For decades, the knowledge, skills, and experiences gained at Barnard have helped young women to become leaders in their fields, their governments, and their communities. Now Barnard has an institutionalized focus to achieve these goals. Taking its name from the Greek goddess of wisdom, The Athena Center for Leadership Studies offers a plan of action that comprises campus visits by notable leaders and scholars within a format of distinguished lectures and panels; implementation of two student programs, Athena Scholars and the Athena Summer Fellowship; the Athena Leadership Lab, which will expand the program to women of all ages and skill sets; and cooperative research with other academic institutions and women’s organizations committed to women’s advancement.
Kathryn Kolbert, currently professor of leadership studies at the College, has been named the Center’s first director. A public-interest attorney specializing in women’s rights for most of her career, Kolbert has maintained a lifelong commitment to promoting the status of women; the Center’s goals mirror those she has worked to achieve throughout her career. “I love the challenge and energy that comes with creating a new program,” says Kolbert. “Most important, I was impressed with President Spar’s vision for the Athena Center, the camaraderie at Barnard, and the opportunity to work with the College’s wonderful students and faculty.”
For Kolbert, the issue of women and leadership is pressing: “Many of the problems we face in society are intractable and extraordinarily complex. If we are to create a more compassionate and just society we need the ideas, resources, and energies of all our citizens ... women and men working together for a better world.” Her own achievements in advocacy, legal, political, and journalistic fields demonstrate her dedication to the issue. Graduating cum laude from law school at Temple University, Kolbert soon joined Community Legal Services of Philadelphia and then the Women’s Law Project where she represented Pennsylvania reproductive- health providers. After arguing her first abortion case before the United States Supreme Court in 1985, she joined the national American Civil Liberties Union as the state coordinating counsel of the group’s Reproductive Freedom Project in New York. Kolbert worked with women’s groups across the country to defeat state laws that restricted such freedoms. She found herself back at the Supreme Court in 1992 arguing the landmark case of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, which has been credited with upholding Roe v. Wade. In her last years as a practicing attorney, she co-founded the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, and directed its domestic litigation and public policy programs.
Still working within a legal framework, she then shifted her approach. As Kolbert tells it, “In 1998, I returned to Philadelphia and became a journalist, which was a great new challenge. I created a program on law and American life at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center.” That work involved serving as executive producer of Justice Talking, an award-winning radio program that was distributed by National Public Radio, and directing an educational Web site called JusticeLearning.org, which received a Webby Award in 2006.
Her most recent accomplishments involve another agenda that is national in scope. “I entered the world of politics in Washington, D.C., as the president and chief executive officer of People for the American Way (PFAW) and People for the American Way Foundation, two of the nation’s premier civil rights organizations.” Under Kolbert’s leadership, PFAW was cited by the weekly magazine National Journal as the most successful advocacy group of the 2008 election cycle. For the foundation, Kolbert managed successful leadership development programs with college students such as Young People For and worked with young politicians through the Young Elected Officials Network. She also lent her expertise to PFAW’s African American Ministers in Action, which supports progressive activism in African-American congregations and communities.
Throughout her career, Kolbert has educated students at such institutions as the University of Pennsylvania on constitutional and women’s rights issues in the national media, all of which has given her the knowledge and skills to train future leaders. Kolbert plans to involve the Center in groundbreaking research. It is her hope to work collaboratively with other colleges and universities to promote women’s leadership by identifying a broad research agenda. After identifying an agenda, she plans to enlist the scholarship of Barnard faculty and academics across the country to find answers. By inviting scholarship from a variety of sources to inform the Center’s efforts, Kolbert stresses an interdisciplinary approach, one not guided by a specific theory. She finds the most interesting work on leadership is coming from very diverse places, including the nation’s nonprofit organizations, the military, psychology and brain researchers, and women entrepreneurs.
While Kolbert prefers not to characterize leadership solely along gender lines, she acknowledges that women’s varied experiences contribute to different leadership styles and strengths. “For example,” she states, “women tend to be more collaborative than men ... often more willing to reach out and work across differences, and are often more methodical, [and] less risk-averse....” But, she quickly adds, emphasis should be placed on the skills people bring to leadership roles regardless of gender. “Most importantly,” Kolbert says, “we need to break down the gender stereotypes that tend to hold women back from success.” Women’s titles are often prefaced by their gender, as in “women doctors” or “women writers.” This occurs, she believes, because “there is a presumption that leaders are white males and anyone who is different from the norm must be identified as such.” It’s her hope that as women become more visible in leadership roles, this practice will end, but she notes, “our language often lags behind.”
How will the Athena Center change things? First, it is essential to define the meaning of “leadership studies.” Kolbert admits that it is not a recognized discipline. “Rather,” she says, “it is an effort to recognize that many traditional liberal-arts disciplines teach us a lot about how organizations operate and how gender affects their operation.” With this knowledge, we can better comprehend what it means to lead and how we can increase the number of women whose ideas and experiences help make the world a better place. Gaining clarity in how women lead and exercise power, if and how gender affects leadership styles, and how to inspire young women to become strong, resilient leaders are key components of the Athena Center.
The Athena Center will bring together rigorous academic studies with experiential learning, both needed by students to excel. Hands-on learning is a main theme of Kolbert’s professional philosophy. Somewhat thoughtful, she says, “Like many lawyers, when I graduated from law school I knew very little about how to practice law. I had to learn by doing.” Along the way Kolbert discovered that her mistakes and failures taught her equally, if not more, than her successes. “I believe it is important for students to learn not only about theoretical aspects of leadership; [they need] to be leaders as well,” she affirms. “Experience with both success and failure can help them become more effective.”
