Fall 2012

Fall 2012

The F-Word

I was heartened to read “Sexual Politics” in the summer issue. For me this is a marked change in how women respond to ugly remarks. My mother believed ugly comments should be ignored but I felt that silence lets people get away with offensive comments. My mother graduated from UNC Chapel Hill in 1943 and worked as a chemist during World War II. as the only female professional in a TVa steam plant, she learned to stand her ground but rarely considered comments to be worth fighting for.
 
I am proud to see President Spar bringing ugly comments out into the daylight. I am also proud that my daughter refuses to be silenced. Her college essay, “Daring to Use the F-Word,” was what got her into her first-choice college.
 
—Jean anthony ’79
New York, NY
 

She’s Ours

I was reading the latest issue of the Barnard magazine and noticed that the magazine accidently put Yael Lewin as the class of 1971—instead of 1991. You had a beautiful photo and write-up of her—but it was in the wrong spot in the magazine’s Class Notes. Many people in the Class of ’91 might not...realize she is one of our classmates.
 
—Diane Rein ’91
Kings Point, N.Y.
 
Editors’ Note: We’re delighted you reclaimed her, and we do regret the error.
 

Making a Choice

Hang your head in shame, Barnard! I always found the College’s hyperventilating about women’s issues a bit overstated, but the circumstances surrounding Obama’s giving the commencement address reveal just how empty words are. I understand that Jill Abramson, the first woman executive editor of The New York Times, was originally invited to give the address and then was asked to step aside in favor of President Obama. Following the example of the Democratic Party in ’08, the College chose a cool black guy over a woman of proven competence.
 
—Carol Crystle ’62
Via e-mail
 
Editors’ Note: Jill Abramson has graciously agreed to speak at the College at a later date.
One of the questions I get asked all the time is “why is college so expensive?” It is a question that has exploded now beyond the confines of academia into the realm of policy debate and popular media. It is a good question, and one that eludes simple explanation.

When my father set out for the University of Vermont in 1955, he drove to Burlington with a small carload of books and clothes, along with a full semester’s tuition bill of $750. He’d worked as a busboy the summer before, earning nearly enough—$1,400, plus a modest Catskills room and board—to cover two semesters’ worth of tuition. He ate at a diner near campus, or in the kitchen of a local woman who served Friday-night chicken to hungry undergraduates for 25 cents a meal. He worked every summer at the same upstate resort, and graduated without a cent of debt.

By the time I left for college, in 1980, tuition rates had risen precipitously. Annual fees at Georgetown were roughly $10,000, or about seven times greater than those my father had encountered a generation earlier. I was lucky, though. Having paid their way through college, my parents were determined to set aside funds for my brother’s and my education. So from our births, they carefully saved around $2,200 a year in each of our names, enough so that we, too, could graduate debt free. It wasn’t easy for my parents, but it was manageable.

Today, it is only the very wealthiest families that can afford to follow my parents’ path. At Barnard, the annual cost of attendance is $55,000, a staggeringly high figure that is shared or even exceeded by most of our peers. To fully cover the bill for four years, a family would need to save about $12,000 a year from the time their child was born, or nearly 20 percent of the median annual family income in 2011. This is a tough amount to sustain, even for families who fall solidly into the middle class. By contrast, my grandparents would have had to save $333 a year to cover my father’s college costs, or only seven percent of median family income in 1955. Is higher education too expensive today? Yes.
 
So why has this happened? Part is just the inexorable force of inflation. If we use the consumer price index as the normal rate of inflation, then my father’s $1,500 tuition in 1955 would naturally have increased to $12,074 in today’s dollars, or slightly less than a quarter of the actual price. It is easy to blame the additional 75 percent on the newer luxuries of college living—the climbing walls and plush dormitories—or on the catch-all category of administrative bloat. Yet, as our students would readily attest, we don’t have climbing walls or plush dormitories at Barnard. And administrative salaries account for only 13 percent of our total budget. What has instead driven the rise, on our campus and elsewhere, are two crucial but little discussed trends: expanded access and extended student services.
 
In 1955, few American colleges offered financial aid, and access was restricted, as a result, to those who could pay—typically, white, Anglo-Saxon, relatively wealthy families. Today, by contrast, higher education is firmly and proudly committed to opening its doors to capable students from all family backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. This is a very good thing, in my opinion, probably the most critical development in higher education of the last century. But it is expensive. At Barnard, as at most of our peer schools, nearly half the student body receives some form of financial aid. The cost of this achievement is $34 million a year, or nearly 25 percent of our total budget. Is this a cost worth paying? Absolutely. But it is a very real cost, and one that cannot be contained without limiting access.
 
Meanwhile, in the 50 years since my parents graduated, colleges like Barnard have vastly expanded the kind of services we provide. In 1955, Barnard offered 28 majors; today we offer 51. In 1955, our health services revolved around social hygiene and TB tests; today we have nutritionists and substance-abuse counselors, learning- disability specialists, and psychiatrists. We have career counselors and college- activity directors; a public-safety staff of 120, and a dining service that is kosher and halal, nut-free, gluten-free, and vegetarian. None of these services relates directly to what our students learn in Russian literature or organic chemistry, but they have been built into the fabric of college life over the past 50 years, enriching the ways in which our students learn and influencing the kind of women they become. And they, too, are extremely costly: In 2011, counseling services alone cost the College nearly one million dollars.
 
In the coming decades, American higher education is likely to face a cascade of overlapping challenges, with financial pressures morphing rapidly into political ones. We will be attacked as too expensive, too indulgent, too elitist. And we will increasingly have to explain, not just what we do, but why it costs so much. The bottom line is that education—like health care— is expensive, and does not benefit from the economies of scale or mechanization that prevail in other sectors. We can’t eliminate the classics department because we’ve added environmental studies. We can’t replace academic deans with online FAQs. And we can’t double or triple the number of students in a class without undermining the kind of education that each one receives. As a sector, to be sure, we will need to respond. We will need to chip away at our costs wherever we can, and experiment with different modes of delivering content. But we will never go back to my parents’ day, when a hard-working kid with a decent summer job could pay her way through college.

FIlM EXPlORES A SCHOOl’S DESEGREGATION

Even after four decades the emotions of the participants in the film 40 Years Later: Now Can We Talk? are raw, as the first African American students to attend South Panola High School in Batesville, Mississippi, shared their memories in a documentary that premiered on the Barnard campus in September. The three women who created the piece— Professor Lee Anne Bell, the Barbara Silver Horowitz Director of Education at Barnard, educator and advocate Fern Khan, and director Markie Hancock—hope it will promote dialogues about the power of educators to create environments that foster learning for everyone.

“We didn’t have a clue about what we were getting into,” says Cheryl Johnson, from South Panola’s class of 1969, describing what awaited the black students when their parents decided to send them to a previously all-white high school.

When Johnson and her black classmates were invited to the South Panola reunion—the first invitation they had received from the school since their graduation—she started doing Web searches to find someone who could help them tell their stories. She found Bell’s Web site with information about the professor’s ongoing project to use storytelling to teach students about race, racism, and social justice. Johnson contacted Bell, telling her about the reunion and that she and her classmates, most of whom eventually moved from Mississippi, had never discussed their experiences with each other or with any of their white classmates. Recalls Bell, “I naïvely (not having ever made a film) said, ‘Seems like an historic occasion and we should film it.’”

Johnson consulted her 12 black classmates and all agreed to participate. Bell enlisted Hancock Productions; what Bell terms a ‘just-in-time’ grant

from Barnard enabled the team to travel to Mississippi and compile eight hours of footage with the black alumni. “We had the most amazing, moving discussion about their experiences,” she says. Things such as abuse from classmates and teachers, lack of recognition for academic accomplishments, and even being turned away at the door of their prom were among their memories.
 
Bell accompanied them to the reunion—to this day there has never been a clear answer about why they’d never previously been invited. A few months later, she arranged for 13 of their white classmates to share their recollections on film. “It was interesting to see how, in each group, the same themes emerged, but from radically different perspectives,” she notes.
 
After writing numerous grant proposals and raising money from various groups (including major funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation), Bell and Hancock were able to bring most of the alumni who’d participated in the two separate dialogues together for a shared discussion. The documentary, with Barnard faculty members Kim Hall and Monica Miller serving as consultants, includes three sessions of discussions with the South Panola graduates. Although the completed work was first shown officially on September 13, Bell had given preliminary copies to all the participants, presented rough cuts at educational conferences, and shown clips to students in Barnard’s education program.
 
