Winter 2011

Winter 2011

Dear fellow alumnae,

Another successful fall semester at Barnard College has been completed!

  • It was successful for the students, incorporating another group of first-years into the student body and preparing another class of seniors for graduation.
  • It was successful for the faculty, welcoming a number of new and returning professors. It was successful for the administration, launching the open classes at the Athena Center for Leadership Studies and identifying a new dean of the College, Avis E. Hinkson ’84. Many focus groups and staff provided input into the document for the assessment prepared every 10 years for the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, which provides the foundation for the College’s strategic planning efforts. 
  • It was successful for the AABC. We have rededicated ourselves to our mission of engaging Barnard alumnae with each other and the College through exciting and engaging programming. Thanks to the work by Merri Rosenberg ’78 and the Leadership Assembly Committee, the Alumnae Affairs staff, and dedicated alumnae volunteer leaders, we had a very productive Leadership Assembly. In addition, the AABC Board has created more structure for itself and its committees so we can address your needs more effectively.

Outside the walls of Barnard, the country focused a lot of its energy on an historic mid- term election. AABC’s attention turned to its own upcoming elections since succession planning is an important function of any board. This year is the final year for the term of the president, vice president, and two of the committee chairs, so the Nominating Committee under the leadership of its chair, Alison Craiglow Hockenberry ’88, has been busy identifying candidates for the open positions. In this issue you will find information about the candidates they are presenting. Please carefully review the information and VOTE. The results of the national elections highlight the crucial role of voter participation. Just because our election process presents a slate instead of a choice, your vote is no less important. If you are reading this letter, please tear out the ballot included in the magazine, and cast your vote NOW instead of putting it off.

As ever,
Frances Sadler ’72

When For Colored Girls (34th Street Films/Lionsgate) opened in movie theatres November 5, the film adaptation of the award-winning play by Ntozake Shange ’70, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, became the third-highest grossing film that weekend. Shange (née Paulette Williams) appreciates the big screen success, describing it positively as “very surprising and very gratifying.” The present momentum feels like “a tremor, like an earthquake” for her. Just as the play’s Broadway debut did 34 years prior, the cinematic debut of polarizing writer- director Tyler Perry’s interpretation of Shange’s seminal work has also caused a disturbance in the cultural atmosphere.

Shange originally created “seven ladies in simple colored dresses” who speak, sing, and dance their painful life experiences on stage. Through their poetic re-telling, these women find mutual support and healing. Perry’s writing and direction takes us out of the suspended time of performance art and into the simulated real time of cinematic narrative. His multi-millionaire independent auteur status also attracts recognizable names to the cast: Loretta Divine, Kimberly Elise, Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Tessa Thompson, and Kerry Washington. The seven women retain their colors throughout their wardrobe, but Perry shuffles the poetry and redistributes it among the women, which include two new voices, Gilda and Alice, portrayed by Phylicia Rashad and Whoopi Goldberg, respectively.

Admittedly, Shange had reservations about Perry as a director. “I was concerned with Mr. Perry because he does primarily [broad comedy],” she says. Recalling director Oz Scott, who directed the play in the 1970s, and the PBS telecast in 1982, Shange says, “Oz was fabulous to work with. He’s a brilliant director, a brilliant artist. Very sensitive. His work has a textual and visual quality.”

Although Perry’s reassignment of some of the poetic language works well, as do many of his cinematographic choices, his own lack of finesse with dialogue at times snags the creative fiber of the film, most evident through the hit-or-miss interweaving of his words with Shange’s, and by over-writing where visual impact and emotional resonance would be more powerful. Shange has said she’s 85 percent happy with Perry’s results, yet his reputation for conservative, moral-driven films where independent women characters are vilified and require adaptation to traditional roles in their relationships with men has dissatisfied skeptics and critics alike. “I was aware of Mr. Perry being accused of not being sensitive to women and their lives in his films,” Shange acknowledges. “That was the 15 percent I wasn’t happy with.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, men also were not happy about some of these characterizations. One male reviewer, for New York Magazine, describes the male characters as “one stereotypical dog after another.” The angry, violent reactions of black men to the play in the 1970s are matched by their new-millennium cyber attacks on the film, primarily energized by one Washington Post column-gone- viral that suggests the film be renamed For Black Men Who Have Considered Homicide After Watching Another Tyler Perry Movie. Shange, however, remains blissfully out of the loop. “I wasn’t aware of [men’s current criticisms of the film], probably because this time it’s not directed at me,” she admits with a laugh. What the similarity of reactions reveals is a bit more sobering for her. “It makes me very sad, and it makes me think we haven’t come very far in 30 years,” she laments. “We have to communicate with each other. We can’t speak past one another. It’s sad.”

