Category: Barnard

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

In a recent email to the Barnard community, Provost Linda Bell addressed the fact that the union of the adjunct faculty at Barnard, who are currently in negotiation with the College, have decided on a strike deadline. She shared the College’s perspective on the proposals they have offered and informed the community that the College remains committed to fairness.

 

Dear Members of the Barnard Community,

This morning we learned that the bargaining committee for the Barnard Contingent Faculty Union (BCF)-UAW has set a strike deadline of February 21, 2017 if no contract agreement has been reached by that date. We are disappointed by this action given progress to date, but we continue to hope and trust that the strike deadline has been imposed to alert both the unit rank-and-file and the College administration of the urgency and intent to reach a fair and reasonable first contract. We remain fully committed to this effort, and our primary concern is, and it has always been, the efficacy of our academic program and the education we are able to offer our students.

I am happy to share that progress has been achieved on key economic and non-economic terms, and that even the bargaining committee’s own notice to its members acknowledges this progress. Moreover, the Union’s statement this morning accepts the College’s recommendation that a federal mediator be engaged in order to bring an independent viewpoint to the important issues that continue to divide us.

When I last wrote to you, on December 8, the Union had voted to empower its leadership to strike as necessary, despite our substantive economic proposal and ongoing negotiations that had yielded progress on key non-economic terms. Furthermore, the Union leadership waited until December 15 to make its first response to an economic proposal that had been on the table since August 2, and unilaterally cancelled a bargaining session set for December 22 only hours before it was to take place. The College has continued to come to each of the 27 bargaining sessions since February 2016 prepared and ready to negotiate in good faith. Since December 8, we have presented multiple substantive proposals that we believe can bring the sides closer, including two revisions to our wage offer and the introduction of new benefit terms.

Of the substantive issues that remain, one concerns the mechanisms for appointments and assignments (what the Union refers to as seniority), and the other, compensation. The College has broken new ground on both.

Over the past year, we have offered unprecedented notice regarding appointments, security in course load, raises in pay and improved access to benefits, including at our most recent bargaining session on January 20.

On the issue of appointments and assignments, we believe strongly that the departments themselves should decide how best to maintain the integrity of the academic program and determine whether and how certain courses will be taught in any given semester. This same discretion has been our long-term practice and has been exercised in making assignments for all faculty. Both current and former department chairs have told us that they view this flexibility as crucial to the academic functioning of the College. We simply cannot and will not guarantee specific course assignments to individuals in perpetuity, as the Union has proposed, as this would compromise our academic mission and the superb quality of the education we offer our students.

However, in order to address the Union’s concern regarding job security, we have offered two measures that would increase individuals’ employment security in other ways that do not compromise our mission. First, we have offered to move to year-long appointments for all part-time faculty, an improvement over our current semester-by-semester appointment process. Thus, part-time faculty would receive more advance notice, more predictable schedules, and the ability to plan their full academic year. Second, in deference to the Union’s notion that seniority should increase employment security, we have also introduced a proposal to offer adjunct faculty who have served the College over time the guarantee of either longer-term appointments or separation pay in the event that they are not reassigned teaching. More details: https://barnard.edu/hr/bcf-uaw-negotiations/strike-faqs#appoint.

The College has twice modified its wage proposal since the Union’s response on December 15. Specifically, our latest proposal increases minimum course pay rates three times over four years and provides a 2 percent pay increase each year, beginning in fall 2017, for individuals making above the minimum course rate. More details: https://barnard.edu/hr/bcf-uaw-negotiations/strike-faqs#proposal. Under the College’s proposal, all adjunct faculty will be guaranteed improved economic terms throughout the life of the contract, and no unit member—even those earning well above the minimum per-course rate—will be negatively impacted. Furthermore, our proposed minimum rates are positioned to be competitive, and are significantly higher than minimum rates offered to adjunct faculty in many similar colleges and universities in New York City and in other high-cost areas in the United States.

In contrast, the Union’s proposal sets both minimum rates and benefit terms that are untenable. In the first year alone, the proposal would cost an incremental $3.3 million; it would force the College to make deep cuts to the annual budget that would adversely affect the academic program.

In addition to setting fair and equitable minimum wage rates, we have responded positively and demonstrably to the Union’s request that all unit faculty, including those working part-time, have the ability to participate in the College’s health insurance plan. For adjunct faculty teaching a half-time equivalent load or more (nine points or more in a given academic year), the College will contribute 50 percent of the contribution that it makes to full-time faculty. Adjunct faculty teaching less than 9 points in any given year would have the option to buy in to the College’s Plan A at their own personal cost.