“There are so many layers to the film. There’s the inability of our country to come to terms with its racial past that lives on in the present,” says Bell. “Another layer that my students find particularly powerful in the film is when the students talk about their teachers and their experiences in classrooms. It really brings home the power teachers have to do harm or good.”
 
At present, Bell is writing a facilitation guide that will go with DVDs of the documentary when sent to educators. She hopes the work will foster honest and open discussions of the issues addressed and how genuine progress can be made. “Our primary goal as a program is to ensure that our students who will be teachers feel confident and capable to address discrimination, stereotyping, bias, and bullying in their classrooms,” says Bell. “We want them to develop the skills to halt these practices and...create a safe environment where all the kids can thrive.”
 
More about the Storytelling Project at: education.barnard.edu
 
—by Lois Elfman '80
—Photograph by Juliana Sohn 
 
 
 
 
 

ASSISTANT PROFESSORS JOIN SCIENCE AND HUMANITIES DEPARTMENTS

KAREN LEWIS

Karen Lewis, assistant professor of philosophy, joins Barnard from the University of Southern California; she received her BA from Queen’s University, Canada, and her doctorate from Rutgers. Her specialty is the philosophy of language, particularly questions of meaning and communication. Outside her academic work, she enjoys cycling, cooking, and reading novels.

 
 
 
 
JONATHAN SNOW
A member of the biological sciences department, Assistant Professor Jonathan Snow studies the immune mechanisms of honey bees and currently has four bee colonies living in hives on the roof of Barnard Hall. This year he is teaching cell biology, introduction to molecular biology, and a senior seminar on immunology. Originally from Nashville, he relaxes by playing the banjo.
 
 
 
 
 
 
HOMA ZARGHAMEE
Homa Zarghamee studies the impact of mood on economic behavior, determinants of social preferences, gender and competition, and subjective well-being. She is also interesested in the economics of child labor, youth in developing countries, and the transition from education to the labor force in Iran. Zarghamee received her doctorate in economics from Cornell, and joins Barnard from Santa Clara University.
 
 
 
RACHEL EISENDRATH
From the University of Chicago, Rachel 
Eisendrath specializes in 16th-century English poetry and prose. Before discovering her love for Renaissance verse, she studied painting and sculpture at the New York Studio School. Now in New York, she plans to visit her favorite works of art—paintings, tiles, rugs, and sculptures—at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
 
 
 
 
ELLEN MORRIS
Ellen Morris ’91, an ancient-studies major at Barnard, is now a member of the department’s faculty, with a specialty in ancient Egyptian society. She has also done fieldwork in the Nile Valley at Abydos and Mendes, as well as at Amheida in Dakhleh Oasis. Thrilled to be back at her alma mater, she’ll be teaching courses on ancient Egyptian society and on Greco-Roman Egypt.

 

 

 

ANDREW CROWTHER
Andrew Crowther is a physical chemist studying the fundamental electronic and optical properties of graphene, a new material with great potential for electronics and energy. This lifelong soccer player was a post-doctoral researcher at Columbia. Crowther was also with The National Academies, where he worked on renewable energy and sustainability.
 
 
 
—by Alyssa Vine
—Photographs by Dorothy Hong
 

THE OLDEST LIVING HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR & HER WORLDVIEW 

Caroline stoessinger ’58 simply couldn’t wrap her head around the idea that there had been concerts in Nazi concentration camps. “It made no sense,” said Stoessinger, who is a concert pianist. Her quest to understand the incomprehensible was the subject of an event on campus in September exploring the life of 108-year-old Londoner Alice Herz-Sommer, the Holocaust survivor profiled in Stoessinger’s 2012 book, A Century of Wisdom (Spiegel & Grau, 2012). Sponsored by Project Continuum, an alumnae group of women over 50, the program offered a mix of literature as well as music that had been performed at Theresienstadt, an SS concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic. Stoessinger performed, as did the Shanghai String Quartet and the Metropolitan Opera bass Terry Cook.