As her surname suggests (Claude Sloan, Shange’s assistant, says the name was a gift bestowed on the author by two South African revolutionaries), Shange “walks like a lion” through both the negative and positive aftereffects. This ability might be attributed to her survival of very challenging moments in her life—attempts at suicide, two debilitating strokes, daily living with mental illness. Asked if any of these personal experiences show up in her writing, particularly in for colored girls, Shange concludes, “I’m not sure how much it represents my life. My poems are usually pretty literal. I’m sure there’s some [of myself present].” Yet she shrugs off the notion that she is some sort of cultural figure for women who tell her that they have achieved catharsis and healing through her work. “I don’t think about that. I continue to write. I’ve been writing. I’ve been living in the present.” That present includes the critical acclaim of her new novel, Some Sing, Some Cry (St. Martin’s Press, 2010), coauthored with her sister Ifa Bayeza. An award-winning playwright and theatrical producer in her own right, Bayeza has been a part of the For Colored Girls journey from its incarnation as a solo performance piece, through its theatrical unfolding, to its feature film success. “[Her] being with me has been very important,” Shange intimates of her sister. “We’re only a year and a half apart. I value her judgment and her vision, and I treasure her talent. I’m able to be frank with her and she’s able to see things in my work that I don’t see or that I miss. She’s an incredible writer.”

 Coinciding with For Colored Girls’ feature film release, Scribner re- issued the published choreopoem in a hardcover Scribner Classics edition featuring elements from the iconic 1975 cover art. They also created an eBook, updated the trade paperback version (with the original cover), and came out with a movie tie-in paperback featuring the movie art on the cover. All editions include two new poems, a new introduction, as well as photos relating to the work. An audiobook from Brillance Audio was also just released in January.

This year, Shange will take her writing “back to the beginning,” when for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf returns to Broadway’s Circle in the Square Theater (a 2008 revival was canceled when a major investor withdrew from the production).

“It’s already been cast,” Shange reveals. She’ll also return to her original casting sensibility. Although the play and the film featured all black women in their respective casts, Shange emphasizes, “It was never for black women entirely. The earlier performances in San Francisco [featured] African American, Latina, and Asian actresses. Mr. Papp (Joseph Papp, founder of New York’s Public Theater) insisted on an all black cast because [a diverse cast] would baffle a New York audience. On Broadway in 2011 we plan to have Latinas and Africans in the cast.”

The For Colored Girls blitzkrieg across the genres of poetry, theatre, publishing, television, and film is also something Shange takes in stride. “I was an African studies major. I left Barnard as a person who combined history, literature, and art history in my work,” she explains. “I never experienced a separation of the genres. My work transcends barriers of all sorts because I never wanted it to be stuck.”

- Sharon D. Johnson ‘85
Photography by Dorothy Hong


Donning a prom gown, a pair of paint-spattered overalls, or a fur coat sends strong messages about the wearer’s social status, values and sense of style. So what was the significance of African slaves dressed by their eighteenth-century English masters in silks and lace, Associate Professor of English Monica L. Miller wondered. And why was calling a black man a “dandy” a slight?

Her research, begun as a graduate dissertation at Dartmouth more than a decade ago, culminated in Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity (Duke University Press, 2009). The Modern Language Association has awarded the book its 2011 William Sanders Scarborough Prize for an outstanding scholarly work on black American literature or culture. Miller has been teaching at Barnard since 2000.

What launched your research? In graduate school, I was taking a class with Cornel West on W.E.B. Du Bois. I ran across a footnote about a cartoon ridiculing Du Bois as a dandy. The image I had of him was of a very serious intellectual, one responsible for the image of the race. I was curious about that critique.

How did clothing become a racially charged tool of social assessment? In New Orleans and South Carolina in colonial times, sumptuary laws prevented masters from giving slaves silk clothing. A slave in fancy clothing could be read as trying to be like his master or trying to mock his master—or trying to be like African nobility. One of the most fun parts of the book for me was to research ads for runaway and escaped slaves that listed the things servants took with them—all kinds of clothing, wigs, jackets. Clothing was really important because slaves were marked by it. Slaves on plantations got new clothing only seasonally; those who wanted to pass as free needed to dress on a higher level.

