The Blog


In an email sent out yesterday, Provost Linda Bell welcomed Jennifer Green as the new Dean of the Barnard Library and Academic Information Services. You can read the full email below.

 

Dear Barnard Community,

I am delighted to announce that Jennifer Green will be joining Barnard as Dean of the Barnard Library and Academic Information Services (BLAIS), beginning on Monday, March 6th. Jen comes to the College after eleven years as a data librarian at the University of Michigan Libraries, where she was the Head of Science, Engineering, and the Clark Library for Maps, Government Information and Data, as well as the Director of Research Data Services. At Michigan, she spearheaded the creation of numerous services and spaces, including a library-wide research data service and institutional data repository, and the conception and implementation of the Clark Library, Michigan’s first new library in nearly two decades.

Prior to the University of Michigan, Jen served as Public Services Librarian at Grinnell College, where she brought her skill and ingenuity to several digital initiatives. She earned her M.L.I.S. from the University of Texas, Austin in 1995 and her B.A. in Art History from Trinity University, San Antonio in 1991.

Working closely with me, Jen will oversee the relocation of the Barnard library to our new teaching and learning center in Fall 2018. She will also build on the College’s relationships with faculty, students, alumnae, and colleagues at the Columbia University Libraries to promote innovation across disciplines. Jen will be working at the forefront of advancements in the acquisition, dissemination, and preservation of knowledge, and her technological experience and creativity will nourish both new and existing library resources.

I want to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to Alexis Seeley, who served as Interim Director of BLAIS during this transition. Alexis did an extraordinary job managing the library and IMATS, and I am proud to announce her promotion to a new position, Associate Dean of BLAIS and the Digital Commons, beginning March 6th. In this role, Alexis will build on her excellent work as Interim Director, during which she coordinated a multi-stage plan for relocation and deepened the quality of the library’s contributions to campus. Before serving as Interim Director, Alexis used her extensive knowledge of educational technology to transform and expand Barnard’s media services during her years as Associate Dean for Teaching Research and Technology and Manager of Instructional Media.

I know that Jen, along with Alexis, will lead the library into a new era of innovation and growth, and we will certainly benefit from their varied skills and collective years of experience. Of course, I would also like to thank the search committee, chaired by Peter Balsam, and the entire library staff. They were all instrumental in this successful transition.

Please join me in congratulating Alexis and welcoming Jen to Barnard.

My very best,
Provost Linda Bell

Foreword: With Dean Valentini urging Columbia students to talk to Columbia Counselling and Psychological Services, I wonder if Yi-Chia “Mia” Chen had tried these services. Has anyone? We essentially seem to be unequipped to deal with catastrophes like this. This article is mainly written not to give the best solution, but to ask for solutions. What can we do better to prevent things like this from happening again? What improvements can be made?

Today I received an email from Dean James Valentini about the apparent suicide of an exchange student at Columbia College from Waseda University in Japan. It is not the first time since my first year in Columbia that I received an email like this.

But that is not the scariest part. It is not the death that is happening so close to us that we fear, but the oblivious bystanders.

The oblivion of this world.

My first reaction to the email is: if it happened yesterday, why is no one talking about it today?

Death at this moment has become a private matter. Only a small group of people are suffering in an unknown corner of this world, while the vast majority don’t even seem to care.

This earth, without her, keeps spinning around its axis.

No one knows that she took her own life that day. If not for the email, I even would not know anything about it. Even people living in the same floor with her may not have a clue. Right now, I am sitting in the Columbia Writing Center, and people around me seem to mind their own business, jumping and rushing around to fix their essays to get an A in the class.

But at the same time, someone, someone that I might have passed by every single day on campus on my way to University Writing, gave up her life.

The parallel is striking. The same road we choose to cross every single day may lead to a drastically different ending.

I talked to several friends about the news, but all I got are just oblivious, brush-it-off, I-don’t-know-what-to-say answers. The conversations quickly die off or move on to another topic.

Is it just me? Or is the world is so used to catastrophe and death that no one seems to care anymore? Or is it only my world that is so full of translucent fragile bubbles that when death tumbles on its feet near me, it is so easily crashed.

For those who are so used to seeing death, their world must be made from cotton, muffling their ears so well that they can easily move back to their original tracks when death missed them merely.

Yeah, my next-door neighbor killed herself, but I have a midterm tomorrow.

I don’t really know her. I need to study.

It is so curious how the world deals with the death of a stranger, as it happens so often.

On this campus that breaths of liveliness and ambition, it also buries lives. Very often.