Alice Herz-Sommer’s life inspired Stoessinger to write her first book because, “What’s important is not her age, not that she’s a survivor, not that she’s a pianist, but that she’s able to live with joy in her heart [despite] what happened,” said Stoessinger.
 
As a young Jewish girl born into an affluent family in Prague, Alice Herz-Sommer met Franz Kafka; her mother was a childhood friend of Gustav Mahler. When the Nazis came, Herz-Sommer was sent to Theresienstadt with her young son. Her husband died at Auschwitz. After the war, she left Czechoslovakia for Israel, learned Hebrew at 45, and became a friend of both Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Teddy Kollek, then mayor of Jerusalem. She moved to London to be near her son, an only child, who died a few years ago.
 
Herz-Sommer, who turns 109 in November, lives alone. Until a few months ago, she practiced piano daily. “I often feel I’m the youngest person in the room because I’m curious about other people,” she said in a video shown during the program. “I’m very thankful for every minute we’re living.... I look at the good side always. I believe I am the happiest
person in the world.”
 
Stoessinger believes music saved people’s lives in the camps. “By allowing people to practice, to play concerts, to compose, they held on to something. People could be transported back to their homes, back to the beauty they had known. Every concert in Theresienstadt became an ethical and moral victory for the Jewish prisoners.”
 
A native of the Ozarks who majored in music at Barnard, Stoessinger is a teacher and artist-in-residence at John Jay College. She also runs the Mozart Academy to teach classical music to children who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity. “The Mozart Academy is directly related to Alice,” Stoessinger explained. “I deeply believe that our culture, like that of the German Jews, needs to be kept alive. It’s a humanizing influence. I believe that music is basic to education. The truth is that people who pursue beauty don’t carry hate or vengeance in their hearts.”
 
—by Merri Rosenberg '78
—Illustration by Gracia Lam 

GAIL BELTRONE WORKS BEHIND THE SCENES TO BENEFIT & BEAUTIFY THE CAMPUS

After working with divas at Carnegie Hall, luminaries at the 92nd Street Y, and legends at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Vice President of Campus Services Gail Beltrone was undaunted by the prospect of helping to manage President Barack Obama’s appearance at last spring’s Commencement.

Never mind that Beltrone had only arrived on campus three months before the President’s visit was in the works. “It was fun for me,” says Beltrone, quick to credit her team and Lillian Appel, director of major events, for their contributions. “I had previously worked maybe 70 to 100 or so commencement ceremonies over the years on the venue side, so it felt pretty natural. The security involved with a president (sitting or past) is really all about being flexible and that’s what venue managers are trained to do.”

Beltrone certainly has the training in managing properties, people, and events, even as she admits that she didn’t grow up thinking her career goal was to be “in charge of campus services.” At Barnard, Beltrone is responsible for event management and special events—including all conferences on campus and Commencement—as well as facilities management, public safety, and mail and document services.
 
Born in the Bronx and raised in Westchester County, Beltrone earned a degree in American history from the University of Chicago. When she decided to postpone law school and get a job, Beltrone returned home to New York, looked at job postings in the arts, and was hired by Carnegie Hall.
 
Law school never happened. “At each step, I had phenomenal opportunities,” says Beltrone. While director of theater operations at the 92nd Street Y, Beltrone also was the executive producer for a television series, and did project management. Once she landed at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Beltrone helped open the new space and went on to become vice president of operations there.
 
She couldn’t be more delighted with her current position. “This is as near a perfect marriage as there could be,” says Beltrone, who lives in the theatre district with her husband. “I still regard myself as very lucky.” The new vice president appreciates the culture of the College, where “there are a lot of people who care about the stewardship of the campus. People understand their customer service role: It’s ‘what does it take to get the job done?’ They understand the mission, which is to improve the quality of life and uphold the vision of the College.”
 
Her definition of being successful is being invisible. “I really work towards affecting the quality of student and faculty life,” she affirms. “You can continue to take for granted that things are clean, that the grounds look beautiful. The best testament to our work is that there’s nothing to say. I regard it as an honor to be able to do that.” And working behind the scenes suits her just fine. “I enjoy the finished product,” says Beltrone. “I don’t need to be the finished product.”
 