Did you discover any highlights of African-American fashion? The Harlem Renaissance is seen as the height of style for black Americans. A lot of that revision had to do with a new presentation of the black body. And this is where Du Bois came in again. It turns out that in Harlem in the 1920s there was a lot of interest in black image, in ways to self-represent. For the first time, there were famous black style-makers. There were raccoon coats, well-dressed women and men, and the beginning of black middle and upper class. The images of those people are designed to express to everyone that they are respectable, that they are people, and rights should be extended to them.

What kind of reception has the book received? It’s in its second printing, and available on the Kindle. I was interviewed by an African fashion magazine, Arise, started by a Nigerian in London; I get random e-mails from people. A black gay man said he was so moved by it and was waiting his whole life for my book. I was like, really? A Free Man of Color, playing at the Lincoln Center Theater, is set in New Orleans around late 1800s. The main character is a black dandy. A Times of London reporter told me that George C. Wolfe, the director, began rehearsals for the play with my book in his hand.

Has your research changed how you dress? It’s put a lot of pressure on me! You don’t show up with this topic looking kind of shabby. I spent too much time in maternity clothing in the past two years, and now that’s all over, so I’m hoping to ramp it up again.

- June D. Bell

When Emmy Award-winning journalist Beth Knobel set out to become a cub reporter, she applied at every media outlet she possibly could, in New York City and elsewhere. “And I got so many rejection letters, they not only covered the outside of my dorm room door, but the inside as well,” Knobel says.

Eventually she landed her first job at Ladies Home Journal; somewhat later she advanced to Moscow bureau chief for CBS News. Along the way, there were a few calculated risks, she says, including falling in love with and marrying a Russian journalist and moving to Moscow.

These days, carving out a successful journalism career isn’t any easier for aspiring young wordsmiths. With the Internet sending the titans of the media into a tailspin, reports of layoffs and cutbacks, particularly in the print world, have become so common they aren’t really news at all.

But Knobel hasn’t lost her optimism and hope. The Internet may have turned the media world upside down, but it’s creating even more opportunities for young journalists just starting out in the profession. That’s why it’s more critical than ever to help them acquire the skills they need to create the kind of journalism that still makes a difference and helps the professional survive and adapt in a new world.

“The only way journalism will stay relevant is if people create high-quality, meaningful journalism,” Knobel asserts. And to help young people do that, she has coauthored a handbook with CBS News legend Mike Wallace titled Heat & Light: Advice for the Next Generation of Journalists. “It’s really a guide book that someone can keep with them when they’re out working, and if they have questions, they can give the book a little glance to remind themselves.”

The idea for the book was born in 2007, when Wallace stopped by to talk to Knobel’s journalism classes at Fordham University. For Wallace, good journalism is a delicate balance between what he calls heat and light. Heat is a story’s emotional pull, the drama and conflicts that pull a reader in. Light is information, the knowledge that a well-reported story offers readers.

Knobel and her students were so intrigued by his advice, she called Wallace and told him he should write a book about the subject. “I told him you have some things to pass along,” she explains. “And much to my delight, he said, ‘That’s a great idea.’”

“More than anything, journalism is complicated, and it takes a long time to learn how to do it well, and to feel empowered,” Knobel says.    

They began meeting about once a week to debate and discuss the craft of journalism. Knobel made a list of about 150 questions her students typically ask about the profession. And they talked to dozens of journalists (reporters, editors, and writers) who were either friends or colleagues whose work they admired. “We wanted to get some different perspectives to see if other people agreed with us or had other important things to add,”

Knobel says. “So I think between my understanding of the academic side, and Mike’s incredible wealth of knowledge, we turned out something that’s useful.”

With practical tips and anecdotes, the book strikes a balance between the theoretical and the practical. It tackles big-picture questions such as fairness, responsibility, objectivity, and balance. It also outlines the specific writing and reporting skills all young wannabes have to learn to succeed. Consideration is also given to how a journalist can generate and evaluate story ideas, in addition to offering tips on how to master the art of the interview, by learning how to create a rapport with someone while still asking the tough questions. It also outlines the tools that novices need to know to produce and edit news for television, radio, or the Internet. “More than anything, journalism is complicated, and it takes a long time to learn how to do it well, and to feel empowered,” Knobel says.