To that end, young women can experiment with a host of learning opportunities while at Barnard. The Athena Scholars Program serves students who submit a declaration of intent to participate. They must complete specialized coursework, an internship with women leaders—important because it gives students hands-on experience—and an independent project that demonstrates leadership skills in several workshops as well as an off-campus setting. A minimum of 10 students who meet competitive criteria will be selected to take part in the Athena Summer Fellowship Program. Interested students will submit applications and participate in interviews conducted by program administrators. They will live on campus, participate in educational events, and be placed in paid internships. Kolbert explains further, “To be an Athena Scholar, students must complete five of the various courses offered, which examine all aspects of women’s leadership from the perspective of the liberal arts. Students might uncover how rhetoric affects a leader’s success, explore women’s leadership in history or literature, or examine the new movement of social entrepreneurs.” Students also study organizations, hierarchical and collective, decision-making, and power relationships in order to better understand the common and systemic barriers faced by women leaders. The Athena Center also draws on Barnard’s rich and diverse alumnae base. The internships work to pair students with appropriate mentors to learn about specific leadership styles and strategies.
Leadership skills can be acquired and used through different stages of life. One of Kolbert’s goals for the Athena Leadership Lab is to “create a place where women of different ages, experiences, and skill sets can share their experiences with each other.” The Lab is one of the Center’s major components and will offer workshops, seminars, and other educational programs designed to teach women at any age the practical elements of leadership. Older or more established women can share their knowledge and perspective with younger women who are emerging leaders. Participants will learn the art of negotiation, effective public speaking, financial literacy as well as political skills.
Although in the midst of a busy professional schedule, family plays a central role in Kolbert’s life. She and her partner, Joann, an award-winning gardener, have two children, Kate, 22, and Sam, 25, whom they see as much as possible. “We are avid sports fans,” she adds. “We regularly go to both Eagles and Phillies games and follow the Philadelphia teams.” Family roles can foster leadership skills, offering everyday experiences for growth. Kolbert observes: “Women take leadership roles in all aspects of their lives—in the workplace, as parents, as volunteers and coaches, etc. Women use leadership skills—how to make a presentation, run a meeting, balance the books, manage a project, whether they are leading a Fortune 500 company, running the PTA, or managing a community-based nonprofit organization.”
One of the most refreshing ideas Kolbert brings to the table is the idea that we all have the capacity to lead, and she espouses an inclusive theory of leadership: “As a general rule, I do not believe there are ‘born’ leaders. Rather, all persons have the capacity to become leaders if they recognize and take advantage of opportunities that they encounter and have the skills to make a difference.”
-by Stephanie Shestakow '98, photograph by Mark Mahaney
The Athena Center for Leadership Studies
Kathryn Kolbert, Director 103 Milbank Hall, Barnard College 212 854.1865 firstname.lastname@example.org barnard.edu/athenacenter
Remember 1968? Many of us Barnard graduates vividly recall the turmoil, political longings and sense of empowerment we felt during that year—the Vietnam War protests, the Institute for Defense Analysis recruiting on Columbia’s campus, Columbia’s plans to gentrify Morningside Park. We had worked hard to get to Barnard and even harder to make it through to graduation. But the historical moment that year was unlike any other.
Each of us processed this remarkable year in our own way. To me it confirmed that students could initiate meaningful change in an academic institution. In 1969, I set aside carefully drawn plans to pursue a teaching career in European history and joined the defense staff of the “Chicago Conspiracy Trial.” Working with David Dellinger, Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, Jerry Rubin, Bill Kunstler, and Leonard Weinglass on that five-month political trial provided me with organizing skills and a very different life direction. In 1970, I enrolled in Rutgers Law School—Newark, affectionately known as “People’s Electric Law School.”
The entering class was 20 percent women—a previously unheard of proportion. The exhilaration among the entering women students was palpable. In making the decision to apply to law school, we were stepping out of our comfort zones. Ours was a generation groomed to be housewives, teachers, secretaries, or nurses. Not one of us women arrived at law school in 1970 with a lifelong ambition of becoming an attorney; that was not an avenue of choice normally presented to women of our generation. To the contrary, a woman entering law school in 1970, or before, can be presumed to have a story. These stories touch on common themes: how we arrived, the obstacles in our paths, our responses to these obstacles, what we absorbed and what we rejected in the legal curriculum, how we altered a hitherto male-dominated legal profession, where we took our newly minted knowledge and power, and lastly where we landed and how we link ourselves to the generation of women law students today.
In 1970, the women’s movement was beginning to take hold, and women’s consciousness-raising groups were being formed under the slogan “Sisterhood is Powerful.” The group meetings were empowering, with supportive women discussing gender issues during a time of dramatic gender evolution. To mediate my entry into law school, still a male domain, I joined a women’s group in Newark. It included Ann Marie Boylan, a recent graduate of Rutgers Law School. At an early meeting, Boylan spoke about her efforts to establish a new feminist journal—the Women’s Rights Law Reporter (WRLR)—in her Newark apartment. At that time, the notion of a legal journal focused on women’s issues was a novel and fairly radical idea. Boylan had managed to publish one issue, but lacked funds and personnel to keep the publication afloat. To me it made perfect sense that the journal should be housed at Rutgers Law School. A number of my fellow students agreed. “Piece of cake,” I thought.
