Barnard Prospective Experience

Monday, April 18, 2011

This weekend, I attended a long set of prospective student functions and hosted two "prospies" last night (hence the lack of musical interlude this Sunday). I must admit, a fair bit of nostalgia and thought did occur. So, I offer you my criticism.

Sorry general readers, this post is pretty specific to the Barnard/Columbia experience - check out last week's and the rest of this week's posts for something less school-focused!

Wrapped up in reliving the prospective student experience, I saw the advent of great dreams and wish fulfillment going on when we talked to all the people thinking of coming to Barnard. I felt that sometimes I was searching out little "me" in the crowd, but most of the time I looked for someone that I could envision being a pal with.

Unfortunately, not much of that was going on. A lot of the prospective student experience is regulated, and there's no doubt that with that many people you need to have a strong schedule, but I find that it was almost impossible to chat with the prospective students without being bullied out by a pre-scheduled activity. Even at the lunch and dinner where we were told to "mingle with the prospectives," there was little opportunity to really get to talk to them about the Barnard experience. I believe there is a combination of factors that caused that: the scheduling, sometimes poor planning, the regulated "face of Barnard" as told by the admissions office... these things all pushed out the honest conversation that we potentially could have had.

I felt somewhat redeemed when, at the prospective student dinner, the alumnae were invited to stand and talk about their experiences at Barnard. These opinions were refreshing and all gave a glowing review of Barnard, which is of course the goal. I believe that having these events even for current students would be awesome. As a current student looking back, I think of the reference for my days as "before Barnard" and am now (frighteningly) starting to think about the days "after." It would be great to talk to alumnae sometimes in a less formal manner, or hear their opinions about the "post Barnard experience" without the frame of selling me the school. It feels to me that after the first year, we are not often validated for attending Barnard. And, while that may be awesome because we are treated as independent people, it might be nice to get some ra-ra and storytelling once in a while.

Regardless, the prospective students dinner was a really heartwarming event and it allowed me to catch up with some alumnae that I personally knew. We then marched over to attend the club performance showcase for the students, and I again was stirred. This time, it was the feeling of idealism that burgeoned in my chest: I have the ability to be part of so many different things on this campus. On this point, if I were again a prospective, I would be sold. Dance, acapella, theater Chinese yo-yo... you name it, we've got it. And I think we should keep marketing that for all its worth.
Finally, a word about the image of Barnard marketed to prospectives. I think that we are presented really nicely as a place that has high academic standards, but we are not often shown off for the lives that we have outside of that. I would encourage that we market ourselves as well-rounded people rather than just kids in the classroom all the time. I know there is the image of New York City that is working for us, but often I got questions about classes and majors and future plans rather than about the clubs, activities, and layabout things that I do on the day-to-day. And that goes for identity-building as well. When I applied, I was nervous about the diversity aspect of Barnard. I didn't know about the wealth of diversity clubs, the ODI, or anything like that until I discovered it on my own during freshman year. Perhaps we don't want to lead a horse to water, but I think showcasing the cultural, religious, queer, and other identity-forming clubs in the same way that the performance clubs were showcased would be really beneficial.

So, where am I going with this critique? Right now it's just in rant form, of course, but I believe that making Barnard more accessible for students that are either incoming or prospective is really important. Thus, I think that (following the zine club's lead), I would like to brainstorm ideas about what prospies and incoming freshman would want to know outside of the stuff they've been told a zillion times. Maybe make a zine about it or something - who knows? So, if you have any ideas, Barnard women, please shout them out at the comments.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like to read Discrimination and Mixed Metaphors.