—by Merri Rosenberg
—Photograph by Juliana Sohn 
 
 
 
 


L-R: Yingluck Shinawatra, Debora Spar, Atifete Jahjaga

As the first female president in the modern-day Balkans, Kosovo’s Atifete Jahjaga feels a particular responsibility to inspire women to public service. It’s especially crucial as the country enters its second decade of rebuilding efforts after the end of its brutal civil war in 1999. “Women are very good at building bridges,” Jahjaga told an audience of more than 300 people who gathered this fall in the Event Oval of The Diana Center for the Women in Public Service Project (WPSP) symposium. “In a country that has experience with conflict...women have shown tremendous will and ability to weave communities back together,” she said.

Jahjaga, who at 37 is the world’s youngest head of state, was the program’s keynote; other speakers included Thailand’s prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Finland’s former president, Tarja Halonen. WPSP is a partnership founded by the State Department and leading women’s colleges, including Barnard, with a mission to develop the next generation of female government leaders. Embedded in its motto, “50 by 2050,” is its goal: By the year 2050, half of the world’s civic leadership should be female.

To the State Department’s special representative to Muslim communities, Farah Pandith, achieving this goal means not only pushing to have women in positions of leadership, but also engaging them at all levels of policymaking. “We always hear the conversation about women around the board table, and we need to continue to have that conversation, but we never talk about the fact that there aren’t women around a policy table,” said Pandith, who spoke on a panel moderated by Barnard President Debora Spar.

Also on that panel were Marta Santos Pais, special representative, United Nations Secretary-General on violence against children, and former congresswoman Jane Harman, now the director of the Woodrow Wilson Center, the WPSP partner that is now home to the initiative


L-R: Farah Pandith, Marta Santos Pais, Jane Harman


L-R: Tarja Halonen, Olivia Low

Spar asked Harman: “What does it take to be a great leader?” The director shared about half a dozen ideas. Key among them was the need for women leaders to mentor other women leaders. “When you succeed, your most important obligation is to mentor the women who come after you. Not every woman does this and that’s why the great Madeleine Albright says there’s a cold place in hell for women who don’t help women,” she added, paraphrasing Albright.

This message was underscored by speakers throughout the evening, including Melanne Verveer, U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, and Rangita de Silva de Alwis, WPSP’s director. With mentorship for emerging leaders crucial to the project’s mission, one student from each of the eight partner colleges was selected to speak and had the chance to choose an issue for a panelist to address.

The students’ questions focused on a range of topics, from prison reform to the role of women in economic decision-making. Barnard’s student panelist, Olivia Low ’13, asked how policy-making could more fully include women grassroots community leaders. “The HIV-positive mother turned community-health worker, the aspiring member of parliament, the director of a local NGO—these are women with the perspective, pragmatic ideas, and courage needed to effect change, and I believe they have a right to become visible and make decisions about their own lives,” said Low. “The hard question, of course, is how?”

Just how to go about reaching the “50 by 2050” goal is the question that all those involved with the Women and Public Service Project are working to solve. Yet at the root of the project is the belief that health and prosperity can only be achieved by including women at all levels of decision-making. Throughout the program, the speakers cited Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spearheaded the creation of WPSP, as a chief source of inspiration. President Jahjaga recalled the words of Secretary Clinton: “You are more likely to succeed if you widen the circle to include a broader range of expertise, experience, and ideas. This is not just about fairness, it is about expanding the pool of talented people to help tackle our biggest problems.”

—by Abigail Beshkin
—Photos by Asiya Khaki '09

 


 
When Jordan Borgman ’13 did not excel in high school French, she believed she lacked the facility to learn a foreign language. But when she left her hometown of Bangor, Maine, to spend a year of high school in Nagasaki, Japan, she surprised herself. Phrases soon began to roll off her tongue, making her feel as if she were remembering a language she already knew.
 
“It’s a lot more effective when you’re immersed in the language than when you learn it out of context,” says Borgman, a comparative literature major. Now comfortable in Japanese and the Indian language of Marathi, Borgman also speaks Spanish as well as Hindu/Urdu. “Learning a language is addictive,” she says with a laugh. “It gives you a [real] high.”
 