After meeting with Rutgers’ dean James Paul, we realized it would not be a “piece of cake.” The law school administration was less than eager to embrace the new publication on women’s rights. We were told that Rutgers would provide neither funds nor office space nor an affiliation with the Law School. Our only hope for keeping WRLR alive was to raise the needed funds ourselves, find a faculty advisor acceptable to the dean, and negotiate for office space.
There was enough student interest to begin satisfying the administration’s conditions. Professor Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked and readily agreed to take on the position of faculty advisor. With the support of Professor Annamay T. Sheppard, the Rutgers Urban Legal Clinic made space for the WRLR in an old building they occupied behind the main law school facility. An advisory board was established including Professor Arthur Kinoy, Pauli Murray, and Eleanor Holmes Norton. Fund-raising letters were mailed out, and we managed to secure small grants from several organizations, including the Women’s Center at Barnard College. With the dean’s conditions met, the WRLR was permitted to reside at Rutgers Law School. To our dismay, however, the administration decreed that there was to be no mention of Rutgers Law School in the publication.
A staff of student volunteers was assembled. It was agreed that WRLR would not become a typical law review, but would function as a law reporter featuring short articles and case summaries exclusively on women’s rights issues. It was also agreed that WRLR would incorporate graphics, rejecting the look of the typical law journal. Our first issues were collectively conceived and published with conscious effort made to avoid the traditional law review hierarchy.
WRLR was fortunate to have Professor Ginsburg as faculty advisor. She had a deep and active interest in women’s rights issues. She had authored the American Civil Liberties Union’s Supreme Court brief in Reed v. Reed in 1971 and was preparing to teach a new seminar on women’srights. Asfacultyadvisor, Professor Ginsburg devoted many hours to writing and editing, counseling the staff, attending meetings, and inevitably mediating with the administration when problemsarose. Her comment on Reed v. Reed appeared as the lead article in the first issue published at Rutgers.
By the spring of 1973, WRLR had published three issues, a labor of love by the student board. Forty years later, it is still publishing at Rutgers Law School—the first among many current legal publications devoted to women’s issues. It is the gift of a remarkable historical moment, nurtured by a Barnard connection. For that we are grateful.
-by Elizabeth Langer '68, illustration by Katherine Streeter
After 35 years of practicing law in Washington, D.C., Elizabeth Langer closed her law office, moved to Manhattan, and began a second career in painting, printmaking, and collage. She has a studio on West 28th Street and her work can be seen at elizabethlanger.com. A solo exhibit at FX Fowle Architects Gallery, 22 West 19th Street will open in March. The Barnard community is invited to the opening reception March 25 at 5:30 PM.
Writing professionally for more than 30 years, Delia Ephron has published 10 books, many of which appeal to children or young adults. She recently channeled her talents to an off-Broadway comedy, Love, Loss, and What I Wore, a collaboration for the stage with her sister, writer and director Nora Ephron. The play is based on a book by Ilene Beckerman. Her latest effort is the soon-to-be-released The Girl With the Mermaid Hair for readers 12 and up.
Is age important? Without missing a beat, Ephron answers, “It’s very meaningful.” There’s no avoiding or denying it, she says. Some of us might hide it a little better than others, but it’s there, and it determines an awful lot in our lives. The question of age is a fitting one given the themes in Mermaid. The protagonist, Sukie Jamieson, is a 16-year-old girl struggling with the things that most teenage girls struggle with—her looks, her crushes, and changing relationships with herself and those around her. (That’s the oneline description; the real story goes deeper, and, in parts, makes you wonder whether you’re reading about troubled adolescence or troubled middle age.)
“I’ve written many things, but I always come back to writing kids,” Ephron says. “I am in my comfort zone with children.” That discovery was purely accidental. Her first book How to Eat Like a Child: And Other Lessons in Not Being a Grownup first appeared as an essay in The New York Times Magazine in 1978. The article was so well received that soon after its publication, an offer to expand the article into a book landed in her lap. “Overnight I had a career,” says Ephron. And overnight, the budding writer discovered her calling. “It came out of my own childhood … it comes from there, what you understand about childhood and how you’ve held onto it in some way.”
That explains why the experience of writing for a young audience—children or teens—hasn’t changed much for Ephron over the years. The trappings and appearance of adolescence change over time; the emotional truths remain constant. And as we discover in this latest book—and in much of her other work—those emotional truths stay with you and evolve throughout your life. “I think about age a lot,” Ephron says. “You go to the movies, and you see what people have done to themselves…. There’s that sort of glancing as you go down the street, and you catch a reflection of yourself and think, ‘God, is that me now?’”
Reflections in mirrors feature prominently in Mermaid. Much of Sukie’s inner life plays out in front of one, given to her by her mother, “There was so much fantasy [in mirrors] when I was younger.” The teen also is obsessive about photographing herself with her cell phone—“selfies” she calls the portraits— in a constant quest to assess and adjust her look.
Sukie’s struggles extend to her 40-something mother, a woman as consumed with appearance as herdaughter is. “I regret every frown,” Felice Jamieson says to Sukie at one point. “You can’t cut out smiles, that’s not practical, but it’s better to smile only when you mean it. I regret how polite I am, I really do….” The obsession is severe enough that it leads Felice to undergo a transformation that further confuses Sukie. And for Felice, the question remains: Will the transformation really make life better?
So, the struggles don’t necessarily go away after our teen years. It’s more likely that all the complicated feelings and issues with self-esteem evolve; they might even resurface. At best they’re faced in the context of our lives at any given moment.
