The first day of school is perhaps one of the most significant days for a student. Whether it’s getting a new set of pencils, choosing a back-to-school outfit, showing up to class and finding friends, or realizing a class is nothing like you imagined, there’s always something unexpected on day one. When Barnard students walked across campus on the first day of school this year, almost everyone, whether they had been here two weeks or two years, stopped to explore the just-completed Milstein Center.
For Emily, a first-year, walking across campus for the first day of classes was a completely new experience. Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona and visiting New York every summer, she dreamed of living in the city. She already knew how to navigate the subway system, but how would she navigate life at Barnard?
For Julia, a senior, this year was her last walking across campus for the first day of school. But it was the first time since her first year that there was a lawn and open space, making the campus once again feel like an oasis hidden in the chaos of Manhattan.
Emily is studying Political Science, and Julia is studying Cell and Molecular Biology. Even though they are separated by academic interests and years of college experience, they sat down to speak to one another and ended up discovering that many aspects of being a Barnard student simply transcend time.
Julia: What were some of the biggest changes coming to Barnard?
J: Some of the changes this year have been really big ones, like the campus. When I got here, there was the old lawn and the old library, and it had this familiar Barnard feel to it. There were actually some really great things that resulted from the planned construction. They let us paint the inside of the old library, and it was amazing to see all these student paintings on the wall when I studied there that fall. Thinking back to my first year, I loved the change of being able to choose my courses.
E: I was happy to be able to study what I want. I’m very intellectually curious, which I feel like most Barnard students are, but I went to a high school where I had to take four years of every subject with no electives. Now, even though we have Foundations requirements, I feel like everything I am taking is contributing to my development in some way.
J: I was also really excited to transition from the rigid structure of high school. It was a great feeling to be taking classes I was very passionate about and dive into science. Now, even though I’ve taken mostly science courses, I feel that as I get closer to graduating I am realizing how important it is to be proficient in skills outside of your major. This year, taking courses for the Nine Ways of Knowing, which was the previous set of general education requirements, it has been challenging because I am not used to non-textbook reading and essay writing, but it has also been very rewarding because I know I am building valuable skills.
On campus culture
E: I noticed it’s expected to be engaged in current events and be knowledgeable enough about politics to talk openly about them, which is honestly a positive change from where I grew up. I took it upon myself to get involved with the Planned Parenthood Youth Board and worked on political campaigns in high school, so I’m happy I can continue those types of conversations. I have lived most of my life in an area that was very politically apathetic. In a way it motivated me to get involved with endeavors such as political campaigns, but I definitely prefer the university environment where community engagement is common. I feel like I almost have too many options for community service and clubs here, whereas in high school I felt like I had to constantly search for a space where I could find like-minded individuals and make a difference.
J: I think those kinds of conversations are a major aspect of campus culture, especially after the 2016 election, which happened when I was a sophomore at Barnard. It is encouraging to see that students want to have these important conversations in their social interactions and not just in the classroom.
E: I’m happy you say that, because that was one of the reasons I chose Barnard. I suspected everyone wanted to be engaged and involved to make a difference, not just for the sake of it. Even just three weeks into Barnard, I am already so grateful that everyone always wants to go do something and engage with the community even though they are still academically focused.
On how to make the most of your experience at Barnard
J: I think I had this expectation that I was going to be able to do absolutely everything! And while I definitely have tried to get involved in a broad range of things on campus, I realized that it was best to engage with smaller number of activities in a very meaningful way. Everyone has to make choices as well. For me, I decided not to study abroad, which was a difficult decision, but I am very content with it. Being here for the full academic year last year also provided me with tons of opportunities I would not have had otherwise. I think taking the pressure off myself to do everything and rather just focusing in on the activities that are most meaningful to me has been really gratifying. This year, my goal is to stay present at Barnard and enjoy the college experience.
E: Even in these three short weeks, I’ve really noticed how important it is for me to prioritize how I spend my time. For example, I have always wanted to understand the fashion and publication industries more; so, now that I have the opportunity to get involved with publications like Hoot and the Bulletin, I feel like I need to prioritize those opportunities because I think they are going to contribute more to my development as an individual and expanding my mind. I’m trying not to limit myself so early on, so I definitely am staying updated with local community and artistic organizations, but I also am going to make sure I set some time aside for self-care. Sometimes it feels like a full-time job. I have a lot of personal hobbies such as visual art and writing, so I sometimes find it difficult to turn the “work” side of my brain off, because I feel like there’s always something I could be doing or creating. No matter your interests, self care is something everyone needs to keep in mind! Especially at a competitive, passionate environment like Barnard. Luckily, we live in a city where it’s so easy to go escape to a museum or a park. I’m really grateful for the times where I can just walk into the Met and use it as my study space. I feel like I’m being productive but also not sacrificing my sanity!
Whether it be a mutual love for the new grassy green lawn or a passion for social justice work, the conversation between Emily and Julia illustrates how the community of bold Barnard women truly is connected beyond major or age.
As a Political Science-studying freshman, Emily plans on getting involved with reproductive justice through the on-campus PlannedParenthoodGen club. As a senior, Julia has been involved with reproductive justice through her Athena research project on addressing barriers to contraception and sexual health resources.
Julia and Emily’s conversation shows us that there is often more that bonds Barnard women together than there are traits that divide us. On top of everything else, the conversation revealed an equally passionate love for The New York Times, and a shared enthusiasm for avidly following the news. But, this being Barnard, that was perhaps the least surprising revelation.