New York, NY: The sky was overcast, the navy clouds swollen with water, the streets smelled of greasy pretzels, and steam seeped through the damp blacktop. And yet despite this, perhaps the worst conditions under which someone should venture onto a college campus for the first time, I still managed to fall in love with Barnard College.
Nestled in the heart of New York City, Barnard College is a small liberal arts school for women. Unique not only for its size – the campus consists of only about two city blocks and 2,000 women – Barnard also benefits immensely from a cross-registration program with its across-the-street neighbor, Columbia University. There, Barnard women mingle with Columbia’s students in lecture halls and resource rooms, even sharing a cafeteria if one chooses to dash across Broadway for a bite to eat. With access to both Columbia’s classes and phenomenal library system, Barnard women undoubtedly get the best of both worlds: the environment of a close-knit women’s college and the atmosphere of a co-ed, Ivy League university.
My visit was, weather-wise, quite dreary; my body was cold, shoes soggy and most of the city looked simply gray. Upon entering Barnard’s huge iron gates, however, my attitude swiftly changed: through a large clear pane of glass on the front of an ivy-covered brick building, I noticed a dancer, tall and agile, floating through the air. Ten others followed her, all part of the popular arts and dance program. Both men and women passed me, and by the time I reached the Macintosh Student Center, I had recognized more races and nationalities than I’d seen in 11 years of school. The Macintosh Center itself was an equally diverse place, bustling with people trying to study and others trying to socialize, and, as I noticed most frequently, those attempting to do both. Offering pizza, snacks, salads, a mailroom, numerous crowded bulletin boards, and as my tour guide put it, “the only bowling alley on the Upper West Side,” Macintosh clearly seemed the hub of Barnard student life.
Centered between the brick dorms and ivy-clad history and English buildings is the modern science building and library; though the library is small, I remembered the cavernous one across the street belonging to Columbia, which is often used by Barnard students. The English class I visited consisted of six women, all seated at a roundtable for discussion. Since there are no teaching assistants, students seem to benefit greatly from the presence of a professor in all classes, especially since the core curriculum requires students to take classes in areas where they may not always excel. Through first-year courses tend to be large (100 or so students), the smaller classes, including labs, seemed to foster a much more personalized way of learning.
The dorms we saw were impressive – relatively spacious and furnished with matching wooden furniture and a window opening out to the grassy quad (yes, there is grass). The hallways were clean, each floor including laundry machines and showers. And, of course, there is the safety factor. Have no fear – security is so tight that a guard is on duty 24-hour-a-day at each residential building and IDs are required.
Perhaps Barnard’s biggest attraction is its location: the city is its classroom. From the Met to Central Park, Barnard women can always find something to do, while meeting unusual and interesting people along the way. Though the Barnard students are visibly sophisticated and diverse, I found none of the snobbery or arrogance that one usually associates with city folk; all the women were eager to share their thoughts on the college. Thus, if, as a female, you’re searching for a school with limitless opportunities, interesting people, and a myriad courses, Barnard could be the place to find happiness, even on a dark and rainy day. f
Reviewed in 1995