When Columbia Outdoor Orientation Program first began in 1984, it included Barnard College students as participants and leaders, but by the following year it was exclusive to students in Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Recently, COÖP expressed support for integrating Barnard students into the program, depending on whether or not the Barnard administration also decides to participate, given financial and logistical considerations.
Columbia Urban Experience is currently the only pre-orientation program that includes participants and leaders from all four undergraduate schools. After participating in CUE and having the incredible opportunity to be a leader in the three following years, I observed the very best and most important qualities of the Barnard-Columbia relationship, manifested in the community formed during the weeklong program and continued throughout the year. Through what I’ve witnessed, I believe CUE—and pre-orientation programs in general—have the ability to create the most ideal, integrated community among the undergraduate schools by establishing a tone of acceptance, support, and celebration of the unique composition of our student body.
I remember, as an incoming first-year Barnard student, feeling slightly uncertain about what my identity as a Barnard student would mean in relation to the greater Columbia community. Before I could form any judgments, I arrived on campus for CUE, where I was surrounded by many interesting, intelligent, motivated, passionate, and genuine students. Whichever school they were a part of was but one aspect of their identity and had no effect on the complete respect and care they were afforded. For me, this sentiment has continued throughout the entirety of my four years here. I’ve been valued—and I value myself—as a Barnard student and member of the Columbia community as a whole.
Many students may come in with an awareness only of the issues in the Barnard-Columbia relationship that have received negative public attention, most notably the “Obamanard” firestorm in 2012. It is difficult for first-years to have a sense of the reality of the Barnard-Columbia relationship, as opposed to the divisive discourse filled with stereotypes and defensiveness that has at times seeped into the media. Ultimately, the schools function in the same space, work side by side on countless issues, and contribute in unique ways to the richness of the entire undergraduate community. We grow and learn from one another, and the fact that we have such diverse student bodies within each school benefits all of us. We are immensely fortunate to be here, on both sides of Broadway, and our opportunities and ambitions knit us together in the network of critical thought and constant learning that is Columbia. This does not mean that everything is and should be shared—the separation of administrations, finances, and services is particularly important to Barnard, as a women’s college. But ultimately, having fully integrated and more extensive pre-orientation programs would serve to better reflect the realities of the University.
Pre-orientation programs as a whole should be more of a priority because they are incredibly impactful in easing the transition to college by offering a smaller, inclusive environment and the support of upperclassman leaders. It’s impossible to overstate the impact of those first few days on incoming students. Many of my deepest and most enduring friendships—with both Barnard students and students from other undergraduate schools—are a result of CUE and my time there as a participant and leader. Personal relationships are the foundation of any community, and the sooner that students from all schools have the opportunity to form bonds with one another—either through fully integrated pre-orientation programs or more integrated programming during New Student Orientation Program—the better it is for the health of the entire University.
Neither COÖP nor Barnard are to blame for the lack of integration as it stands, as it was clearly a result of institutional divergence and differing objectives. Even with support from both sides, there are numerous financial and logistical complications to be addressed: the size of the program, the female to male ratio, the effect that ratio might have on CC and SEAS women interested in participating, and, ultimately, matters of funding. However, from my experience as a Barnard student and leader in CUE, I firmly believe in the benefits, at both the individual and University-wide levels, of offering opportunities for immediate inter-school integration. Barnard’s administration and COÖP’s leadership should make integrating COÖP a priority so that we can take one step forward in creating an increasingly conscious, unified community that is reflective of the day-to-day reality of the University.
The author is a Barnard College senior majoring in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies. She is a leader for the Columbia Urban Experience program, a former associate theater editor for Spectator, and an arts and entertainment columnist.
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