But what role do we play in this ridiculous game of life, in an event like this?

We bear witness. For the deceased lives.

Is death or suicide still meaningful if no one knows about it?

If no one knows me in this world, is my life still meaningful?

Do we live for ourselves or for people who know us?

Do you still choose life over death adamantly if no one cares about you in this world?

If you live in agony and solitude, do you choose to live?

Or would you choose death, even when you are surrounded by people who love you deeply?

I have to end my writing process also at this moment because my appointment is up for discussing the paper due tomorrow.

I also have to throw myself entirely into another conversation because there are things that I have to prioritize as well.

I talked to my parents and my friends, but all of their responses reveal the inertness and the powerless of words when facing the topic of death.

When death merely missed us, the mixed feeling of regret, relief, fear, anger, grief, sorrow cannot be concluded by a simple word.

Many people choose to ignore that feeling because it happens every second. 1.8 people die every second, to be exact. By the time you finished reading this sentence, 4 people have died.

Th human mind seems incapable to deal with the fact that the world is dying every half second.

Just like no one can celebrate every birth of a new born child, no one can grieve for every death that is happening around the world.

We simply don’t have enough joy and sorrow for strangers.

Our emotion seems reserved and ephemeral at this moment. Reserved because of the emotional distance between the person and us. Ephemeral because of the limited time.

Are we oblivious? Or do we simply save it for people we care?

We approach the topic of death with caution. Isn’t it because that we are afraid that we will spread too thin in the face of catastrophe?

The world keeps spinning not because it is okay without her, but because MY world is okay without her.

We all have limited emotion reserve. I am really sorry that I cannot share a piece of my pie with you. I am truly sorry.

But at the same time, in the deep corner of our heart, don’t we feel a little lucky that we don’t know her at all?

Because of the strangeness, we can tip-toe dancing around her death, wasting the life that she no longer had.

We are innocent from the news, so we don’t know what happened, so we don’t care, so we are oblivious.

But can we keep pretending when Columbia sends us an email to let us be informed?

Do we have the right to choose to be uninformed when death comes near? I guess, we can always choose to distance ourselves from death. We can choose oblivion.

But, can we?

Should we?

I have to move on, eventually.

I am the bystander who chooses to bear witness.

I can choose oblivion, but somebody cannot. They have to wait for time to heal their wounds.

I fear the oblivion, but I understand it. Because in this world, every single second, there are someone who is overjoyed for life, and someone who suffers from it.

These two things happen everywhere at the same time.

They can be 100,000 miles, or the thickness of a wooden door from each other.

She laughs, I cry.

He cries, you laugh.

We begin to understand this world. We begin to understand the double-sided nature of joy and sorrow. We begin to understand ourselves.

We start to know life, a little by little.

At the same time, the frat parties are still on tonight next door to the campus.

If you need to reach out to someone regarding mental health, these resources are at your disposal:

Almost every conversation I have on Barnard’s campus involves the question, “What year are you?” and I never know how to respond.

I came to Barnard in Fall 2016 as a first year student with high-functioning depression and anorexia nervosa. I took 20 credits. I was pretty social. I did all my work ahead of time, got good grades, and went to sleep at a decent hour every night. While on campus, my parents asked me to see counseling services, and I did. There, the therapist asked me to see the medical doctor, and I did. They didn’t want me living on campus, so every day, my dad drove me to school for my 8 am class and picked me up after my 7 pm one.

Just after my 19th birthday, I had to take a medical leave of absence from Barnard. I went from the emergency room to an inpatient hospital, to another inpatient hospital. Four months later, I was discharged back into the real world at a healthy weight and with a healthier mindset. I was very ready to come back to Barnard for the 2016-2017 school year, feeling very confident and positive.

But Barnard was not as ready.

The Barnard Primary Care Health Services (PCHS) called me mid-summer and left a voicemail to inform me of Barnard’s readmission policy. “I’m going to need to see you in person this week to do a weight check on you in order for you to be readmitted in the fall… We’re looking at a target weight for you of about X…” The weight the woman said on the phone was 20 pounds lower than the weight I was at the time.

I was pissed-the-fuck-off. Then enraged. Then ashamed, conflicted, incredibly confused, and all this anger was towards myself. Why? Essentially, a doctor had just told me I could weigh less! Maybe even SHOULD!!! And furthermore, I had worked to become healthy for school, but now it seemed I didn’t need to be.