“You finally accept your body when you’re 30,” says Ephron. “Then you hit 50 and you have to struggle with it all over again. It’s like a second adolescence. When you get older, the mirror does become an enemy,” she says. And the body becomes something of an enemy, too. “I went to play ping-pong yesterday, and [afterwards] my back was killingme, just from picking up the ping-pong paddle,” says the author. “I got home and said to my husband, ‘I can’t move.’”
The obsession with appearance that Ephron observes in her work—and the degree to which cosmetic and reconstructive surgery has permeated our society—both distresses and baffles her. Still, Ephron isn’t unwilling to accept the natural course of things. “No matter how much yoga you do, life is either kind to you or not.”
-by Dimitra Kessenides '89, photograph by Patricia Williams
There’s more to translation than converting the text of books or articles from one language to another. It’s also an invaluable tool that can help make the world a better place. Peter Connor, associate professor of French and chair of the department, is building The Center for Translation Studies, a new program that aims to help students understand how translation isn’t just about sharing thoughts and ideas across languages and cultures. It’s also about human rights.
“[One] can translate a poem and publish it online,” Connor says. “And if it happens to be about political or religious persecution, it might give a voice to someone in a far away place who might not otherwise be heard. It’s an extremely valuable tool for intervening in the world.”
The program began last fall with the help of a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and it’s still a work in progress, Connor says. The idea was to create a basic language translation course and offer colloquiums for students and professors; recent events have included bilingual poetry readings by Greek poet Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke and Cypriot poet Kyriakos Charalambides along with their translators.
Connor says the first course last fall was a big success and gave him plenty of encouragement to expand the offerings. “I loved it, and the students did too,” he says. “They want more classes.” The first half of the course introduced students to of the major theories and methods of translation in Western culture. These classes helped the students improve their skills through the translation of primarily prose, poetry, and drama into English. They could translate from any language they chose, which some students worried might create a little confusion.
That didn’t happen, says Amelia Spooner (CU GS) who chose to translate contemporary French writer Antoine Volodine for her class projects. She says she signed up for the class because her fiancé is French, and he’s getting his PhD in linguistics. They often talk about issues of translation. “Especially how we mutually don’t understand each other sometimes,” she says.
But the class also took a broader perspective. It examined the role translation has played in postcolonialism, globalization, and immigration, as well as the role translators have played in conflict and war. The class also examined how different countries interpret the same event, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, Connor says. One guest lecturer discussed how U.S. history is represented in school textbooks around the world to show just how rarely history is presented objectively. “The sad fact is that much of the translation that’s going on today is going on in places of conflict and being performed in very arduous circumstances,” Connor says.
Diana Baron-Moore ’12 says she was particularly intrigued by Translations, a three-act play by Irish playwright Brian Friel. Set in a fictional town, it described the process the British used to translate place names in Ireland from Celtic to English in the nineteenth century. “I’m really interested in the hierarchies of language,” Baron-Moore says. “And I’m thinking of going into bilingual education. The space where culture and language establish power dynamics, I think, is a really important place to be conscious of.”
One subject area—community interpreting—particularly appealed to students. They studied just how critical and important translators are for immigrants in hospitals, schools, and police stations. They also heard a guest lecturer talk about the challenges and rewards of a community-interpreting program in Spain. “We need more and more translators,” Connor says. “And we need them to be aware of the ethical stakes and to be sensitive to the need for very high standards.”
Students say the topic opened their eyes to the fact that interpretation is also an issue of human rights. “How does a hospital make sure someone gets the right treatment?” asks Byung Jin Kang (CC ’11), who took the course. “How is that patient going to get all the help they need? I never thought of providing translation services as a human right. You see it everywhere in New York, but you never really think about it.”
Spooner says she’s now thinking of community interpreting as a possible career path. A friend interned with an organization in Harlem that works with African immigrants who speak French, and she’d like to do the same. She already knows from firsthand experience just how practical interpretation skills are. Spooner speaks French and recently helped a French speaker on a plane explain to a flight attendant why his fragile musical instrument couldn’t be stored in an overhead compartment. She soon found herself entangled in the middle of a heated argument, much like a comedy scene in a movie. “Both sides kept asking, ‘What is he saying? What is he saying?’” Spooner says with a laugh. “It made my flight experience just a little bit better.”
Now Connor says he’s working to expand the translation program. He’d like to offer a course dedicated solely to community interpreting, and he hopes different language departments will soon begin to offer similar but more specific translation courses. He’s also trying to encourage professors outside the language department to incorporate issues related to translation into their courses, even if it’s just showing how the texts members of the class study may have been translated and by whom. “It’s all evolving over time,” Connor says. “And we’re thinking constantly about how we can add more courses.”
-by Amy Miller, illustration by Katherine Streeter
Natalia Christenson ’11
For someone who came to tennis at the relatively advanced age of 12—“when I was 6 or 7, my mom put me in tennis lessons and I hated it,” recalls junior Natalia Christenson who then preferred ballet—she’s done quite well, indeed.
Co-captain of the Columbia women’s tennis team this year, where she is a star player, Christenson is also president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) for the Columbia campus. This summer she was appointed the Ivy League representative to the NCAA Division 1 SAAC, which represents 31 conferences that compete at the Division 1 level. Encouraged to apply by the previous Ivy League representative, Christenson was one of three candidates chosen as finalists, and ultimately gained the position.
“I went to the meeting my first year, and saw how powerful this voice is in working to serve our interests,” says this Summit, New Jersey native. “SAAC has a unique role on campus.” Its stated mission is to “enhance the total student athlete experience and convey positive images of student athletes on campus.” One of Christenson’s goals as the Ivy League representative to the NCAA/SAAC is to organize an Ivy-wide community service project, inspired in part by a Dartmouth athlete who launched a shoe drive.
