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After Barack Obama Plans Commencement Visit, Why Did Columbia Girls Get So Nasty At Barnard Girls?

Amidst the recent tumult over contraception, President Barack Obama accepted an invitation to speak at Barnard College's commencement. Students at Columbia University, his alma mater across the street, were disappointed, as Obama had yet to favor them with an appearance. According to The Daily Beast, some of the sharpest criticism came from Columbia's women, whose comments went beyond criticizing the president's decision to attacking the academic credentials and sexual mores of Barnard women and perhaps the social maturity of Columbia men. 

Columbia vs. Barnard is a rivalry that has existed for a long time, but I never expected it to lead to this. I thought the way Columbia implemented co-education was a triumph for women, granting them educational options unique in the Ivy League. I expected Columbia and Barnard women to bond in sisterly solidatiry as they sought to assert themselves as academic and social equals to undergraduate men. But at least in this case, Barnard women got something Columbia women thought they deserved, and Columbia women took no prisoners in their protests.

Smart Schools Talk Trash

Columbia women charged that Barnard women used Barnard's lower admissions standards as a "back door" into Columbia. They questioned the amount of effort it took to get into Barnard and if Barnard women were legitmate female role models.

The most readily available data for evaluating these charges is the SAT scores of the two student bodies. SAT scores are not the only criteria admissions departments consider, but comparing the middle 50% SAT scores of the two student bodies offers some interesting insights.

Both schools' students scored well above average. The average combined SAT score (reading+math+writing) is approximately 1500. Seventy-five percent of Barnard students scored 1910 or higher; 75% of Columbia students scored 2080 or higher.

Both schools are near the top of their markets. Columbia's scores compare well with Harvard's; Barnard's scores compare well with top women's collegs, such as Scripps and Wellesley.

There is overlap between the schools. Twenty-five percent of Barnard women scored 2170 or better, 90 points above Columbia's 25th percentile. This implies that a significant number of Barnard women could have been admitted to either school.

The numbers favor Columbia. But it's like comparing an A to an A-. Both grades are good; both require effort. Charges that Barnard women lack the academic credentials to be role models or that they did not work to earn their place in the university overstates the Columbia women's case. It sounds like trash talk in a highly charged rivalry.

Men Are Targets Too

Columbia men don't seem immune from Columbia women's wrath either. One charge accused Barnard women of seeking "MRS degrees" from "Columbia boys." It's hard to tell who the writer holds in more contempt, the women seeking the "degrees" or the "boys" they pursue. I base this on my days on the Columbia campus, when Barnard students resented being called "girls." They were "women," and to call them "girls" was considered patronizing, "politically incorrect" before the term took hold. I wouldn't be surprised if the woman who hurled the "MRS degree" charge called Columbia students "boys" because she considers them socially immature and shallow.

It doesn't seem fair. Columbia men didn't invite Obama to Barnard. But they seem to be acceptable collateral damage in this protest.

In Conclusion

I understand Columbia's disappointment at being "scooped" by Barnard. I remember the pride I felt as an alumnus when Obama was elected and hope he finds more ways to involve himself with the University. I hope that this incident is a temporary spat and doesn't reflect more substantial discord between Columbia College women and Barnard. Both sides have a lot of talent to offer the University, New York City, and beyond. They should learn to find the best in each other and nurture it.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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