This year Borgman has yet another opportunity to plunge into language study. She is one of two Barnard students to receive the prestigious Boren scholarship, which enables undergraduates to learn less commonly studied languages in the native environment. The senior has returned to Pune, India, to polish her Marathi and explore connections between the disenfranchisement of minority languages and of women, as well as power relations between Marathi and English; while Alexandria Petteruti ’14, an anthropology major, has traveled to the Republic of Guinea to learn the West African language of Malinké, and to consider the ways that the overlapping cultures (native Mande, French, and Islamic) of that region interact.
 
Funded by the National Security Education Program, the Boren Scholarshipsnoffer up to $20,000 per year for undergraduates to study in regions of the world “critical to U.S. interests and underrepresented in study abroad,” according to the program’s Web site. (Boren Fellowships, which provide up to $30,000 each year, are offered to graduate students for a similar purpose.) The number of applicants far exceeds the number of recipients; this year 1,014 undergraduate students applied— only 161 received scholarships.
 
Gretchen Young, Barnard’s dean for study abroad, is delighted to have two recipients. Given the tough economic climate, she notes, an added benefit for Boren scholars is employment. The scholars agree to work for the U.S. government for one year. “The students say, ‘Wow, that is a perk, to know you have a job,’” says Young. That’s not to diminish the benefit of the funding itself. Petteruti, who has known she wanted to study anthropology since high school and longed for “that shock of perspective” that comes from first-hand experience, says that without the Boren money she “wouldn’t have been able to go.” She almost didn’t go anyway.
 
This year presented some unusual challenges, according to Young. First, the dean needed to secure a suitable course of study for Borgman, who is already an advanced speaker of Marathi. Additionally, instruction in India tends to be in English, and the Boren award encourages recipients to take classes taught only in the native tongue.
 
That obstacle seemed small compared to the trouble Petteruti encountered. She was set to study Bamana in the Malian city of Bamako, when the political situation devolved unexpectedly this spring, with a military coup displacing the elected president. Petteruti rerouted to the neighboring West African nation of Guinea, where she is learning Malinké, a language strikingly similar to Bamana. Reached this summer before she left, Petteruti expected the change wouldn’t affect her studies, except that her environment in Kankan would be less urban. “Kankan has a lot less electricity and fewer paved roads than Bamako,” she said.
 
For the fall semester, Petteruti is undertaking an apprenticeship with a professional musician to learn how to play a stringed instrument called the jeli ngoni. Petteruti worked as the booking manager for Postcrypt Coffeehouse at Columbia and held various positions at the Newport Folk Festival and Newport Jazz Festival this past summer. She hopes that music will ease her adjustment, helping her understand the culture’s rhythms and tempo. Before she landed in Guinea, Petteruti had never heard a spoken word of Malinké, but she loved the music.
 
Petteruti is hoping to integrate herself as much as possible into the West African lifestyle, and plans to purchase fabric from the local marketplace to create a Guinean wardrobe. She does anticipate difficulty in adjusting “to what being a woman means in Guinea,” but she wants to look beyond the surface, to push aside her prejudices. “Just because it seems sexist to me, it may not be experienced that way by the women of the culture,” says Petteruti, who was excited to learn more about how sharia, or Islamic law, defines important cultural norms like puberty, marriage, divorce, and gender expectations.
 
Gender relations also interest Borgman, a comparative literature major with an interest in contemporary women’s literature. In India, Borgman expects to explore the status of Marathi, which despite its widespread use (the main spoken language in Pune), is becoming a “kitchen language,” used mainly at home and given only cursory attention in schools. English is considered the language of success, the workplace, and higher education. “If you’re a kid living in India,” says Borgman, “you’ll be told that your own language is useless, that the language you associate with your mother is useless. It won’t get you anywhere.”
 
Unlike Petteruti, Borgman is returning to a land and language she knows well, having lived there for a year. During the summer of 2009 and the spring of 2010, she studied Marathi at the American Institute of Indian Studies; during the fall semester of 2009, she volunteered at the Comprehensive Rural Health Project, where her duties included observing surgeries and deliveries, translating a survey into Marathi for visiting American medical students, and conducting workshops with adolescent girls on issues of self-worth. Selected as a student fellow for the 2012 Barnard Global Symposium, Borgman visited Mumbai, India, this past spring.
 