She has been a self-starter for years. “It’s been my dream to play Division 1 tennis at an Ivy League school,” says Christenson, who always read tennis magazines and watched the game on television. After she graduated from Newark Academy, Christenson headed—by herself—to Austin, Texas to work with renowned tennis coaches: Christo van Rensburg, who has defeated Pete Sampras and is a top-ranked doubles player with Paul Annacone; and Doug Davis, an equally well-known junior coach. She trained and competed during that gap year, and was recruited by Columbia and Brown. But Christenson chose to attend Barnard because of “all the opportunities.” She explains, “People genuinely care and look out for you here. You know your advisers on a personal level. I was looking for a more small-school feel.”
While she loves tennis and sports in general, she doesn’t expect to play competitively after college. An economics major and environmental-science minor, Christenson is currently applying for internships in the financial field for next summer, where she feels her experience will translate successfully.
“I believe that my ability to mange my time, and the fact that as an athlete, by nature, I am generally a hard-working and competitive individual, will ultimately help me … in my future career,” says Christenson.
Danielle Browne ’10
Senior Danielle Browne, a guard on the Columbia women’s basketball team, has been an All-Ivy honoree for the past three years. She is in the top 10 all-time for assists and steals in Columbia women’s basketball, and in the top 20 for career scoring. With an 8-5 record as of the beginning of January, the team is having its best start since head coach Paul Nixon took over the program in 2005-2006.
Basketball has been part of her life since Browne was a 7-year-old growing up in Mount Vernon, New York, where the Bronx-born Browne spent her free time outside with similarly sports-minded boys. “I wasn’t strong enough for baseball or football,” she recalls. “Basketball was where I had an advantage.” And her mother’s abiding love for the New York Knicks meant that there was usually a basketball game on TV, too.
Browne's strong skills on the court—“I wasn’t a fan of losing”—brought her to the attention of the Mount Vernon High School basketball coach. She played with the high school team as an eighth grader. By the time she was a freshman, she became captain, a role she held throughout her high-school career.
Recruited by Columbia, Browne found the option of attending Barnard more appealing. “I was interested in getting the best education possible,” she explains. “The ‘Nine Ways of Knowing’ … attracted me to Barnard. I like to have the freedom to choose courses.” With a close-knit family behind her, Browne “didn’t want to go too far. My mom comes to every home game when she can.”
When she’s not playing, practicing, traveling for games, or studying, the senior donates her time to Level the Field, a group that teaches inner-city elementary school children social skills, like teamwork and leadership. An economics major with a minor in psychology, she is applying to law school and intends to become a sports agent. “I have tape holding me together,” she laughs. “I have enough injuries for five people. My aspirations are to help athletes.”
Judith “Judie” Lomax ’11
With three older brothers and parents who played basketball, Columbia forward Judie Lomax ’11 was reluctant to take up the sport. “I said, ‘I’m never going to play,’” she confesses. “I resisted. I wanted to be different. I couldn’t resist.”
Captain of her high school basketball team from her sophomore through senior year, she was recruited by Columbia and several other schools. But, Lomax, who hails from Washington, D.C., wanted to “get away from the East Coast” and chose Oregon State University. That college, which had a strong psychology department, offered Lomax an athletic scholarship and acceptance into its University Honors College. It wasn’t long before Lomax realized she missed her family back on the East Coast and the educational opportunities on Morningside Heights.
“I wanted to be closer to my family, and have a better education,” she admits, and is happy that her family can attend many of her games. “I wanted the best of as many worlds as possible, and the chance to win an Ivy League championship. Barnard is challenging, the professors are more accessible here, and I liked the ‘Nine Ways of Knowing’ more than the ‘Core.’ Barnard was similar to the image I had of college, of being able to choose [my] courses. I liked Barnard from the beginning. In high school, I always wanted to come here.” As someone who is passionate about what she does, Lomax values that quality at Barnard. “I love the professors I’ve come in contact with,” she says. “They’re so passionate about what they do. It’s kind of contagious….”
Even more enticing to someone who is “always looking for challenges” was the prospect of taking Columbia’s women’s team to an Ivy League championship. “I like being a trail blazer,” says Lomax. “I want to build the team and leave a mark on a program.” Then, Lomax already has. She leads the team in scoring, at a 17.2-point average per game, leads the Ivy League and nation in rebounding, at 14.0, and recently scored 30 points in a victory over Wagner College. And she’s seventh in career rebounding at Columbia. In January, she was named the Ivy League Women’s Basketball Player of the Week; it is the second time this season that Lomax has won the award, and the sixth time in her career. With such strong performances on the court, it’s no wonder that Lomax was selected as an All-Ivy first-team member. It’s “definitely an honor, and a nice start,” she says. “My main goal was to win a championship and my end goal is to win a championship.”
Lomax hopes to play professional basketball after college. “I’m not quite sure what I’d do otherwise,” says this psychology major, who is also considering law school and child psychology as future careers.
-by Merri Rosenberg, photograph by Kate Ryan
When Bo Yun Park lived in Paris as a girl, her family dubbed her “the little diplomat.” In the playgrounds, Park taught Korean words to the neighborhood children. On the streets, Park translated for her mother, who spoke limited French. From a window at home, she gazed at limousines pulling up at a foreign ministry across the street. So perhaps it’s not so surprising that Park—now the sophomore class president of Barnard—would seek out an international experience as a college student.