The book hasn’t been out long, but changes in the news business are happening so rapidly that she is already considering how to update it. New media products that didn’t exist two years ago when they started writing the book, such as news applications for smart phones or digital newspapers for the iPad, are altering the landscape of journalism. “And that’s something we certainly should address....” Knobel says.

- Amy Miller
Photograph by Jonathan Sanders

In the late 1950s, the eminent anthropologist, professor, museum curator, winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and Barnard alumna Margaret Mead ’23 invited young photographer Ken Heyman, whom she had met earlier during his student days at Columbia, to accompany her on a field trip to Bali. She had become familiar with his work for LIFE magazine. So began of a 20-year relationship during which Heyman photographed Mead on additional field trips, in her curator’s office at the American Museum of Natural History, at her Greenwich Village home, among other locations across the globe. On November 10, a collection of Mead photographs, contributed by Heyman, became a permanent photographic exhibit at the Barnard Library. Dorothy Anne Minton Brimberg generously funded the installation through the Dorothy Kraus Davis Foundation, named for Brimberg’s mother, a friend and colleague of Mead’s and a member of the Class of 1924.

“He’s a whole musical education,” trumpeter and jazz innovator Miles Davis said of Benny Carter, an early influence. “The King,” as he was known, was the Tchaikovsky of jazz composers, an arranger for Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Bennie Goodman, and Billie Holiday, one of the first African-Americans to write Hollywood scores, and an alto sax player of thrilling purity. Late in life, Carter decided to take on songwriting as well.

“We would talk about the lyrics interminably,” recalls his widow, Hilma Ollila Carter. “He liked rhyme—old- fashioned, courtly speech—and he wanted le mot juste.” He didn’t find many mots justes before he died, at age 95 in 2003, but a close friend of the Carters, singer-songwriter Deborah Pearl, has now produced a whole album of song to his acclaimed melodies, Souvenir of You.

“Why didn’t it occur to us to ask Debbie?” Hilma wonders out loud.

Pearl’s career rivals Carter’s in its breadth and Hollywood flavor. She has written for half a dozen sit-coms and produced as many screenplays, with a few currently in development. She has sung backup for Roseanne Cash, Neil Young, Oasis, and her sister, 1980s Billboard-100 hitmaker Leslie Pearl. She even once worked as a singing waitress. Her warmly received one-woman show, Chick Singers, gives creative form to this vast and various résumé, with opera divas and punk rockers, the aspiring and the overlooked, each telling their idiosyncratic tale.

“The problem with you,” Benny Carter once observed of Pearl, “is you have an embarrassment of talents.” Posthumously he has become the beneficiary of that excess. A few years ago, Carter received a request to set lyrics to one of her husband’s compositions. (Famous numbers include “Malibu,” “Blues In My Heart,” and “When Lights Are Low.”) With his exacting standards in mind, she had reservations about the proposed song and consulted Pearl, who said, “Would you like me to give it a try?”

“We had no idea what it would lead to,” Carter admits, laughing. “The album grew like Topsy.” After the success of that first attempt, she fed Pearl other tunes—and these lyrics also worked. The women decided to make a “demo”—a CD of songs to minimal accompaniment for other singers to use. They still hope the tunes will be picked up—by Al Jarreau, for example—but they came to realize that the album had commercial potential; contacts in the music industry to whom Carter sent the work-in-progress were charmed. “We got more and more enthused,” she explains. Pearl says, “It’s brought all of my abilities together.”

Pearl didn’t start with an organizing theme, but as she wrote more of the album she found herself returning again and again to the miraculous love story of Benny and Hilma. Hilma Ollila first met her future husband in the late 1930s when her older sister, a jazz aficionado, took her to the Savoy Ballroom to hear “this great musician.” She was not yet 19. She and Benny must have talked because soon they were dating. The romance continued until he left for Hollywood in 1942.

He married and she married and eventually “we lost touch,” she says. But in the mid-1970s, after she had divorced and with “women’s lib” and the notion of following your bliss in the air, she realized, “This is the person I have loved—really loved—all my life.” She sent cautious regards via a mutual acquaintance, and soon Carter phoned to invite her to dinner after his next gig back east—at Carnegie Hall. When they met, he said, “I loved you once, and it’s never been any different.” Souvenir of You does not recount their story, but it does convey the many feelings that love, separation, and reunion might stir up. It is also a token of Pearl’s affection for the couple, who have regarded her as an adopted daughter.