Returning to the country again this fall, Borgman is eagerly anticipating the heat and the colors—and of course, those “kitchen” conversations. She wants to better understand the ties between women, both the cruelty and kindnesses that pass between them. In a society where genders remain largely separated, the relationships between women gain importance, says Borgman, adding, “If you want to work on development here, you have to understand how relationships work.”
 

Since the fall of the Soviet Union just over two decades ago, the United States has been the world’s one and only real superpower. But is the era of American primacy coming to an end? Alexander Cooley, Barnard’s department of political science chair and the current Tow Professor of Political Science, is examining the possibilities with a new course he’s developing for next year. The course considers shifting post-western political power in regions, such as Central Asia and the Middle East, around the world.

Cooley notes that the 2008 world financial crisis and the resulting recession have exposed some of the frailties of the U.S. economic system. Meanwhile, he adds, China’s economic prominence has risen. “The financial crisis really marked China’s emergence as a [world] economic power,” says Cooley, who posits that it also signaled the emergence of a new era in global politics in which the United States, and the West in general, no longer reign supreme. In his view, the implications of that are enormous. The key question driving the course, which Cooley envisions as a limited-enrollment lecture course, is what will that new world look like—or, as he puts it, “What’s the future of a post-American liberal order?”

To answer that question, the course will explore the impact that the rise of China and other emerging world powers might have on a variety of issues, ranging from economic aid and development assistance, to the spread of democracy and human rights. Moreover, he plans to look at how the shifting global order is playing out around the world. One major focus will be resource-rich Central Asia and the five so-called central Asian “Stans”—Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan.

As Cooley, a leading authority on Central Asia, notes, the region has recently become a prime hot spot for American, Chinese, and Russian rivalries—and thus offers an ideal microcosm for studying a new political landscape. “It’s really an arena for what the post-Western world will look like,” says Cooley, who wrote about the international jockeying for regional influence in his newest book, Great Games, Local Rules: The New Great Power Contest in Central Asia, published by Oxford University Press this past June.

Cooley’s interest in Central Asia dates back to the mid-1990s and his days as a PhD student at Columbia University, where he wrote his dissertation on the impact of international aid on the Kyrgyz political system. As part of the process, he spent a year conducting field research and also taught at the American University in Kyrgyzstan (now the American University of Central Asia). Since joining Barnard in 2001, Cooley has taught classes on international organization and globalization and international politics, along with a graduate-level course at Columbia that examines the challenges to sovereignty faced by post-Communist states.

He has pursued a mix of research interests, including the politics of human rights and democracy promotion in a multi-polar world. His main focus, however, has continued to be Central Asia and the Caucasus. In the past decade, he has produced a steady stream of academic articles and op-eds covering everything from the limits of resurgent Russian power in Central Asia to U.S.-Georgia relations and the implications of U.S. military bases for democratization in the region. In addition, he has authored or co-authored several books, including Logics of Hierarchy: The Organization of Empires, States and Military Occupations; Base Politics: Democratic Change and the U.S. Military Overseas; and Contracting States: Sovereign Transfers in International Relations.

Cooley recalls that the inspiration for his latest book, Great Games, Local Rules, came while he was working on a research fellowship for the Open Society Foundations on the rise of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), founded in 2001 to promote stability in Central Asia. In his studies, he discovered that Russia and China, the group’s two most powerful members, were divided on a whole host of issues. “What started to interest me was their rivalry,” recalls Cooley, noting that in recent years China has been bankrolling major infrastructure development projects not just in Central Asia, but also around the globe. At the same time, Russia, hard hit by the financial crisis, has seen its economic power wane, along with its ability to assert its interests in neighboring states. “Russia wants to be seen as a great power,” he notes, “but while it may have the ambition, it currently lacks the means.”

As for the U.S., which has its own strategic interests in Central Asia, the professor contends that its influence in the region has also waned: Not only has the U.S. run into resistance from local political leaders opposed to the presence of American military bases, but he notes that U.S. calls for further democratization and greater respect for human rights are increasingly being shrugged off. “It’s a place where you see American soft power declining. There’s a real fatigue with U.S. human rights and democracy rhetoric,” says Cooley, especially now that the United States’ treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib in Iraq has received worldwide attention.