Then, the night before I was set to move back to college, I received an email saying that I needed a second “weight check” and wouldn’t be allowed to be on campus the next day. WHAT. I sent around some emails, made phone calls, and later that night, the Dean of Students approved my return to campus.

However, I was suspended from using myBarnard and CourseWorks for the first week of classes until PCHS “cleared” me. I wasn’t given a class year. I had to take the FY Writing & Seminar courses, pay for a room in the quad I never once used, and buy the first year meal plan, BUT was deemed a sophomore on the 9 Ways of Knowing curriculum. I had five withdrawals on my transcript. I was called back to PCHS every single week for another “weight check.”

HERE ARE THE REAL ISSUES.

I’m not writing to whine about some clinicians hurting my feelings and inconveniencing me. Also, it’s not just me this has happened to: I’ve spoken to other students who also dealt with this when coming back to Barnard after a medical leave for an eating disorder. While our experiences at BC PCHS are unfortunate, they’re telling of a MUCH greater issue in the structure of our school’s health care facilities. I will enumerate them below.

1. Barnard is a progressive, liberal, women’s college If there’s any place in the world that should be attuned to the medical and mental intricacies of eating disorders, it’s Barnard.

2. Barnard does not have a clear-cut, publicly accessible re-admission policy. This matters A LOT. Students seeking to come back to school need a tangible way to ensure they’ll be able to attend. My re-admission involved me driving into the city half a dozen times, waiting to meet with clinicians and deans to have very vague and unstructured conversations, STILL to be left with not being enrolled for the first week of class.

3. PCHS’s “weekly weight check” is invasive. I see a full outpatient team who all know me much better than Barnard does. I (generously) gave PCHS written permission to contact my outpatient team, but they declined to do so, and chose to focus on a number on a scale instead of comprehensive reports from my team.

4. Barnard ignored the “mental” part of mental health. As I’ve mentioned a dozen times (and will a dozen more), they focused on my weight. Not my habits. Not my social life. Not my happiness. Not my schoolwork. No other barometers of how I’m doing, besides the number. They never even contacted my outpatient team to ask about me. Once again, Barnard doesn’t seem to understand eating disorders.

5. PCHS created an environment of contention and discomfort. Overall, they made it very clear that seeing me was what was important to them. Not by talking to a team of my actual doctors, or talking to me. I still have to go there sometimes for insurance referrals. Every time, I can feel their eyes glue to my body, and give me that up-and-down look, trying to evaluate my mental health and well-being by my appearance. This does not exactly inspire my confidence in them, or improve my willingness to see them again.

Why Does This Matter Now?

I also wonder why I feel this is the time to write about my experience with PCHS. In our current political climate, I know there are more important, pressing, and relevant things. But, self-care is also incredibly important, pressing, and relevant in this environment. Barnard has sent emails to all students, urging them to take care of themselves and their physical & emotional needs during these upsetting weeks.

Additionally, I’ve been seeing a lot of articles written about stress culture, mental health, and the absolutely horrific amount of Columbia student suicides this academic year (SEVEN). I think it’s great that people are finally talking about these issues. And this is another one that needs to be addressed.

“Stress culture” manifests itself in a variety of ways, and neglect of physical health due to current emotional issues is a big one. Based on my experience, I don’t feel confident that Barnard’s PCHS is able to properly address these problems and get students the help they need.

*You can read the original post on Holland’s blog, cat moves.

If you’d like to submit an op-ed to The Lion, please email submissions@thecolumbialion.com

Photo courtesy of Marilyn Nonken

Marilyn Nonken’s Fight for “New” Music

As two star-crossed lovers sang pleading lines of despair, I took a survey of the audience around me. Besides the gentleman fast-asleep on my right (he got started five minutes into Act I) and the three composition students I recognized from Music Theory III, there was a noticeable dearth in the Met Opera’s seats. Maybe it had something to do with it being a lethargic Wednesday night, or perhaps it was indicative of declining ticket sales. More likely, though, the timeliness of the opera was to blame: it – Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de loin – was written in 2000.

Contemporary music is thwarted by negative stereotypes. Concert-goers think of it as generally unpleasant and discordant – something to be avoided as much as possible. Concert programming confirms these negative beliefs. “Beethoven, Mozart, and ever more Beethoven!” ticket sales scream.

So, what is a contemporary performer to do? The pianist and musicologist Marilyn Nonken (GSAS 1999, Historical Musicology) believes acceptance problems can be solved through education.

Nonken’s recent book, The Spectral Piano: From Liszt, Scriabin, and Debussy to the Digital Age, challenges the “unmusical” claims about modern music.