Hilma Carter met Pearl first. Soon after moving to Los Angeles in 1979 to be with Benny, she sought out the local Barnard Club, which Pearl frequented because being around “honest, authentic, and forthright women makes my heart happy.” The two women, separated by three decades, became fast friends and with time Pearl came to know Benny as well. “Whoever Hilma loved, Benny loved,” she explains. “Whenever I felt bummed, I’d go over to their house and sit on their couch and talk to them,” she says. “And I’d feel that all was right with the world. They are such a peaceful couple—no palpable tension anywhere. They are self-planted, secure and loving people.” Many of the album’s 13 songs reflect this spirit.

Pearl approached the songwriting as “a wonderful puzzle,” with the melody and whatever clues she could glean from each number’s title and back story helping to answer “the underlying question: What is the story?” Though a song is three minutes, not three acts, her experience as a playwright and screenwriter proved useful. “You still need a beginning, middle, and end,” she points out. “I imagined the songs as mini stories.” Sometimes the lyrics would come in a rush and sometimes she would have to wait for the right words, running through the songs as she walked the dog in the Hollywood Hills.

Her first test drive—at a local Jewish community center right after lunch, when the audience of seniors had their heads bobbing toward their laps—was hardly ideal. “When I tell other performers, they fall over laughing,” says Pearl. But the information was useful.

“When we perform ‘Doozy Blues,’” she promises of one of the swinging numbers she has since added, “believe me, nobody’s going to be sleeping.” In fact, she feels confident about the whole album. “I don’t have to worry if the melodies are good. They’re spectacular! Being on the shoulders of Benny—I can’t think of anything more elevated.”

Souvenir of You will be released on Evening Star Records this spring.

- Apollinaire Scherr
Photograph by Ed Berger

Personal librarians help new students sort out resources

Illustration by Jimmy TierneyMost students enter college knowing they’ll spend many hours in the library. Whether they will use all the library’s resources effectively and take advantage of everything it has to offer is a different matter. The librarians at Barnard want to increase the odds that more students will do that. Borrowing an idea from Yale University, they rolled out a new program this past fall: the personal librarian. “We want to make the library a welcoming place,” says research librarian Jenna Freedman. Each incoming student is now assigned a personal librarian, loosely based on the department affiliation of the student’s adviser. For many years, each librarian has been assigned to several departments. The library staff expects students will switch their personal librarians when they declare a major to align their academic interest.

The personal librarian is the one that students can call upon whenever they’re stumped about how to find sources. By developing a rapport with a librarian in the early days of college, the hope is that students will become proficient library users throughout their academic careers. “There are all kinds of sources in our library that students often don’t know about,” says Lisa Norberg, dean of Barnard Library & Academic Information Services. “It can be quite daunting for an undergraduate.”

In addition, each faculty member is now assigned a personal librarian, an expansion of the Yale concept. The librarians are getting the word out about the initiative to students through the faculty by making presentations in various classes. “Every time I’ve gone to a faculty meeting, it’s doubled the amount of use from that department,” Freedman says. The library hasn’t yet collected any statistics about how usage has changed since the program began, but the librarians say they are busier than ever fielding research assistance queries from students. Freedman even receives instant messages from students in the wee hours of the night. “If I’m awake and my IM is on, I’m fair game,” she says. “I’ll help.”

Norberg has heard from faculty members that the quality of sources cited is markedly improved since the program began. “A lot of students rely on Google or other online searches,” says Norberg, “but at the library we can guide them to a lot more sources that are relevant to their research.”

Barnard’s library is deceptively small. In addition to the materials housed in its building, students also have access to the libraries at Columbia University, through the Columbia Library Information Online (CLIO) system. It’s easy for students to feel overwhelmed. A reference librarian can help put order to sheer amount of possible resources.

Students are still figuring out how they’ll use the new program. Many like the idea, even if they have not yet taken full advantage of it. “I haven’t kept in touch with my personal librarian much,” admits first-year Katheryn Thayer, who plans to declare an urban studies major. “But it’s another reason why I’m so glad that I’m at Barnard, with personalized small-school resources.”

