Coming Together

By President Sian Leah Beilock

President Sian Beilock

In this year of historic challenges, Barnard has made extraordinary strides. Our community has responded to the pandemic with dedication and courage, contributing knowledge and experience to solve complex problems and to help the College carry out its mission to nourish intellectual growth. Each step of the way, we’ve used scientific rigor to inform our actions.

From the moment we started planning for the 2020-2021 academic year, the College has been guided by a data-driven approach to ensure the health and safety of the Barnard community on campus. For the Fall semester, we made the difficult but necessary decision to stay remote in our teaching. But with so many students choosing to live near campus, we also made it a priority to provide health and safety support to our community. Throughout the Fall semester, nearly one-third of our students — those living in Morningside Heights and across the city — participated in the College’s comprehensive asymptomatic testing program on a weekly basis. And from early August to mid-May, we have conducted over 50,000 tests. 

Our testing program is part of a multilayered approach the College has taken to COVID-19, including contact tracing, mask-wearing, facility upgrades, and social distancing. These steps have enabled us to gradually open up the campus. By mid-October, students were able to return to laboratories at Altschul Hall, make art in the studio, and reserve study space at the Milstein Center by following the College’s rigorous protocols. 

These health and safety protocols in the fall equipped us with critical insight into how to reduce transmission of the virus by early detection and tracing, and as a result, we had the tools, data, and systems in place to welcome students back to campus in the spring for a hybrid of in-person and remote learning. Roughly 80% of our students enrolled this semester are living locally, whether on campus or in the NYC area. 

During move-in week in January, I joined my colleagues in greeting students and their families outside the main entrance on Broadway. It was exciting to witness residential students walk through the gates once again. This moment put into focus all that we have achieved over this past year. Even as we were dispersed across the globe, we maintained our sense of community, and we thrived. And this signaled to me that the semester ahead would be a continuation of this remarkable work. 

Over the past few months, it has been truly inspiring to see how the Barnard community has hit the ground running while being mindful of our shared responsibility to adhere to health and safety guidelines in response to COVID-19. Thanks to the implementation of our Feel Well, Do Well initiative and the efforts of our Pandemic Response Team, we’ve been successful at keeping Barnard safe and functioning at a high level, which ultimately has enabled us to be innovative, resourceful, and importantly, have some fun. 

This sense of ingenuity has extended into and beyond the classroom. The story “Testing the Waters” underscores the teamwork that went into a campus-run project to monitor coronavirus in wastewater, involving the participation of student researchers, a graduate lab technician, professors, plumbing staff, and the Pandemic Response Team. It was an intricate and time-intensive project that came together as a direct result of each member’s commitment to learning and to keeping Barnard safe during the pandemic. 

As I write this letter, we are just a few weeks from Commencement. Students are sitting on the grass in the afternoon sun, and the magnolia tree is once again in bloom. This tree endured a long, tough winter, but it is now festooned with pink blossoms — serving as a lovely reminder of how resilient we are and just how much we’ve grown this past year.  

Latest IssueSpring 2021