How Barnard helps recent graduates keep connected to — and continue to flourish with — the College community
If Reunion Reimagined 2020 was like an improvisational jazz performance responding to the immediate reality of the pandemic, the 2021 edition, which took place June 2-5, could be described as an orchestrated composition that reintroduced familiar Reunion elements and impressively hosted twice as many events as it did last year.
The Reunion Committee produced a robust program of 54 events — for an impressive turnout of 1,170 alumnae from 39 states and 17 countries, including Australia, Ecuador, India, Israel, Netherlands, and Zimbabwe — with lively, virtual gatherings that fueled intellectual conversations about timely and relevant issues. As AABC Reunion Committee chair Rona Wilk ’91 said in her welcome remarks: “Though we’re all Zoom fatigued, an event comes along that glues me to my screen and energizes me. And we hope that Reunion Reimagined will be just such an event for all of you.” (Wilk just celebrated her Milestone Reunion of 30 years.)
In addition to the more traditional Reunion programming, the committee created online spaces that gave classes a chance to interact. There were webinars, interactive events such as professor of history Mark C. Carnes’s “Reacting to the Past,” an alumnae award celebration, panel discussions, STEM faculty-led presentations on research projects, and conversations with current and former faculty, including history professor emeritus Robert McCaughey and bestselling author Mary Gordon ’71 (who was the Millicent C. McIntosh Professor in English and Writing until her retirement in 2020). And the four-day lineup offered plenty of fun activities for alumnae, including a talent showcase, Barnard Bingo, trivia, and even a cocktail/mocktail demonstration with Giuliana “G” Pe Benito ’16, culture manager for beverage company Diageo and former instructor for the Beyond Barnard Bartending Program.
Reflecting on the Past Year
In her welcome address to alumnae, President Sian Leah Beilock said that in spite of the challenges the College faced during this crisis, “Barnard is stronger than ever. … I’m heartened by how we’ve come together to support Barnard and each other.
“We met students where they were,” President Beilock said. “Half our courses dealt with this moment. We tried to adapt to current times with a priority on health and wellness.”
By weaving in programs that put the community first, the College was able to address some other issues that arose during this extraordinary time. “In a year in which inequalities have been laid bare, we’re proud of what Barnard has done to advance social mobility, ” AABC president and alumna trustee Amy Veltman ’89 told alumnae.
The planning committee for “Undesign the Redline” hosted an insightful discussion on its upcoming interactive exhibition, which will take place at Barnard in the fall. This project — combining multiple disciplines, stakeholders, and forms of storytelling — will take a look at the history of systemic racism by examining the unfair government housing lending policies that took place in the Barnard and Columbia neighborhood.
There was no shortage of critical topics for Barnard alumnae and faculty to address at the Alumnae of Color Dinner. The event, this year entitled “Unmasking America: Drawing on Diversity to Change the Cultural Tides,” was designed to “talk about everything that’s happened — anti-Asian hate, Black Lives Matter — as we’re about to reenter the world,” said Sima Saran Ahuja ’96, co-chair of the committee. Cammie Jones, the inaugural Executive Director of Community Engagement and Inclusion, centered the conversation on “the pandemic’s impact on our lives and the communities we live in” with a focus on “inequities for women, especially women of color, healthcare workers, parents, who’ve borne the brunt of the pandemic.”
Panelists Gloria Pan ’86, vice president of member engagement at MomsRising, and Christina Kuan Tsu ’83, P’18, sophomore class dean, explored the increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans and economic and racial inequities. Pan discussed efforts to “have more racial equality and more justice for everyone.” And for Tsu, it reaffirmed how “it’s important to speak out against hate.”
To provide a wider context of other challenging moments in Barnard’s history, Wilk hosted “Morningside Memories,” in which she interviewed three alumnae — Fran Abramowitz ’48, Nicole Bigar ’49, and Marjorie “Peggy” Lange ’50 — who shared their recollections of the campus and New York City during and immediately after World War II. “Many things have changed, but one thing remains constant,” Wilk noted. “Barnard is here for all of us in the Barnard family.”
That steadfast concern was especially evident during the poignant Memorial Service, a yearly tradition when alumnae, friends, and family acknowledge those classmates who’ve died since the last milestone Reunion. “We offer support to those who’ve lost a loved one or a beloved Barnard classmate,” said Rabbi Cheryl Weiner ’71. Reflecting on those who’ve passed, she added, “We think about how their souls touched ours.”
The Class of 1971 introduced their online docuseries Stand UP, Speak OUT: The Personal Politics of Women’s Rights, which examined voting rights in the United States, from the early suffrage movement to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the legal hurdles women face today. “Voting rights are at stake,” Ruth Louie ’71 said in an interview prior to the presentation. In the film, Louie spoke about the discrimination and danger Black women faced in the Deep South during her childhood and adolescence. “My 21-year-old grandniece can take advantage of rights and not realize that it’s not even 60 years [since they became rights],” said Louie. “Our rights are in serious jeopardy now.”
Umbreen Bhatti ’00, the Constance Hess Williams ’66 Director of the Athena Center for Leadership, moderated a panel on alumnae in public service that offered insights on how the government and nonprofit organizations can make necessary and positive changes in response to COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations. “Public service is about working toward the greater good,” said Geneva Tiggle ’91, a panelist and the
executive director of organizational excellence for Volunteers of America, Chesapeake and Carolinas. “It’s about empowerment and access to equity to help folks have meaningful lives.”
Barnard alumnae artists also shared their experiences about navigating the limitations and opportunities during the pandemic in “Spotlight or Ghost Light?: Alumnae Reflect on the Arts and Culture in the Age of COVID-19.”
Creativity and Connection
The Moth storytelling event, hosted by Dr. Marilyn Stocker ’71 and introduced by Cyndi Stivers ’78, who had originally brought the program to Reunion, featured stories that highlighted how Barnard had shaped the narrators’ lives. The 2021 storytellers were Jenn Chowdhury ’06, Ritu Goswamy ’96, Susan Jacobson ’81, Patria Baradi Pacis ’71, and Wendy Rosov ’86. Jacobson, a choreographer, spoke about how Barnard gave her the “ability to create choice and to celebrate the choices I make.”
For the first time, there was even a virtual talent showcase, “Barnard Live!” hosted by AABC president Amy Veltman ’89, who is also a stand-up comedian. The event featured numerous creatives, alumnae singers, actors, directors, and comedians.
Although most alumnae were eager to return to campus for future Reunions, there were clear benefits to the virtual space. “I’m excited to have the recordings and be able to participate,” said Sarah Feinberg ’96, who lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. “I can do it in my own time.” Her class’s social event, she said, “allowed us all to interact. It’s all about connecting our class.”
And in words that echo across the generations, Nicole Bigar ’49 said that “Barnard made me what I am now — always curious. I want to learn more, I want to listen more, I want to read more. My life is not boring because of that.”