The College has worked hard to bargain in good faith with the goal of ensuring our part-time and term faculty a fair and equitable contract that addresses their most important concerns. We are gratified that the Union has accepted our request for a federal mediator. We see the mediator role as a useful and time-honored resource for bridging remaining differences, and in so doing, serving our larger community. The process of mediation will take time. Should we find ourselves unable to reach a first contract by the February 21 strike deadline, and should the Union decide to strike, the College will continue to operate as normally as possible.

As has been the practice for the past year, I will continue to keep the community informed of our progress through written updates, as well as in-person meetings with faculty, staff, students and alumnae leaders. As always, please understand that our overarching goal remains a fair first contract that recognizes the talent and commitment of our contingent faculty, and that protects the vitality of the academic program and our core mission as an institution.

Sincerely,

Linda A Bell
Provost & Dean of the Faculty

Every once in a while, The Lion posts a Community Editorial to capture the sentiment of the Columbia community. How it works is we randomly message students via Facebook or via email about a certain question and compile the responses. Our hope from this is to show the ideas and beliefs in the community rather than that of a specific publication’s concentrated editorial team.

For this Community editorial, we sent the following note to people:

Hi!

I’m currently working on a piece about Columbia’s activism and I’m trying to gather a few thoughts about this (fairly open-ended) question: Do you think Columbia students complain too much? If so, why?

Your response would be anonymous unless you want it to be visible.

Here’s how people responded:

“I don’t think they complain too much. Obviously nothing will ever be perfect, but I think something I really like about being here is that people consciously make an effort to change things. “complaining” is usually accompanied by meaningful attempts at change, and even if it isn’t, it promotes awareness which is a worthy cause i think” – CC ’17

“I don’t think we complain too much!” – CC ’18

“Well, I wouldn’t say I have enough basis for comparison to express a well-informed opinion. However, I don’t think it’s “too much.” And my impression is  that many people at Columbia don’t just complain but actually take action and attempt to reform the issues they encounter be they big or small.” – CC ‘18

“I think that Columbia students, like many people our age, are idealists who see black-and-white answers to many of the very real prejudices and systematically engrained issues in our society. Thus, while their advocacy is well-intentioned, much of it runs the risk of alienating potential allies at the expense of their causes. In short – I think that Columbia students do advocate a lot, rightfully, but that the style with which many of them engage in protest has the appearance of complaining because of the way its carried out.” – CC ’18

“I don’t think students complain too much. I think when people say that Columbia students complain too much, they’re coming from a position of privilege. Like, you would think that complaining about something like what pronouns people use to address you or what their name on SSOL is are complaining too much, unless you’e faced the same challenges transgender students do. I think that ignorance is part of privilege.” – CC ‘19

“I think Columbia students complain too much about each other. When many people come forward to express concerns or voice their complaint, there’s a ridiculous amount of backlash or complaints that happen in response to people’s experiences  and issues.” – BC ’19

“In the beginning, I thought they did. I thought people were just creating commotion and trying to get themselves out there but after being here for a longer amount of time. I think I’ve learned more about what’s going on and the sever injustices that not a lot of people are taught. So I’m proud that I go to a school where people can gather over things they don’t think are fair. and really do something about it” – SEAS ’18

“I don’t think they complain too much. Yes, there are times when complaints may seem relatively insignificant and possibly unnecessary. But as a whole I think the activism on campus is well-intentioned and raises awareness” – SEAS ’19

Interested in helping discover unheard voices in the Columbia community? Email team@columbialion.com to join The Lion team.

Remi Free/Senior Graphics Editor

It’s registration time, so you’ve likely already loaded up your schedule with as many classes as possible. However, you’ve still got plenty of chances left to edit that list, and to help you in that task, The Lion staff has compiled a list of our favorite classes we’ve taken thus far.

The American Presidency or something with Peter Awn

“Islam with Peter Awn was by far the best course I’ve had at Columbia. He’s an outstanding lecturer, and you actually will not want to miss any of the classes just because of how good his lectures are. That’s not in the course catalog anymore,  I’ll link you to something else. If you’re into politics, The American Presidency with Richard Pious is an incredible class.

The guy knows a ton, and he has a lot of personal anecdotes to relay based either on his research or his individual encounters with some of the people he lectures about. Plus his book (Why Presidents Fail) is one of the few professor-authored required readings that you will ever actually enjoy. It’s well-written and really, really interesting. I loved this class and I recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in American politics, whether or not you’re a PoliSci person.”

History of the Modern Middle East

“Khalidi is super smart and very entertaining. Even though the class meets early, I liked going to the lectures. The take-home midterm essays were a good method to test knowledge and get you to learn without forcing you to cram random facts in your head. Also, it covers a global core requirement.”

