for Obama that I haven’t been able to think about the other issues surrounding this news. Like, why is a man speaking at a women’s college graduation? Why isn’t Michelle the chosen Obama speaker? What does it mean when a women’s college bumps a female speaker for a male speaker? (Barnard had originally chosen Jill Abramson, the executive editor of The New York Times, to give the commencement speech).”
As a Smithie, this is my primary concern. Also, so glad I didn’t transfer to Columbia when I had the chance now. (Not that all CC students are like this. It remains a fine institution. I’m just so much more grateful to my wonderful women’s college, where I don’t have to put up with shit and Jane Lynch is our commencement speaker.)
wow people really take this speaker thing seriously I guess? So if Obama speaks in your graduation do you automatically get a good job with amazing pay and health benefits? If not, get over yourselves… Let the man speak wherever he wants to speak.
I guess I don’t really feel sympathetic to this article because surely Columbia students would look down on my state school, too? I guess I wouldn’t even be allowed to write this article, because I can’t really “prove” I’m better than or equal to them, because like, they don’t even consider me in their league? Idk. Obama spoke at my school like 3 times and Columbia didn’t put up a fuss about it. I don’t think it has anything to do with the patriarchy. I think it has to do with the fact that Columbia grads (some of them, maybe even many of them) feel that THEY are the only ones entitled to have famous alums, to have “Columbia” on their degrees (last I checked Columbia wasn’t on my diploma, eh) – not because they are male, but because they go to an Ivy League school and other people don’t. Period. They want to feel special, the Most Special, and they don’t want anyone taking that away from them. Barnard students can go to classes at Columbia right? Have Columbia on their degree? You’re making them feel less special, plain and simple. Good for you, but seems silly to complain about…haha.
It’s not just that, though. There’s definitely sexism and misogyny tied up in some of it, especially with the odd horrible comparisons of Columbia women to Barnard women. But if you read the actual comments made by CC/SEAS students towards Barnard students on the issues – and other ones I’ve heard – it shows how quickly they will turn to misogyny and just plain horribleness because they get a bit frustrated.
I mean, I’ve noticed that people who go to expensive colleges in particular have this mentality that even though they went X dollars into debt, it was all “worth it”. This mentality that because they got good SAT scores and high school grades and “extracurriculars” and basically had a good resume and got in, that they are in a “special league” of people. A special league of people that is getting an experience so special, that you couldn’t have gotten it anywhere else. The school instills that feeling in you, otherwise people wouldn’t pay the $$ for it.
Some people feel the need to be protective and crass about this because they feel inherently insecure in it. Because the fact of the matter is, in many ways it’s a sham. You aren’t that special just because you did well in high school, had a mother or father that read to you every day as a kid…you’re just as likely to be privileged or lucky as you are a “genius”. You aren’t special because you go to Columbia. Sorry. And people realize this, deep down, and lash out about it, “protecting” their feeling of being special at all costs, even if this means bashing people at another school who get to take their classes and have their name on their degree even though they aren’t “geniuses” like all the other people who got admitted…