Have you heard that President Obama will deliver Barnard College's Commencement Address this year?
Since the announcement ten days ago, it seems that the Barnard/ Columbia campuses have not received the news with the calm detachment one would expect from two of the country’s leading undergraduate institutions--far from it. As Ravenna Koenig, a Barnard student has written [Here], in just days after the announcement, there were at least 864 comments--"many lewd, hateful”--posted on the university’s blog, called “bwog.”
Many of the Columbia students were irate because Obama had chosen to speak at Barnard and not at Columbia, the college from which he had graduated. The choice opened a Pandora’s box of resentment and jealousy that obviously exists between the two institutions but lies hidden, though simmering, just below the surface.
Columbia College and Barnard live in a separate but equal world in their New York’s Morningside Heights campus on the Upper West Side. Both are independent undergraduate institutions with their own admissions processes, separate faculties, administrations, and presidents, but students may cross-register in courses. Barnard students receive their diplomas from Columbia University which are signed by the Presidents of both institutions.
Strange, eh? Separate but equal, but nothing that is separate is ever equal, as the Columbian undergraduate comments illustrate. Some reflect resentments about the strange legal relationship between the two undergraduate colleges but others reflect the gender biases that exist in our society and which have been front and center in our recent national political consiousness and angry debates.
What is also interesting about this fracas is that Obama and his political advisors only recently decided to be Barnard’s commencement speaker. With the GOP’s current war against women in this election year, I guess they looked around to see what women’s colleges they could sidle up to and use as a timely election year speech. They came up with Barnard. After all, Barack graduated from Columbia and his half-sister attended Barnard.
The tragedy is that Jill Abramson, the recently appointed executive editor of the New York Times, had been scheduled to speak at that same Barnard graduation. Abramson, the first female editor of the paper in its 160-year history, has already put her refreshingly new and interesting stamp on the paper.
We are left to wonder what she would have said to that community of women in these troubled times when our gender is so under attack from religious conservatives. Abramson has been smilingly gracious when asked about being bumped by the President.[Here] She promises to speak at the college at a later date.
It will be most interesting to compare their speeches...