Galaxies, and Cosmology and Cellular and Molecular Immunology

“‘Favorite class” is kind of a weird thing to say. Does it mean “enjoyable?” I’ve taken a lot of classes here that taught me a lot about an interesting subject but beat me senseless in the process (looking at you, Orgo). I will therefore submit two different kinds of favorites:

Stars, Galaxies, and Cosmology with Prof. Putman fits squarely into the enjoyable category. Learning the basics on everything from how stars generate elements, to how we measure distance in the universe to what happened in the time immediately after the Big Bang was fascinating. The class even made me consider a major in Astronomy until I figured out that I am bad at physics. There’s a problem set every once in a while, but it’s fairly trivial. Most of the class consisted of knowing how to use some provided formulas.

In the more difficult but really interesting category, I would put Cellular and Molecular Immunology with Solomon Mowshowitz. Immunology is an extremely complicated, but fascinating subject and Mowshowitz teaches it with aplomb and a decent sense of humor to boot. He also brings in really interesting guest lecturers. The TAs were also a great resource, at least when I took the course. It’s not particularly easy, but if you put in the work, a good grade is well within reach.”

War, Peace, and Strategy

“If you’re a political science major, especially in international relations, it’s easy to lose perspective on what you’re talking about after a certain point. Sure, you know your theories well enough, but when and how should states apply them? Why do certain states favor one approach to another? How do non-state actors factor in? How does “power balancing” actually work when it comes to the part where shots are fired? And once the guns do go off, why does one side win and the other lose?

Professor Betts and his mammoth reading list can actually get close to answering all of these questions and more. He’s a fascinating lecturer with endless Cold War annecdotes that are worth taking the class for in themselves, but most of all, what you read in this class will change how you look at war, politics, and political science itself. This is one of those life-changing classes, so don’t let the workload (or Betts) scare you off. At the very least, download the syllabus and add it to your summer reading.”

Computing in Context

“My favorite class has been Computing in Context with Professor Adam Cannon. The class was a great intro to coding for people new to Computer Science and taught me so much. Even two years later, I still use the concepts I learned in the class. I think it’s only offered in the fall now, but if you want to try Computer Science class, I highly recommend starting with this over 1004”

Art and Music Hum

“My favorite classes were art/music hum because they felt like a no-pressure environment where you could actually learn things or not, as you pleased, without much repercussion. And that freedom, along with the lack of pressure to know every single thing on every single slide, meant that I actually felt interested in learning the subject matter.

It’s like when you get assigned a book in high school that you would’ve enjoyed had it been for pleasure, but now that there’s discussion questions and essays to write, you kind of already hate it. I know classes are heavily professor-dependent, but in general, I feel like classes are run so I can walk in, sit down, and talk about what I see/hear — forget problem sets, equation sheets, or memorizing tons of studies to know what’s going on.”

Romantic Poetry

“Erik Gray is the current director of the English Undergrad department and a veritable god of reading. If you’re considering an English major, take this class and you’ll be convinced (Literary Texts and Critical Methods is pretty scary, but required.) Gray has a soothing and melodious voice, and he knows everything about everything, basically. Also, poetry classes don’t pose a serious amount of reading, and the assessments aren’t that daunting either. You’ll have fun. Who doesn’t love reading about daffodils?”

Principles of Economics

“Gulati is a superstar in the econ department who is known for his global political economy work. At Columbia, he’s famous for being on the American FIFA board and his amazing (but intimidating) lecture quality. Be there early—his classes often start at 8:30, and he’s known to sign add/drop forms for all except the latecomers.”

Science of Psychology

“The quintessential psychology class. Science of Psychology is known for being a good alternative to Astro for the science requirement and is one of the lighter pre-med classes. Multiple-choice tests remind you of high school. For those new to the subject, it can be fascinating to learn about why people think the way they do. For the more neuroscience-y types, Mind, Brain, and Behavior is an excellent follow-up.”

The Social World

“A great introduction to the field of sociology. It’s heavy on the readings and has weekly quizzes and response papers, but it will make you rethink the extent of the inequalities present in society. To quote CULPA, ‘As you choose which classes you should take at an institution that charges us upwards of $50,000 for a supposed world class education, ask yourself if you want to be challenged.'”

Intro to Java (CS 1004)

“Although required for most SEAS majors, many CC students also take this class to learn more about the hard coding behind the technology they use every day. Projects can get pretty challenging, but people often work in groups. Adam Cannon is a great lecturer and often convinces otherwise science-shy students to give computer science a chance.”

Colloquium on East Asian Texts

“The go-to Global Core option. Its nickname is Asia Hum, and the similarities to Lit Hum are striking. Professor de Bary makes the “Analects of Confucius” come alive. The final is an oral presentation, which can be intimidating, but as long as you’ve been following the readings, it’s not too bad. It’s a good counterpart to the Western-dominated canon of the Core.”