Still, while it’s clear to Cooley that the old global order is on the way out, he notes that there’s still great uncertainty about what will replace it. He is hopeful that the course he’s planning will give students some early insights into a new power structure. China is certain to be a dominant player. Cooley says that, among other things, the class will look at how China is already serving as a counterbalance to American power in Central Asia and around the world. As two prime examples, he points to Ecuador’s 2008 decision to default on its debt and Angola’s move to break off loan negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. Both countries, he believes, were emboldened by the fact that they could turn to China for outside financing assistance, instead of just relying on the West. “China’s emergence gives countries [who previously had far less power] a lot more political space,” he says.

—by Susan Hansen
—Illustration by Ellen Weinstein

 

 

VEENA SUD '89

Like many Barnard undergraduates, Veena Sud used her time at college to explore new worlds, but hers were a far cry from the ones most students pursue. During her freshman year, she visited Chinatown with a police officer from the vice squad for a crash course on the sex industry. “I’ve always been fascinated by law and order, and dark, gritty worlds,” she says. That fascination—bolstered by the research she has done on criminals and the police since the age of 16—laid the groundwork for a successful career writing and producing such TV shows as Cold Case and The Killing.

After Barnard, Sud spent several years working as a journalist at Pacifica Radio and at the media-watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. She also married and had a son. In her spare time, she made experimental films like Stretchmark, a semi-autobiographical piece about being a single mother.

At 28, she enrolled at New York University’s film school, where she studied with Spike Lee, who allowed Sud and his other students to view rough cuts of the movie on which he was working. After graduation, she spent a year directing MTV’s The Real World, then made her way to Los Angeles. She landed a job on the short-lived show Push, Nevada before meeting the creator of the CBS police drama Cold Case, who hired her as a writer. Three years later, she became the show’s executive producer. “I got to learn everything at hyper speed,” she says.

In 2010, Sud adapted a moody Danish police drama called Forbrydelsen for American viewers. The Killing was conceived as “an anti-genre cop show with slow-burn storytelling,” Sud says. Eschewing the one-episode resolution of many such shows, each episode of The Killing, set in Seattle, captured one day in the investigation of the murder of teenager Rosie Larsen. But the storytelling focused not just on the police work, but also on the lives of the detectives and the victim’s family. As always, Sud delved into research, meeting with families who had lost children. “It was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had,” she says. “And it became even more important to me to tell their story accurately and authentically.”

Sud also consulted with detectives in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, and took the show’s writers on a visit to the morgue. Her youthful forays into police precincts “emboldened me to ask questions and go places,” she says. “It’s been a useful tool all my life as a writer. I realized what people have to say is much more interesting than what I could make up.” Yet translating that research into a fictional world is “a fine balancing act. You’re a creator of a made-up world and a documentarian. When you inhabit the space in between, you hit your sweet spot,” she says.

As executive producer and head writer for The Killing, Sud worked on everything from creating the budget to studying the color of the leaves outside the windows of the fictional police department. To make the home of the victim’s family look appropriately lived in, Sud would trail crumbs around the kitchen and make sure there were piles of papers scattered on counters. “Visuals are an important part of my storytelling,” she says. “That level of detail seems like it’s not that important, but it is important if you’re trying to suspend disbelief.”

The Killing earned high ratings and critical acclaim. In The New York Times, Ginia Bellafante wrote, “With its lyrical pacing, restrained performances, and a palette so visually cool that it feels as though you are watching from inside a Sub-Zero, The Killing is at once a procedural and a rich exploration of the perils of obsession.” But the show ran into trouble at the end of its first season when the killer was not revealed. Viewers took to the Internet to protest, complaining that they felt cheated. Sud was shocked by the backlash, having always intended to reveal the killer’s identity at the end of the second season. AMC cancelled The Killing in July after its second season concluded, leaving Sud disappointed. “The show has so much more to say,” she says.

After a well-deserved vacation, Sud is back at her writing desk. She is at work on the screenplay for a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1941 thriller Suspicion for Paramount Pictures. It will be her first feature-film script. With nominations for both an Emmy for outstanding writing and a Writers Guild of America award for her work on The Killing, Sud is poised for a promising career. “The world has so many great stories to be told,” Sud says.

—by Jennifer Altmann