Elianna Mintz ’14, who is studying English and Middle Eastern history, made a point of stopping by the library to introduce herself to her personal librarian, Lois Coleman. “I thought it was cool that I get my own librarian,” she says. Mintz has largely relied on her professors for assistance in finding source material, but she knows she can stop by the library when she works more independently. By the time students reach their senior year, they will be using the library extensively to write their theses. If the personal librarians have their way, they’ll already know where to find every source they need.

- Ilana Polyak

On December 15, Barnard College, along with schools across the country, released the results of its Early Decision application process.

President Debora Spar

We sent acceptance letters to 240 presumably happy young women and their families, generating a wonderful bubble of excitement in return. “Our entire family is ecstatic to learn that Isabel has been accepted to Barnard,” wrote one delighted grandmother to our admissions staff. “We are all calling each other, laughing and exclaiming with joy.” “We have all worked so hard to get here, so now we can breathe!” scribbled a young woman on our newly assembled Facebook page. “CONGRATS everyone! Barnard College Class of 2015, here we come!”

That same day, though, we also, inevitably, made lots of young women sad—the 311 young women to whom we denied or deferred admission. It was a year of record high applications for us, and Dean Jennifer Fondiller and her extraordinary staff in the Admissions Office were forced to turn away hundreds of wonderfully talented and enthusiastic prospective students—the acclaimed oboist who also started an animal shelter in her local community; the budding actress who rock climbs and is fluent in three languages. These are achingly hard decisions, particularly in the context of Early Decision, when Dean Fondiller and her colleagues know that the students are not merely adding Barnard to a list of schools that they might wish to attend; they are applying because they have decided—with their hearts and their minds, their parents and friends and guidance counselors—that this is where they want to be. Where they are meant to be. Or as one applicant put it: “Ever since I was 12 years old, whenever someone asked me what college I dreamed of going to, I would always respond, ‘Barnard!’ without hesitation. It was only recently that I discovered just how accurate a 12-year-old girl’s intuition can be.”

I only see a tiny fraction of the applications, but there is one that will haunt me for a long time.

Tonya comes from a poor, crime-ridden corner of Baltimore. She has several siblings and a mother who emigrated from Puerto Rico. In the blank space that asks for “Father,” she simply wrote “unknown.” In one of her essays, she mentioned in passing that her family has “virtually no income.” Yet the joy and spirit of this girl danced through her application. Rather than focusing on her dangerous neighborhood or dismal financial circumstances, she wrote of the power she had gained from playing soccer; the confidence that was slowly growing as she sang in her school choir and participated in its community outreach programs. She wrote of the books she had read and the inspiration she took from writers like Toni Morrison.

Tonya was lucky. She had participated in a mentorship program that paired her with a wildly successful older woman, a woman who clearly cared deeply about her and had encouraged her to apply to Barnard. But her SAT scores were low and her school record sharply limited, especially in comparison to the 550 other applicants against whom she was competing. Not a lot of AP courses at her inner city school. Not many honors programs or extracurricular activities. The letters from her teachers were positive, but brief and hastily written by hand. Applicants from better-heeled schools, by contrast, often had pages of praise, carefully annotated with details of their progress and achievements.

In our system of higher education—a system still regularly hailed as the best in the world—the cards are perpetually stacked against students like Tonya. She didn’t have parents who played educational videos for her or took her to piano and theatre classes. She didn’t have SAT tutors or even teachers with the time and incentives to look after her as a student or a person. She was strong and brave and curious, but by the age of 17, her educational chances had already been slapped down.

Like many of our peer schools, Barnard tries desperately to find the Tonyas of the world; to attract them to campus, to admit them, and to cover the costs of their education. Once they matriculate, we offer a wide and growing range of support services and enrichment options. But it is still hard. Because often a student like Tonya simply hasn’t had the kind of educational background that she needs, not only to get into our most selective colleges, but to thrive there. These students are just losing too much ground in primary and secondary school and falling farther and farther behind their already better-placed peers.

In the end, and after several rounds of heart-wrenching consideration, we decided to defer Tonya. We will try to bring her to campus in January, to interview her and get a better sense of her academic potential. I hope we will admit her in the next round of decisions. I hope that she comes to Barnard, and succeeds beyond her wildest dreams. But at a time when so many of us are caught in the frenzy of college applications, it is critical to remember that this country is still damned by the tragedy of millions of Tonyas—good kids, smart kids, whose access to education is condemned by the circumstances of their birth.

- Debora Spar