The Barnard community has always been known for its commitment to activism, from its founding days and the fight to provide women with a quality education, to this past year where national movements focused on women’s rights, immigration, science and climate change, and other social issues. The past year was no different. Below is a selection of how Barnard’s students, alumnae, and faculty have gotten involved with their communities to make a difference.
It all started with Election Day on Nov. 8, 2016. Eliza Siegel ’20 wrote for Hudson Valley One about the disappointment she felt that evening and how she and her classmates joined thousands of protesters the following weekend in a march that ran from Union Square to Trump Tower in midtown, inspiring her to engage in community building and political organizing. In the weeks between the election and the inauguration, these efforts were echoed by fellow students and alumnae: NBC News profiled Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum ’81 as she and fellow clergy members at her synagogue joined forces with the Islamic Society of New York University to combat the rise of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim violence. Rhea Suh ’92, president of the National Resources Defense Council and named by Elle as one of their “2017 Women in Washington,” told GreenBiz that efforts were already underway in many cities to combat climate change—with or without federal support.
The Women's March
The Women’s March on Washington took place on January 21, 2017—the day after the inauguration—and saw hundreds of thousands of women in D.C. and around the world take to the streets. Prof. Mary Gordon ’71 wrote for Vogue about her experiences marching against the Vietnam War as a student and in the Women’s March as a professor. Prof. Irena Klepfisz, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, told Haaretz why she joined the Women's March on NYC as part of the Jewish Resistance group. Krista Suh ’09, whose hot pink “pussyhats” were knitted and donned by Women’s March protesters as a powerful symbol of unity and resistance, visited the Barnard campus after the 2017 March. She returned this week with a new book and to reunite with singer MILCK, whose anthem “Quiet”—like Suh’s pussyhats—became synonymous with the March. The friends discussed the importance of sisterhood and their surprise at how quickly and naturally they became politically active through their art, before MILCK gave a rousing performance of songs from her new album.
The Women’s March galvanized faculty, students and alumnae. Pilar Laitano Ferreira ’20 wrote about her experiences of solidarity in D.C., while Kate Gerhart ’19 gave an interview while attending the New York City march to emphasize the importance of supporting minority groups. And New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote about Mythili Lahiri ’94 and her sisters Maya Rao and Meera Oliva, first-generation Indian-Americans who were moved to activism after the election. They viewed the country as on the precipice of a “slippery slope” away from the American ideals of freedom of expression and transparency.
Barnard women kept on marching long after January: Ghada Jerfel ’19 told USA Today that she would join a rally on campus and moderate a discussion group on International Women’s Day on March 8, which coincided with the “Day Without a Woman” strike; faculty led the Barnard contingent of the March for Science in April; and in September, Aliza Lifshitz ’20 wrote for New Voices about her participation in the March for Racial Justice NYC, which was organized for observant Jews who couldn’t participate in the flagship D.C. march due to Yom Kippur.
Students and alumnae were recognized for their years of community-focused work and service. Entertainment lawyer Nina Shaw ’76—now also a Time’s Up cofounder—was one of The Los Angeles Times’ “11 Women Making L.A. a Better Place” for her championing of artists of color. Aku Acquaye ’18 was recognized by Amsterdam News for her on- and off-campus efforts with the Gender Equality Project and the WomanHOOD Project, which advocate for increased workplace parity and increasing media literacy and social justice skills, respectively. Laura Robert Rivera ’19 was profiled by Global Citizen for founding a child abuse awareness and prevention campaign in Puerto Rico that has reached over 10,000 students since 2013; Rowan Hepps Keeney ’18 was featured in GLAAD’s “Beyond the Binary” photo series for the work they do for LBGTQ rights at Barnard; and Demme Durett ’19 was highlighted in The Houston Chronicle for starting the Human Rights Walk and Festival, which after six years has grown from a Girl Scout project to a national movement.
Alumnae stepped into the political sphere as well. Kendra Tappin '05 and her young daughters joined House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a press conference to speak out against a draft of the GOP’s tax bill, arguing that the bill would hurt working class families and limit opportunities for social mobility through higher education. Immigration attorney Sylvia Cabana ’89, who ran for student government in high school and at Barnard, was sworn in in early 2018 as town clerk of Hempstead, NY. And Cynthia Nixon ’88 sparked rumors of a gubernatorial run after she publicly criticized N.Y. Governor Cuomo on education issues.
The Power of the Pen
Barnard’s reputation as a hotbed for writers was well-deserved in 2017: Edwidge Danticat ’90 wrote for The New Yorker about the power of poetry in times of protest and unrest, Erica Jong ’63 penned an essay for The Nation about the continued need for an Equal Rights Amendment to be added to the Constitution, and Barnard professors from a variety of fields wrote and spoke about myriad issues regarding the administration. In the wake of the Roy Moore scandal, Birmingham native Lara Avsar ’11 wrote an op-ed encouraging young women to speak up and fight for their safety and rights. And activist lawyer Barbi Appelquist ’98 authored pieces for HuffPost about the effects of systemic exclusion of women from the entertainment industry and the need for male allies to become more vocal on workplace inequality.
In addition to internal programming hosted by the Office of Student Life, several public events on campus offered opportunities for reflecting and organizing. The Barnard Center for Research on Women (BCRW) hosted several standing-room-only events, including a talk by Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza, a discussion with poets Claudia Rankine and Dionne Brand about the power of language and poetry in troubling times. and a film screening and panel discussion about community-building among trans and gender-nonconforming people.
2018 is just beginning, and more stories of courageous, audacious activism are already being told. If you’ve gotten involved in some way recently—or know another member of the Barnard community who has—we hope you’ll let us know.