Beginning in the fall of 2017, Barnard will offer a newly funded scholarship called the Ann and Andrew Tisch Scholarship for Refugee Women.  The scholarship will be awarded annually, and a student whose education has been interrupted as a result of war, persecution, conflict, natural disaster, or crisis will be able to attend Barnard through a generous gift to Barnard's endowment from the Ann and Andrew Tisch family. The scholarship covers the full financial needs of the student for all four years of her undergraduate career, including tuition, housing, meals, books, travel, and stipends for internships and other co-curricular activities.

“There’s an old saying that when you affect an individual, you affect a world,” explains Ann Tisch, “and that is our intention here.”

Over 20 years ago, Ann Tisch had the vision to provide students growing up in low-income communities with a high-quality college preparatory education modeled on the finest private schools. She is the founder and president of Young Women’s Leadership Network, an organization that operates the Young Women’s Leadership Schools, a network of 18 all-girls public schools around the country, and CollegeBound Initiative, a coed college access program serving more than 18,000 students across New York City.  Her husband, Andrew Tisch, is co-chairman of Loews Corporation and is currently writing a book about immigration. They are the parents of a Barnard student.

Having been deeply involved in educating girls and young women, the Tisches see the scholarship as “a natural extension of our work over the past two decades. Bringing this to Barnard is among the most exciting things we’ve done, and we are thrilled about it.”

This scholarship began as a glimmer of an idea in the mind of senior Maia Bix ’17. In the fall of 2016, Bix met with Debora Spar, then the president of Barnard, to express her frustration that Barnard had not engaged in a meaningful way with the Syrian refugee crisis and with “the complex educational challenges that arise in these contexts of mass displacement.”  Spar told Bix that the issue was weighing on her as well and requested that Bix draft a proposal on what the College could do. “I don’t know what I expected when I walked into her office,” says Bix, “but her response was so affirming.  In true Barnard fashion, she empowered me as a student to really take initiative.” 

Bix researched what other higher education institutions were doing. “Ultimately I settled on the idea of a scholarship because it’s a concrete, impactful response that also furthers the College’s mission, is true to our values, and matches our capacity.  A scholarship is something that plays to our strengths—making higher education accessible to women who otherwise would have little to no access.”

She spoke with Giorgio DiMauro, Dean of International and Global Strategy, and fellow student Yasemin Akcaguner ’17, who connected Bix with Students Organize for Syria, a Barnard/Columbia organization. There she met Alema Begum ’18, who runs the Barnard/Columbia Books not Bombs campaign, and Nadine Fattaleh CC ’17, who has been working for over a year with a professor at the Business School, Bruce Usher, on a similar scholarship initiative. There are now six Columbia scholarships for displaced persons being offered beginning in the fall of 2017: one at the Business School, one at the School of International Public Affairs, two at the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and two at the School of General Studies. 

The four students worked together to shape the proposal for the refugee scholarship, which Bix brought to Spar in November. Spar directed Bix to make the same pitch to Vice President for Development Bret Silver. In late January, the Ann and Andrew Tisch family generously stepped up to provide funding.

“Like millions of people,” says Ann Tisch, “we witness the horror of what’s going on in Syria and other nations around the globe. By sponsoring and funding this scholarship, we can make a contribution. We hope that the Barnard scholarship will become a copycat initiative, with other colleges inspired to follow this example.”

Adds Vice President for Development Bret Silver, “The College hopes other donors will match this generous gift so that additional students who have experienced displacement can benefit from a Barnard education.”

Bix is doing the work to prod other schools to follow Barnard’s example. “I’m putting together an open-source toolkit for those in higher education,” she says, “and finding ways to get the word out about the need for scholarships of this nature. In the current political climate, I feel strongly that higher education institutions have a responsibility to stand up for their values and make their campuses as inclusive and accessible as possible.”

Bix and her fellow student partners additionally have been building student support for the scholarship on campus. They created a panel discussion last fall called “Education, Interrupted” featuring Prof. Ayten Gündoğdu in political science and Syrian-American community organizer and advocate Sarab al-Jijakli, focusing on the relationship between displacement and education in the Syrian context. A film screening to raise awareness for the scholarship later this semester is also being planned.

The senior class at large is also doing their share, donating 25% of the money they raise this year via the Senior Fund to the Ann and Andrew Tisch Scholarship for Refugee Women.

The Tisches recognize that “if we’re going to move the needle” for girls’ and women’s equity, “it starts with education,” says Ms. Tisch. “We know that this scholarship will be put to excellent use and will have an incredible impact on the young women who have access to it.”   

Bix agrees. “It makes sense that Barnard is responding to the refugee crisis by establishing a scholarship. Barnard is a women’s college, and in cases of displacement in conflict, women are disproportionately affected in terms of their education. Teenage girls are frequently the first ones to drop out of school—before their brothers—and for this and many other reasons, fewer women are able to continue to higher education.  So this is a gendered issue, and it’s important that Barnard is stepping up as a women’s college and as a safe space. Barnard is creating a life-changing opportunity for women in need, and making its campus a more inclusive and vibrant place in the process.“