Breaking new ground is never easy, and doing so has become even more difficult since March 2020. Undeterred, many members of the Barnard community have met this past year’s challenges head-on and made historical contributions in the process. Since last Women’s History Month (March), Barnard affiliates from various sectors and industries have pioneered new paths and received recognition for their inspiring work.
Throughout this Women’s History Month, we are highlighting nearly a dozen community members who have accomplished significant personal, professional, and societal goals. Learn more about the trailblazers below and the ground they broke over the past year.
Check back on March 29 for Part Two.
Suzanne Berger ’78: First Woman Chair
It had been 16 years since New York State’s Westchester County chose a new Democratic Committee leader, but last fall — for the first time — they elected a woman: Suzanne Berger ’78. Berger won 53% of her county’s votes, a solid six-point margin. “I was so honored this September to be the first woman to be elected by the 1,900 county committee members to chair the Westchester County Democratic Committee,” Berger said. “Westchester is a large and diverse county with more than 900,000 residents residing in six cities, 19 towns, and 23 villages, and it votes Democratic.”
Before claiming the chair, Berger led the town committee in Greenburgh, Westchester’s largest town, for 18 years. In a Yonkers Times article covering her win, one Democratic leader said of Berger: “Suzanne is a tireless worker, who was a liberal before it was fashionable. She [is] also tough and knows how to fight for what she believes in.”
Another local leader echoed the sentiment, telling Yonkers Times that “Suzanne has proven herself a forceful voice for the rights of all — regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, disability, financial fortitude or gender identity.”
Nialah Edari ’17: Major Youth Activist
Heeding the calls from Minneapolis organizers to minimize outside protestors in their city in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Nialah Edari ’17 enlisted Chelsea Miller CC’18 to organize an anti-racism march in New York City in late May. Within a day, Edari and Miller quickly drafted a flyer, launched Freedom March NYC, and mobilized hundreds of young people to peacefully march for civil rights at Washington Square Park in Manhattan. The march became one of the largest peaceful youth protests in the City.
“We believed it was important to take control of our narrative,” Edari said. And they did so on a day of great historical import. “This was also the 99th anniversary of the Black Wall Street bombing in Tulsa, Oklahoma, so this march had historical significance for us.”
Rolling Stone Magazine took notice of Edari’s efforts as well and featured an interview with her and Miller, who have since expanded their organization to advocate for policy reform, provide training for New York City organizers, as well as supplies for those who are on the frontlines, and more.
Diane Gujarati ’90: First Indian American Federal Judge
On September 18, 2020, Diane Gujarati ’90 was appointed United States District Judge for the Eastern District of New York and became the first Indian American to hold the position. Gujarati was originally nominated for the job in 2016 by President Barack Obama and was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Before stepping into her current position, Gujarati spent years as a litigator working on criminal prosecutions and appellate proceedings, such as on economic, violent, narcotics, trafficking, and exploitation crimes. Her most recent role was deputy chief of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York. Before that, she spent nearly 20 years as an assistant U.S. attorney. Gujarati also serves as a director of the Asian American Bar Association of New York.
Juliet Howard ’86: LGBTQ+ Herstory Maker
Twenty-seven years after Juliet Howard ’86 and her wife, Norma Jennings ’90Law, became an item, Howard made herstory with Jennings on February when it was announced that Howard had been appointed to be a judge at New York City’s Housing Court, making them the first married same-sex couple to be judges for the same housing court in New York.
Howard took the bench in Brooklyn; Jennings judges in the Bronx. In a recent interview with New York Law Journal, Howard noted that her milestone should be a source of inspiration for others, even as it took so long to happen.
“I just hope that people are inspired to follow whatever their dreams are, particularly LGBT folks and people of color as well,” Howard told the journal last month. “I feel like we kind of represent all of those segments of society, and we’re proud to be able to have this opportunity.”
Audrey McNeal ’24: Youngest Elected Delegate
In June 2020, Audrey McNeal ’24 became the youngest elected delegate to the Democratic National Convention for Georgia’s 11th District, just before she officially became a first-year at Barnard. As a delegate, McNeal’s task was to vote at the convention to officially nominate the party’s president and vice president.
Passionate about engaging young people in the political process, McNeal also became one of 2020’s inaugural ambassadors for the Partnership for Southern Equity’s “Keep That Same Energy” task force. “I felt uniquely active in the writing of American history while nominating the first vice presidential party nominee who is a woman, Black, and South Asian American,” said McNeal, in October 2020. “Since many campaign events this year, such as the DNC, had to be held virtually, I saw how I could serve a purpose by encouraging young people through social media to cast their votes.”
In this role, McNeal also had a front-row seat when Democrats flipped Georgia blue for the first time in a presidential race since President Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory.