This year marked the 30th Anniversary of the arrival of Columbia College’s first class of women. It was celebrated in an event called CCW30, which brought together graduates and undergraduates from all years and walks of life; there were even outsiders, including a young woman from NYU, who registered to join the celebration.
As a woman in Columbia College, I find this hard to contemplate (not referencing that NYU students would want to cross the line to join Columbia, of course; that’s endearing, not surprising). I arrived in a time when 47% of the incoming class to CC and SEAS identified as female (according to the incoming class statistics provided by Columbia University). I arrived in a time when we were represented.
The women who surrounded me during CCW30 came into a Columbia College that was structured and indoctrinated under the ideology of women being different, not belonging, and thirty years ago Columbia College took its first steps to completely reimagine what it means to be a Columbia College student— paving the way for myself and others.
What I hear most often on campus about the transition is “SEAS did it first.” Indeed, SEAS had its first woman undergraduate in 1943.
The truth is, that Yale is going on 48 years of allowing women in as undergrads, and Princeton’s first class containing women graduated in 1973.
We were a bit late on the uptake.
Should I be ashamed that Columbia College took as long as it did, as some statements seem to imply?
Listening to the CCW30 stories from other Ivy League women who graduated in the early days of the co-ed movement, I hear about slut-shaming in the streets, Deans suggesting instead of dorms, schools build brothels for the incoming women; I hear about the pain and abuse suffered by women in the incoming classes of colleges and universities that I have long respected.
When I ask the first class of CC women what the worst struggle they faced was, I hear about a dozen variations of “getting the boys to shower.” It sounds like living with teenage brothers, and it makes me laugh.
A part of me is incredibly pleased that these women can say that.
And yes, they still had to fight. Sports teams, amenities, all of the things we share now didn’t come easily to them, but I’m glad that jumping in a bit later in the game seems to have meant our women didn’t face the same degree of malice others faced in the rights movement.
It’s a bitter-sweet realization, especially for a campus that identifies so strongly with activism.
And it doesn’t change how proud we should be of these women, who showed us that a couple hundred years of tradition is still a breakable wall.
Raucous singing took over Low Library’s entrance hall at one point during CCW30 as 30 years of CC women began to belt Columbia’s anthems as one (though not all in one key).
The thing is, these women are not just remarkable for taking their place as the first class of women in CC history. These women are remarkable because they have created a lasting community. They still reach out with open arms to support the Columbia College sisters that came after them.
Within a day after the event, I was receiving emails about grabbing coffee and getting feedback (“How can we continue to support the women of Columbia College?”), and suddenly it was like I stepped into the alley behind the Leaky Cauldron and pressed the right brick.
This is the point where the lesson of the day comes into play:
Honestly, until CCW30 opened my eyes, the place I felt most comfortable as myself, as a woman, was sitting with my friends in Diana, adopting Barnard culture. I didn’t actively seek out “fuckboy” free CC or try to build a place for the women around me; why would I need to? There was one next door.
The 30th anniversary of women in Columbia College has changed that for me. I recognize that I can’t continue to step away from the spot these women opened up for me in Columbia’s halls. I can love the safety of having a haven of strong, independent women down the street (SO: Jennifer Kaplan), but I can also work to maintain the same thing here in CC. More than maintaining that space, I can work to improve it.
The first class of women in Columbia College didn’t stop their efforts just because the doors opened or because there was a precedence that allowed them basic human rights. Deans not slut-shaming them from podiums didn’t mean they would stop before making themselves Deans as well— they kept reaching: they appealed to have time on the sports fields, getting up for 5 a.m. practices when Baker was always already booked, they set up an alumni network that remains active in our lives with events like CCW30, and they brought us to the point where we could fight for things like free tampons and pads (though to be quite honest, I’m still crossing my fingers for Always Infinity to appear [with the wings]).
Right now they’re out in the world fighting for women as well. Lilly Burns (CC’09) of Jax Media produces “Broad City,” revolutionizing the portrayal of women in the media. When was the last time you heard someone on a male-dominated network break the period-talk taboo to do anything but suggest that women are incapable of handling emotions during “their time of the month,” after all? Instead, Lilly Burn’s work is fresh and honest, breaking those unspoken barriers.
She is not the only one.
I am including a link below to the Alumni Association’s list of speakers from the CCW30 event in the hope that they help you think about who you want to be, understand what CCW30 was, and understand why this 30th Anniversary is so important.
Take this summer to think about who you want to be in the coming year, and what doors you want to be remembered for opening.