From Ancient Grudge
Updated: Jul 2
Editor Emeritus Anna Bahr considers the supposed friction between Barnard and Columbia.
By Anna Bahr
A Columbia College student originally asked me to write this piece. He wanted someone across the street to explain what “Barnard double-consciousness” feels like. When pressed, he couldn’t exactly define it—neither could I—but we agreed there was something to be said about this perceived hostility toward those of us who carry a Barnard ID and graduate with two diplomas.
A few notable stories recur in reference to “tension” between the schools. There was, of course, the dramatic online outrage following the announcement that President Obama chose to deliver a commencement address at the women’s college next door to his alma mater; Bwog commenters were, memorably, peeved at the undeserving “cum dumpsters” with their “home economics” degrees. There’s the widespread anxiety that Barnard students actively conceal their, assumedly embarrassing, identities, passing through a back door into the hallowed Ivy League: “She doesn’t even go here.” Pre-freshmen post nervous messages across the College Confidential message board dedicated exclusively to “The Barnard- Columbia Relationship.”
Let’s cool our jets: Barnard students are not treated as second class citizens. There are no West Side Story vibes. If there is a Barnard-particular “double consciousness,” I haven’t experienced it. Sure, when a friend asked if I’d like to join his table for senior dinner, forgetting that Barnard students are asked to enjoy a separate event, I felt a little deprived. I’ve had Columbia women in Barnard classes who made a point of emphasizing their college affiliation every week in seminar, which was tiresome: “Ohhhh right you guys haven’t read the Aeneid.” And when someone recently insinuated that my GPA benefits from the inherent inflation that accompanies a supposedly less rigorous Barnard curriculum, yeah, it ruffled my feathers.
But, worst case, my Barnard ID actually serves as a convenient filter. It helps to sift out the rare, arrogant, self-conscious kid still intent on defining himself by his college acceptance letters. I’m thankful to have avoided people who use high school transcripts to calculate a person’s projected net worth. That sounds boring.
Still, I must beg everyone to relax. I’d rather not fuel this mythic, unanimous hostility toward the Barnard student body. Why does CUMB (Columbia University Marching Band) open each Orgo Night with a joke about GS turning up their hearing aids and Barnard switching off their vibrators? Because those exaggerated caricatures are cutely pertinent to our community—not because they hold true some Barnard dialectic (women are sex-crazed or sex-less). That one-liner is funnier than generic Breakfast Club stereotypes of jocks and art freaks and nerds.
People whine about our community lacking the “rah rah” togetherness Facebook tells us people feel at the Harvard-Yale game. What builds strong camaraderie better than rallying against a common opponent? And what Yalie genuinely carries a burning bitterness toward his Harvard counterpart after the game ends? Probably only that 50-something alum who wears navy blue every day, has the Yale “Y” tatted to his ankle, and only ever keeps bulldogs as pets. That is to say, if the theatrical Barnard-Columbia “animosity” serves some purpose in helping kids unite over sharing a college name, only the rare nut takes it seriously.
If I could promise this to be the last article ever written about this tired, self-perpetuating, alleged antagonism, I would probably add a couple of sentences plainly stating that I don’t feel the need to validate my work or friendships by their proximity to the Ivy League. But I’m sure someone will do that for me next semester.