In fact, Park returned to South Korea for high school where she attended a competitive school in Seoul that grooms its students for top-notch American universities. She didn’t question whether she would apply to colleges in the United States. The question was, which one? “When I first mentioned Barnard to my parents, they were like, ‘Bah-what?’” says Park, who tosses American lingo about with apparent ease, but whose dress on this crisp autumn morning, a navy blue sweater and matching skirt, seems inspired by the uniforms of Korean high schools.
Park is one among many foreign students on campus, but she may soon belong to even larger group. In her inaugural address last year, President Debora Spar underscored her intention to expand Barnard’s international presence, on campus and abroad. “President Spar’s goal of ‘internationalizing’ Barnard is, in fact, my favorite among her many projects,” says Park, who has already been assigned as a “buddy” for an incoming student in the new Visiting International Students Program (VISP). Park says the international focus will “foster an environment that is even more intellectually stimulating.”
Nibbling on an almond croissant, Park smiles often and broadly as she speaks, addressing each question in the concise yet thorough manner of one accustomed to public oration. For three years in a row at Daewon Foreign Language High School, she placed in the national championships for her parliamentary debate skills.
Park says she was drawn to Barnard’s rare combination: a small, intimate college conferring the resources of a large research university. She never imagined that her first heady weeks at the school last fall would include visits to the Columbia campus by the then-presidential nominees Barack Obama and John McCain.
As class president, Park ticks off three central goals: building community among members of the sophomore class; assisting students in the challenge of declaring their majors; and keeping in touch with Columbia College students. So far, she’s organized a study break, “Gimme, Gimme S(opho)’more,” at which s’mores were served, and she introduced a “department fair” to allow students to explore the various disciplines offered at Barnard as they begin pondering their majors.
Park, who also serves as a resident assistant, finds the workload manageable after the grueling stint at Daewon, where six hours of Korean-language instruction would be followed by another six in English. The program, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, is known for its rigor. But while Park says that high school may have stretched her “to the limit of human stress,” she says at Barnard she’s often required to spend more time thinking. “In Korea, if you sit down, you can do it.” Here, “a walk in Morningside actually might be more helpful than sitting at a desk.”
For years Park has assumed that she would one day work in international diplomacy, but after an internship last summer at the Ministry of Foreign affairs in South Korea, she’s reconsidering. Instead, Park may pursue a doctorate in political science, perhaps in France. She’s quiet for a moment. Her dad, she explains, diplomatically dropping her voice to a near whisper, “says that grad school may be better in Europe."
-by Elicia Brown '90, photograph by Kate Ryan '09
“I have all these friends frantically, crazily planning their weddings, and I think, Oh, if only they’d taken my class! ” says Sandra Goldmark, assistant professor of professional practice in the theatre department. “You have to know where you’re going but be flexible along the way; you have a budget, a timeline, opening night, actors, costumes, lines—it’s a show.” She laughs, but the willowy 35-year-old Brooklyn native stands by the analogy.
After graduating from Harvard in American history and literature, Goldmark spent a year in Buenos Aires working for an amusement park and wondering desperately what to do with her life. Then she remembered how much she’d enjoyed painting scenery in high school.
At Yale drama school, she came to understand that theatre was as much wedding as story, and set design partook in the action rather than simply serving as backdrop. “My professor Ming Cho Lee called it the difference between presentation and representation,” she says. “With representation you’re describing where this play takes place. With presentation you’re creating the space where the these emotional moments can happen.”
For her many off- and off-off-Broadway productions, Goldmark has favored a few evocative, shape-shifting elements over a roomful of realistic and immovable objects. In last year’s Crossing Brooklyn, an award-winning musical by the Transport Group for whom she is resident designer, a Brooklyn schoolteacher is suffering from aftershocks of 9/11. Goldmark hung bungee cords in different positions to evoke the vertical grooves of the World Trade Center towers, the woman’s imprisonment inside her fears, and the suspension cables of the Brooklyn Bridge, which she has yet to cross since the attacks.
“The challenge of design today is to keep things fluid,” Goldmark explains. “The way people write the scene changes are boom, boom, boom—instantaneous. And that’s what people seeing movies are prepared to watch. Plus, you don’t have a lot of money to build a lot of things.” Those are the practical considerations. As for the artistic ones, Goldmark wants her sets to “work hand in hand with the play’s point of view,” she says, and if they can change form they’re more likely to.
At a meeting on a late afternoon in December for the Senior Thesis Festival in March—one of various projects she has championed in which student designers try out their ideas in real spaces—Goldmark helps a production team align their vision with what’s possible. The students want the stage to eventually disappear into darkness: a good idea for 4:48 Psychosis, the bleak mindscape British playwright Sarah Kane wrote not long before committing suicide, in 1999. But rolling out a black floor during a miniscule pause between scenes? “I think you need less literal ways to go to black,” Goldmark advises.
“I’m always pushing them to do that double dance,” she later confides, “where ideas bubble up and at the same time you seek clarity.”
-by Apollinaire Scherr, photograph by Dorothy Hong
It’s often said in the halls of learning that teaching is more than a profession: It’s a calling. Just ask Barnard College President Debora Spar and her predecessor President Judith Shapiro. They are still making time in their busy schedules to teach classes, despite many other responsibilities.
Teaching is a passion neither is willing to leave behind. Spar teaches a course on economics, while Shapiro is leading a first-year history seminar, but their teaching styles have one thing in common: They’ve both abandoned the traditional college lecture course. In their classes, students lead discussions, come to their own conclusions, and are encouraged to think for themselves.