“I think there are misconceptions about what contemporary music is, that newer music simply isn’t musical in the same way,” she explains with a tone that shows her passion for the music.

“I suppose why I talk so much historically about contemporary music relating to the past is to try to get away from that idea.”

Nonken presents challenging ideas in her work. She believes that musicians can look back at composers such as Liszt, Scriabin, and Debussy and find “through-lines” to the present-day. Their music works through ideas similar to the ones electronic music composers are grappling with today; “New” Music is not as new as some may think.

Not many musicians see “New” Music the same way that Nonken does. Instead, most musicians prefer to play what she calls “great” music, i.e. the standard, traditional repertoire of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven et al. Nonken believes pedagogues are responsible for this trend.

“Within any music school there will be teachers who will tell their students don’t waste your time [playing contemporary music]. Don’t do that, it’s not worth it,” she tells me, sarcastically pantomiming the uneasiness of teachers telling their students not to touch “New” Music.  

“There’s this idea that if the player is really gifted and really talented that they should be playing ‘better,’ older music.”

What Nonken describes as the “business of piano” – to prepare for and win competitions – is the culprit for these teachers’ beliefs.

“You can’t play Feldman for the Van Cliburn,” Nonken jokingly gibes.

Pianists will not prepare programs including much music written post-1945, such as Feldman’s works, for the Van Cliburn competition because of the ideas on what “great” music is. They simply won’t win if they do.

As the Director of Piano Studies at NYU, Nonken fights against misconceptions about contemporary music. For instance, she requires graduate piano students to play a work written after 1945 for their auditions. One student, who did not have any music post-1945 in their repertoire, suggested “playing” an especially famous silent work.

“Someone wanted to bring in Cage’s 4’ 33” — I would take it!” Nonken enthusiastically yet with a hint of frustration exclaims.

“Bring that to your audition just to make that statement — if that’s the best you can do, play that! It’s the mindset, so I think that’s something always to fight.”

Nonken’s interest in championing new works began while she was at The Eastman School of Music. Unlike many of her peers, who were spending hours practicing “great” music, Nonken was giving life to the scores of her classmates — in practice rooms, dorm rooms, and cafes. She was excited by these collaborations.

“I actually found that this music was really interesting — this process of working with composers is interesting. You can actually make a difference, you could play a piece that’s never been played,” Nonken fondly recalls.

Without her, their music would have remained black dots and lines on a page. By realizing their works, Nonken gave her classmates the chance to develop their skills.

She even won competitions for her peers with her recordings. Nonken found value and meaning performing their works — an importance she says she would not have felt as “the nine-millionth person that year playing” famous, traditional repertoire.

Nonken has continued performing and premiering new works since her years at Eastman. When I walked into the lobby of her East Village studio, I was amazed by the number of CDs on display. Recordings of modern works by Morton Feldman, Tristan Murail, and Joshua Fineberg stared back at me – all physically representing Nonken’s support for modern music.

CDs on Shelf

Nonken’s recordings become the definitive versions of each new work. With that she sees a definite responsibility – a duty perhaps not as apparent in playing the standard repertoire.

“I don’t think that responsibility is there when you’re playing music of Chopin or Beethoven because there’s a million recordings out there,” she explains to me, recognizing that that may sound sacrilegious to many musicians.

“But if you go out there and play a piece that people might not have another chance to hear and don’t really do it well, in a way that’s representative – if you turn people off – you’ve blown that opportunity for that composer to make their case.”


Recent portents seem to indicate newfound acceptance. Despite Nonken’s quip, the 2017 Van Cliburn competition is commissioning Marc-André Hamelin to write a piece for the preliminary round. Miller Theatre is continuing their “Composer Portraits” series this season, which highlights the works of living composers. And the Met Opera, ever a bastion of “great” music, has staged works by contemporary composers, such as John Adams’s Death of Klinghoffer, Nico Muhly’s Two Boys, and the aforementioned L’Amour de loin, in recent years.

Yet, these are exceptions. Musicians and audiences still maintain a preference for “great” music. They want it to be played as much as possible in concert halls, with “New” Music ousted as a distantly removed, unapproachable Other.

Nonken continues to crusade against the notion that “New” Music is not worthwhile to listen to – in her teachings, writings, recordings, and performances. Championing the music of today, Nonken is building the “great” repertoire of tomorrow.

She encourages you to hear her play music by Tristan Murail at Spectrum on February 11 at 7 PM. Come listen as she continues her fight against misconceptions about “New” Music.

