Blue Notes, May 2018
Updated: Sep 4
During her inauguration this February, President Sian Beilock of Barnard noted, “In computer science, … there are important areas like artificial intelligence, open data, ethics and privacy where we can be out front.” All Barnard needs is a Computer Science Department.
It’s not as if Barnard students don’t major in computer science at all. The number of Barnard students interested in Computer Science has grown exponentially since 2006. However, as Barnard does not have its own department, students studying Computer Science take all classes for their major across Broadway with their Columbia peers.
But worry not, future Naomi Sagers of Barnard, for the College is programming their own Computer Science Department, set to execute this fall. This past Spring, Barnard invited several candidates for Faculty Chair of the Department to deliver research talks for a panel of Barnard and Columbia faculty members, in addition to talks targeted at undergraduate students. Barnard even consulted a committee of current Barnard Computer Science students throughout the entire hiring and planning processes for the future department.
One of those students, Surbhi Lohia, BC ‘19, wants to make sure that Barnard doesn’t “try to mimic Columbia’s CS department or out do them—that’s just not possible granted how great Columbia CS is and how long they’ve been around, and the number of great professors that are there.” She believes that Barnard should “bring in supplemental courses that are interdisciplinary in their nature,” like Civic Tech and Computational Linguistics. “This way, the Barnard courses are not trying to compete with the [Columbia University] ones and causing competition in the early courses in [Computer Science] and creating a greater divide in the community, but rather Barnard [Computer Science] will bring in lots of interesting new electives that are not offered at [Columbia University Computer Science] and will be overlapping.”
The push and pull within what Beilock described as a “rich and dynamic” relationship between Barnard and Columbia may help define the future of a Barnard Computer Science Department. However, as of press time, Barnard’s own list of Notable Alumnae doesn’t include anyone noted in the technology field. Hopefully a dedicated department will be the first step towards changing that.
— Esmé Ablaza
A professor’s off-hand comment about socialist Barnard students becoming KGB spies is easy to pass off as a joke, yet a little pressing reveals that comedy often comes with some truth. Buried in the Barnard alumni archives is the story of Juliet Stuart Poyntz, class of 1907 valedictorian. Her time at Barnard was fairly typical: she served on student council, joined the Christian Club and the Philosophy Association, and participated in the Greek Games. While at Barnard she was vocal in her role as a socialist and feminist, but it was after graduation she became actively involved in the Communist Party. It was during a visit to Russia in 1934 that she was recruited and became an agent for the Soviet secret police. In 1936 she withdrew from the secret police due to disagreements with the way it was run, and vanished a year later.
The really interesting part? Poyntz is not the only member of the “Barnard alumni who have gone on to become spies” club. Judith Coplon, a member of the class of 1943, began her activism on campus through the Young Communist League. After graduating and getting a job with the Justice Department, she was reportedly recruited by Soviet Intelligence, where she was said to have been a spy until her arrest in 1949. Another student, Virginia Hall, studied languages and foreign affairs at Barnard as a member of the class of 1927. She later went into foreign service, working first at embassies and then with war relief efforts. It was during World War II she began her spy career, spying for the U.S. and U.K., becoming known to the Nazis as the infamous “limping lady.”
As to whether these women became spies because of Barnard, or their shared time here was just a coincidence, Barnard History professor Herbert Sloan says, “There was definitely a culture at that time, and there was a culture in New York. Having these political views and going a little further with them was not that unusual, though most Barnard students stopped at voting socialist in elections.
— Claire Wooton
The weekly laundry slog is a college tradition which for many students is both familiar and unpleasant. A typical laundry session demands a trek to and from the building basement, an awkward period of waiting for an open machine, 36 minutes to wash, an hour to dry, and then another half-hour to fold your pantone 292 themed wardrobe. Acknowledging the (admittedly minor) inconvenience that is college laundry, Peter Shalek, CC ’07, founded Lion Laundry in 2004 to tap into an unhappy market.
Run out of Shalek’s dorm room, Lion Laundry offered a full wash, dry, and folding service to Columbia students willing to fork over the cash. Minimizing cost by employing other Columbia students to do the laundry in pre-existing dorm laundry rooms, Shalek saw his business as an affordable option for students that remedied many concerns of college life: the nagging need for more time during the day, the need to make money, and the fact that young-adults are generally not fans of completing menial but necessary tasks.
Shalek sold Lion Laundry Ltd. in his senior year and the the business is now run by a larger corporation with an office in Greenwich Village. Lion Laundry still offers the same “door to drawer service for Columbia students” as it had done under Shalek, but is now affiliated with a professional laundromat in Brooklyn and seeks to turn itself into a franchise, though it still hires undergraduates to help with campus operations. At a minimum cost of $16.95 a week, Lion Laundry will pick up your stinking clothes from outside your dorm room in the early hours of Tuesday, returning it clean and folded Wednesday night. The 36-hour process is efficient but opaque.
Impossible to reach for any form of comment, calls to the service are met with a “Congratulations! You’ve reached Lion Laundry, I’m sorry we could not get to the phone right now.” While students oft comment that the process works smoothly, complaints of lost and mixed up laundry are far from uncommon.
But when you see students pushing blue bins around College Walk in the early hours of the morning, be kind to them. It’s possible they work for Lion Laundry, carting the clothes your peers are too lazy to wash.