Burning Down the House
Debora Spar’s economics class always begins with a song. On a recent rainy Wednesday morning, The Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House” played as her students launched into a discussion of last year’s subprime mortgage meltdown, the subject of this particular class. “Is this appropriate?” Spar asks. Her students burst into laughter.
She borrowed the idea from a former colleague who began every class by singing a song that related to the topic at hand. “I have a terrible voice,” says Spar, a former professor at Harvard Business School. “So I needed to substitute iTunes instead. It’s actually great fun to try and think of songs that ‘fit,’ though I will confess that it occasionally is pretty tough.”
Students say the songs are a fun way to get started. But what they like best about Spar’s class is that she lets them lead the discussion although she is careful not to allow them to get off track too much. But encouraging students to come to their own conclusions is paramount. “I’m glad it’s not a lecture class,” says Alison Goldberg ’12. “She really wants to hear what people think.” Spar has been an award-winning teacher for years, and for this economics course on the Great Depression, she draws on Harvard Business School case studies to find connections with today’s “Great Recession” and to consider the lessons of each. More than 50 students are enrolled, including a few young men. In class, she relies on the case study, or Socratic, method because students really do have to think for themselves and come to their own conclusions. “I’ve been impressed,” says Elizabeth Byerly ’11. “She’s been able to pull off the Socratic method with 60 kids.”
Spar has no trouble getting students to share their thoughts about how economics interacts with politics during an economic crisis. Many hands wave wildly in the air as the class discusses the causes of the subprime mortgage meltdown. Some said a new mortgage model had emerged in recent years. They argued that banks had relaxed their lending standards too much and had given out too many loans to people who couldn’t repay them. Homeowners only had themselves to blame for buying a home they couldn’t afford in the first place.
Other students were more sympathetic. A few said there’s nothing wrong with making it easier for more people with low incomes to buy a home and live out their own version of the American dream. Instead, they blamed banks and mortgage brokers for becoming too greedy and overheating the market. Meanwhile others pointed out that politicians and regulators had failed to regulate the mortgage industry effectively.
Spar writes her students’ thoughts and ideas on the chalkboard. By the end of the class, her black skirt is covered in chalk dust and the problems facing the American economy had become all too clear. “I wish I could end on an optimistic note,” Spar says as the class came to a conclusion. “But I can’t.”
It’s a Monday afternoon, several students arrive for Judith Shapiro’s class wearing traditional Chinese hats and long silk dresses; costumes are encouraged in Shapiro’s history seminar “Reacting to the Past,” part of Barnard’s first-year program. In this class, students reenact important intellectual debates throughout history in competitive “games.” They’re assigned specific roles, and then rely on historical texts to make their points and defeat their opponents.
On this day, about 15 students are reliving the sixteenth-century succession dispute between Chinese emperor Wan-Li and his Confucian bureaucrats, using the Analects of Confucius as their text. Shapiro has arrived in a long green silk dress that reaches her ankles, carrying a canvas bag that reads “I (heart) Confucius.” “I think teaching should be a very joyful thing,” says Shapiro, who was an anthropology professor and provost at Bryn Mawr prior to her appointment as president of Barnard.
She explains why the succession crisis behind the walls of the Forbidden City was part of the wider downfall of the Ming Dynasty. But it’s clear from the start that Shapiro’s students are creating their own version of Chinese history. “I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into,” comments Tamar Glattstein ’13, who plays the part of Emperor Wan-Li.
The Emperor may exile or kill his opponents as he sees fit during the game. The students debate issues back and forth. Meanwhile Shapiro observes, silent for the most part. “For me to sit back and not run it and not talk too much is an effort,” Shapiro admits. “But it’s certainly a worthwhile effort.”
In the end, the game didn’t play out exactly as historical events had. In Shapiro’s class, Wan-Li is allowed to name his favorite, but third-born, son as his successor instead of his first-born, something that didn’t happen in real life. And that’s exactly what Shapiro is willing to see happen, since it teaches students that there is no total inevitability in history. At the same time, “Reacting” classes always involve a “debriefing” at the end of a game, so that students understand what actually did happen.
“It was daunting at first,” says Zahava Moerdler ’13, who played Wan- Li’s first grand secretary, the leader of the Secretariat. “I wasn’t sure how to deal with each person. But in the end I really enjoyed it.”
The format helps students such as Moerdler in many ways, observes Shapiro. They become more actively engaged with history, and they become more confident public speakers. It also teaches them that ideas develop in a historical context. “They don’t just fall out of the sky,” she says.
Perhaps most important, the format gets her students to think beyond themselves and their own experiences, at a time when exploring one’s own identity and place in the world usually takes precedence. Shapiro says that’s why she enjoys watching her students really take the lead in her class. “If you let go of the control,” Shapiro says, “something good can happen.”
-by Amy Miller, photographs by David Wentworth
As Barnard stands poised to expand its global presence, it is only fitting that its students have received prestigious Fulbright grants at an impressive rate. Last year 16 Barnard students applied for these distinguished post-graduate awards, which provide funding either for independent research/study projects or English teaching assistantships. Seven students received grants, representing an acceptance rate of 44 percent.
With this percentage, Barnard was accorded inclusion in an October 19, 2009, article in The Chronicle of Higher Education documenting the country’s top producers of Fulbright scholars. As a point of comparison, this online and print newspaper for college and university faculty and administrators reported that in the same 2008-2009 period, 36 Wellesley students applied for Fulbrights, with grants going to nine of them. At Columbia’s undergraduate divisions, 48 students applied and 14 received grants, reflecting a 29 percent acceptance rate. This year 27 Barnard students applied for these grants. And with President Barack Obama’s request to Congress for more funding for the Fulbright program, there’s the expectation that Barnard will have even more students receiving these awards.