Photo courtesy of Scouting NY

As I discussed in the last column in this series, Columbia’s heavy reliance on the lecture is a disservice to its students– the ‘learning’ happening in a traditional lecture isn’t translating to long-term memory. Evidence going back over a hundred years tells us that the typical memorize-and-regurgitate approach most students employ to get through a lecture course is an astonishingly bad way to learn – when tested six months after completing a typical lecture course, students have reliably forgotten ~95% of the information they learned.1

While completely replacing lectures with core-sized classes is the obvious suggestion, it’s likely too expensive to execute, even for a well-endowed school like Columbia. Instead, I’m going to focus on easy, relatively cheap, and scientifically effective ways to improve the lecture-based classroom by using what we know about how humans form memories.

While there are few different kinds of memory, the type most relevant to higher education is declarative memory – that which can be consciously accessed. This long-lasting memory we’re going after involves four steps: encoding new information, storage, retrieval, and forgetting. Over the next four columns, we’ll be exploring each of these areas in detail, starting with how we initially process new information.

The standard Columbia lecture requires you to pay attention to the lecturer speaking for 75 minutes straight, often followed by short break and yet another 75-minute information deluge if you, like me, have the misfortune of back-to-back lectures. Empirical research into attention span during lecture courses suggests that students pay attention for less and less time in ever-shortening cycles. The longer a lecture goes on, the less students pay attention, and the bigger each lapse in attention gets.2

Here’s a common story that plays out in lectures across Columbia. You walk into a lecture ready to learn, pay attention for fifteen minutes…and then spend a minute checking Facebook. You tune back in, maybe for only ten minutes this time, only to be distracted for a three-minute stretch by your group chat. By the end of the lecture, you’re only spending two or three out of every ten minutes actually listening, and the rest of it distracted and hoping the lecture ends.

The neurological reason for these lapses comes from the ‘top-down’ way your conscious brain focuses on a single thing for an extended period of time. Your prefrontal cortex, which is physically located on top of the rest of your brain tells the lower, more primitive parts of your brain to shut up and allow you to focus on a specific task. That’s what lets you listen to your professor while tuning out all irrelevant stimuli, like your phone buzzing in your pocket, your stomach rumbling, or that siren wailing past on Broadway.  

This kind of conscious selection is necessary to even hearing new information in the first place – if you’re not paying attention, you won’t be able to recall the information later. But forcing your brain to do this for an extended period of time comes at a steep neurological cost. Overuse of these suppression mechanisms leads to mental fatigue – effectively preventing your brain from focusing any more. Any further attempt to focus only makes it worse, and you’re prone to completely tuning out and giving up on paying attention at all.3 The 75-minute lecture is excellent at causing just this sort of dangerous mental fatigue,4 and far from being the best, it’s possibly one of the worst ways of introducing information.

Instead of using time in-class to relay new information, students would benefit most from having control of their initial information encoding. Students could choose the type of input they prefer, whether that be pre-recorded lectures, readings, compellingly explained visuals, interactive formats, or a combination different methods. Imagine if you could take a pause when your attention slips, going back over difficult concepts a few times, and skim quickly those you already understand. The idea of doing this sort of learning as ‘homework’ has a number of other benefits.

The idea of doing initial learning before class is called flipping the classroom, and it’s one of the most scientifically-supported ideas for improving lecture courses.5 To solve our lecture attention problem, the best idea may be to trust the intelligent and motivated Columbia students to learn at their own pace and think about the material first, before even walking into a classroom.

By flipping the classroom, we’ll be able to better pay attention to new information, and therefore be better prepared for the next stage of memory formation. Importantly, it frees up valuable in-class time to use more interactive teaching techniques, which is necessary if we want to improve the storage and recall phases of memory.  

Stay tuned for the next column, where we’ll talk about how to most effectively use time spent physically in the classroom to help Columbia students actually learn from their lecture classes.

Uniquely Human runs alternative Mondays. To submit a comment or a piece of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com.

References:

  1. Deslauriers, L. & Wieman, C. (2011). Learning and retention of quantum concepts with different teaching methods. Physical Review Special Topics – Physics Education Research, 7.
  2.  Bunce, D., Flens, E., & Neiles, K. (2010). How Long Can Students Pay Attention in Class? A Study of Student Attention Decline Using Clickers. J. Chem. Educ., 87(12), 1438-1443.
  3. Ishii, A., Tanaka, M., & Watanabe, Y. (2014). Neural mechanisms of mental fatigue. Reviews In The Neurosciences, 0(0).
  4. Aron, A. (2007). The Neural Basis of Inhibition in Cognitive Control. The Neuroscientist, 13(3), 214-228.
  5. Roehl, A., Reddy, S., & Shannon, G. (2013). The Flipped Classroom: An Opportunity To Engage Millennial Students Through Active Learning Strategies. Journal Of Family & Consumer Sciences, 105(2), 44-49. http://dx.doi.org/10.14307/jfcs105.2.12