Pitching tents, waddling in mud, and eating gorp could be part of some incoming Barnard first-years’ pre-orientation experiences if the Columbia Outdoor Orientation Program comes to an agreement with Barnard administrators to accept Barnard students into the popular program.
An email sent by COÖP Biking Orientation Program coordinator Justin Birmingham, SEAS ’15, said that “it is now up to Barnard to decide whether it wants to participate and in what ways.”
“There are a lot of factors that come into play,” Birmingham said Sunday over the phone. “We’re generally just talking about it in general. ... We haven’t made any formal decisions about it.”
Still, COÖP leaders said they were excited by the potential opportunity for Barnard students to participate in the program.
“I’m excited that we’re moving towards a more inclusive program,” Emma Sulkowicz, CC ’15 and COÖP’s River Orientation Program coordinator, said. “We already have females from Barnard, students who are excited about the program.”
“It would give a lot for first years, the opportunity to have this really great experience,” Michelle Cheripka, CC ’16 and COÖP’s Hiking Orientation Program coordinator, said. “But I think that it could potentially create a more integrated community in the long run.”
Barnard students participated as group leaders for the first COÖP in 1984, but haven’t been involved at all since then.
But according to Birmingham’s email, there has been ongoing dialogue between COÖP and the Barnard administration for several years about expanding to include Barnard students.
In the meantime, Kate Corry-Saavedra and Sammy Schwartz, both BC ’16, organized an unofficial camping trip for around 20 students last October to prove there was student interest for a hiking program similar to COÖP—after expressing frustration with the lack of action by both schools.
“What we’ve been told many times is that there’s always been, like, bad timing in terms of people’s decisions,” Corry-Saavedra said. “One year the Barnard administration says, ‘We want to integrate,’ but then the Columbia leaders will say, ‘Well, we don’t want integration,’ and the next year the leaders will want integration, but the Barnard administration says, ‘No, there’s no student interest.’”
Afterwards, Corry-Saavedra and Schwartz met with Barnard and NSOP administrators to push for the creation of a Barnard-specific program. After receiving the results of a survey where nearly 70 percent of Barnard respondents said they wanted an integrated program, however, they were told that collaborating with COÖP would be more efficient.
A Barnard-inclusive COÖP may still be a few years off—the email said that integration was still at least a year or two away—during which several challenges need to be resolved.
One concern COÖP leaders acknowledged was figuring out how to integrate Barnard students without lessening the chances for Columbia women, since the program is currently split evenly between men and women.
“The biggest change is going to be the gender balance, because we assume the Columbia administrators doesn’t want to make it harder for women,” Sulkowicz said. “Adding Barnard will greatly increase the women to men ratio.”
“I think there’s a chance that people might be upset,” Tina Reynolds, CC ’16 and past COÖP participant, said. “If there are more girls overall, Columbia girls have less of a chance to get in.”
Another issue is that there are currently no Barnard COÖP alumnae to take leadership positions and serve as role models for participating Barnard students.
“If there are no leaders who are also going to your school … then the Barnard first years are going to feel quite out of place,” Schwartz said.
Birmingham, however, said that such experiences could bring students between the schools closer together.
“Freshmen don’t know that much about the Barnard-Columbia relationship to begin with,” he said. “I think honestly the biggest impact will be after the trip. More Columbia people will have Barnard friends and vice versa.”
In the meantime, Corry-Saavedra said Barnard administrators told her COÖP integration is not a focus in the near future.
“The last thing we were told was that ... this issue wasn’t going to be a priority for Barnard in the fall of 2015, but they would think about making it a priority for the fall of 2016,” she said.
But Corry-Saavedra and Schwartz hope that by making Barnard’s involvement in the decision-making process known, student support could expedite the integration process.
“I think that if there was a larger mass of Barnard women who knew about this and knew it was Barnard’s decision, they’d be strong in trying to get the Barnard administration to move faster,” Corry-Saavedra said.
Cheripka said that integrating Barnard would, in a way, be returning to COÖP’s start in 1984.
“Barnard students were originally leaders, and after the first year they were no longer able to be leaders,” she said. “And so if this integration happens it’ll be a way of going back to the roots.”
Emma Bogler contributed reporting