What accounts for Barnard’s strong showing? Aaron Schneider, senior associate dean of studies and responsible for helping students through the process, explains, “Barnard tends to attract students who are intellectually ambitious and self-reliant. These are students who come to college in New York City. Our students’ alignments tend to be good with the Fulbrights.” Schneider also suggests that Barnard attracts adventurous, independent young women undaunted by the prospect of moving to another country after graduation.
The Fulbright program, launched in 1946 and sponsored by the State Department, is available for research and teaching in 155 countries, with the mission of promoting “cross-cultural interaction and mutual understanding through engagement in the community and on a person-to-person basis in an atmosphere of openness, academic integrity, and intellectual freedom,” according to the program materials. This year’s Barnard Fulbright scholars are currently studying and working in the Czech Republic, Egypt, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Nepal, and Spain. Two are English teaching assistants; others are exploring topics ranging from scientific research in immune diseases to esthetics and identity.
There are other factors contributing to Barnard’s success, adds Schneider, “At a small liberal arts college like Barnard, students have more opportunity for independent research with faculty members,” he says, which, in turn, means that students are often “seeking to develop those ideas further” through a Fulbright- supported project after graduation. Barnard candidates also receive significant faculty support throughout the process, from application suggestions to feedback on their essays to providing recommendations.
What also helps, suggests the dean, is the increase in the numbers of students Barnard has been sending on junior-year abroad study programs. “This increases our international profile,” says Schneider, adding that “some of our best Fulbright candidates have laid some groundwork while abroad during their junior year. There is strong institutional support for an increased international outlook at Barnard, which is part and parcel of the Fulbright [program].”
Read about alumnae Fulbright experiences at alumnae.barnard.edu/magazine.
-by Merri Rosenberg '78, photograph by Asiya Khaki '09
When Lydia Davis’s new collection hit bookstores this fall, New Yorker critic James Wood—known for his scant praise of contemporary fiction—exulted over the writing’s “combination of lucidity, aphoristic brevity, formal originality, sly comedy, metaphysical bleakness, philosophical pressure, and human wisdom.” He predicted that the compilation of four previously published collections spanning two decades would “in time be seen as one of the great, strange American literary contributions.”
But whether stories is the right term for her “distinct and personally crooked” oeuvre (as Wood puts it) is another matter.
“As soon as you say ‘prose poem,’ the person you’re talking to looks extremely bored,” Davis explains on the phone from upstate New York, where she lives with her husband and younger son. The writer, translator, and 2003 MacArthur Fellow speaks at a musing pace, her voice mellifluous. “And if you say ‘experimental’ or ‘philosophical’— anything—they will wish they were talking to somebody else. So I tend to stick to ‘story’—long, very long, short, very short, and very, very short— because everybody does love stories.”
Still, when readers encounter a “very, very short” specimen such as “Insomnia”—it reads in full, “My body aches so—/It must be this heavy bed pressing up against me”—they are likely to exclaim, “How odd that this supposed short-story writer has written only two lines!” Davis attests, “It’s the first thing they latch on to.” Later they may notice what else she leaves out besides words: scenes, place names, and all but the slimmest of plots. Plus, there is often only a single character, whose head we are locked inside. “I work from what a character is likely to remember,” Davis has said. “Our memories don’t usually serve up whole scenes complete with dialogue.”
In the seven-page “A Few Things Wrong with Me,” a woman contending with a sudden breakup is trying to figure out whether the ex-lover’s admission that “there were things about me he hadn’t liked from the very beginning” means he never loved her. Her hyperlogical obsessiveness is at once poignant and comical. In the one-page “Enlightened,” the narrator contemplates dumping a friend for being unenlightened, “although I know it’s not very enlightened to say that. But I want to say it, so I’m willing to postpone being more enlightened myself.”
Given that Davis’s characters are mostly women, does she see excruciating self-consciousness as a female trait? “I wouldn’t be distressed if someone said, ‘Oh, this isn’t limited to women,’” she counters. “I can think of men friends with the same brooding over themselves, and I can think of female friends who are oblivious. I once wrote a story where all I did to fictionalize something that happened was reverse the genders so that the woman became a man. And men would say, ‘I’m just amazed how you could put yourself in a man’s mind like that.’ It made me think there’s not as much difference as we would think.”
Both of Davis’s parents were writers. Hope Hale Davis wrote stories and Robert Gorham Davis—“the ultimate professor,” on the Columbia faculty from 1957 until he retired two decades later—published scholarly studies, book reviews, and stories too. Davis didn’t have to go searching for literature: it was all around her. The family lived adjacent to the Columbia campus, which she liked traipsing across on the way to the subway. She used the library and visited her father in his ample office at the very top of Dodge Hall, where by spooky coincidence she taught a writing class many years later. “The room was imbued with his presence,” she says. “It sort of freaked me out.”
Earlier, when she was at Barnard, he felt far enough away that she could major in his field. Davis has long worked as a French translator: her last project was Swann’s Way; her current one is Madame Bovary, to be published by Penguin this fall. But as an undergraduate, “I thought that if you wanted to be a writer you majored in English, it was that simple.”
And she still thinks it’s a decent plan.
Columbia’s Creative Writing Lecture Series presents the Lydia Davis talk, “A Beloved Duck Gets Cooked: Innovative Forms,” Thursday, March 25, at 7 p.m. arts.columbia.edu/cwls/32510.html
-by Apollinaire Scherr