“How Eye Hear It” runs alternate Sundays. To contact the writer or submit a piece of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com

If you haven’t read my last column advocating social learning in large lecture courses, I recommend reading that first — that’s where I explain why I think this technique could be so successful in a lecture-based classroom. This article is for the nitty-gritty, actionable advice for both students and professors to incorporate social learning into their experiences.

For students:

1. Study groups are more than an excuse to hang out with your friends — they’re an excellent way to incorporate social learning into your study routine. Quiz each other, force full explanations by eliminating vague words, and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Social learning works best when you’re with a group you’re comfortable with. To prevent non-productive chit-chat, place your study group in an environment more conducive to studying, such as a reservable library room or a study lounge space.

2. If allowed, work with friends on problem sets. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to actually do the problem first – don’t just rely on a friend who’s already done the work to explain it to you. Mull over a tricky problem, try your best, and explain your reasoning to a friend; often, in the act of explaining you’ll find where you went wrong. You can adapt this strategy for reading-based courses too — try finding time once a week to meet up with a classmate and talk over difficult parts of the reading, or explain a sequence of events.

3. Frame things as a story and anthropomorphize the characters. Give those cellular processes motivation and give the movement of atoms a plot. Humanizing inanimate objects may feel silly, but in the long run you’ll find that they become easier to remember. This technique works best when ‘telling’ the story out loud to a group of friends also in the course.

4. Is your professor receptive to new ideas or open to suggestions in office hours? Try talking to them about the ease and benefits of incorporating social learning into their courses! Change often comes from within, and I choose to believe that most professors care about the quality of their teaching. If they seem receptive and want more information, the experience of Eric Mazur (a physics professor at Harvard who pioneered large lecture social learning techniques) might be a good place to start — try here for a casual article and here for a peer-reviewed report.

 

For professors:

1. You’ve read this far and clearly have an interest in improving the quality of your teaching, and that’s great! If going ‘all in’ and flipping the classroom seems like a lot of work, start small. Try breaking your lectures up into more meaningful chunks. Three to four usually work best. Separate those segments with productive socialization by asking your students open-ended questions, or telling them to discuss what you just explained. Giving students a break to talk to their neighbors might seem counterintuitive, but research shows that you’ll increase engagement and information retention this way.

2. Switch it up – one surefire way to lose a classroom is by throwing a lot of information uniformly at your students. I get that there’s often a lot to cover, but if none of it is retained, or worse, your students give up ten minutes in, a high throughput approach won’t work. Try emphasizing that all of the material won’t be covered in lectures, and instead focus on the difficult concepts. Trust that your students can learn the easier stuff on their own.

3. For Tip #2 to work, you have to have a pretty good sense of what’s actually difficult for your students. As a professor, what you think is difficult and what your students are confused by may be two very different things. Often times, students will feign knowledge of a previous topic to avoid embarrassment if the class has already moved on. The best way to get past this is to foster an open environment where it’s encouraged to discuss what problems they’re having with the material. Take the pulse of your course frequently, and take advantage of your TAs. Not only do they interact with students more frequently and more informally, they’re closer in both age and experience level to your students and likely will have a better sense of where the material is difficult.

4. Use exams better. Too often, students will cram information a day or two before the exam, knowing that they’ll never need to access it ever again. Try to reward long-term learning by giving students an opportunity to get some credit for revising exams and spend time going over concepts where many students were incorrect. Administer low-stress and high-frequency mini-quizzes to both get an easy straw poll of where the class is and to lower overall test anxiety. Strive to ensure that all quizzes and exams are testing content and not process. While students are familiar with memorizing steps to solving a problem, many of them will not comprehend the underlying logic that you’re ultimately trying to test. Check out Eric Mazur’s physics concept inventory for an idea of what this sort of exam might look like.

5. Feeling good about the changes to your class so far? Think about diving into a full flipped classroom model for your next round of teaching. It’s more work up front than a traditional lecture, but the resulting increase in student engagement and exam scores should speak for itself. Review and edit the structure and organization of your lectures for digital format, and then pre-record shorter lecture-like segments explaining each topic to be assigned before in-class time. Make attending class required, but also make in-class time useful. Provide spaces for your students to work in structured small groups on practical assignments, and use both yourself and your TAs as roaming sources of assistance.  

This is only a short list of some easily-implementable ramifications of social learning – there are dozens more which I don’t have the room for in this column. To summarize all of the above into one comment it is this: socialization is a natural impulse and should be taken advantage of in the classroom accordingly.