President Sian Beilock is ready to make history. Beilock, who served a six-year tenured role at Barnard College, will join Dartmouth College as its first woman President in July 2023. Yet, Beilock hopes to remain a part of the Barnard family.
“It was a really special place to be,” says Beilock. “I was drawn to an institution that really focused on women and underrepresented voices and challenged systematic ways of doing things. I loved the idea of a small, tight-knit community associated with a larger research university, and I loved being in New York City.”
The application acceptance rate at Barnard College was at an all-time low of 6.5% in 2023, a statistic President Beilock is proud of. “We are attracting the best and brightest from around the world,” says Beilock. “Now, over half of our students are women of color, which I think is really impressive. It is so important not just for statistics, but because, as a scientist and educator, I firmly believe that our ideas are better when we have diverse lived experiences around the table.”
“People with diverse lived experiences can push at each other,” emphasizes Beilock. “That is what leads to the best knowledge.”
Beilock, a cognitive scientist whose books Choke and How the Body Knows the Mind explores concepts like cognitive overload, devoted her efforts to initiatives that helped relieve Barnard students’ academic burdens. The President helped organize Access Barnard, which, according to its website, works to “enhance the academic experiences, and promote the inclusion and excellence of first-generation, lower-income, and international students.”
“There was a first-generation student who commented that it was really hard to find the resources she needed to present a poster at an academic conference, and I was a little surprised,” says Beilock. “She said that it was cognitively taxing to figure all of this out. So that led to Access Barnard. It was that conversation that helped me understand a place where we could meet students and support them.” Beilock also notes that financial aid increased by 50% during her presidency.
President Beilock emphasizes the importance of well-being at Barnard on the heels of pressing mental health crises on college campuses. “We are seeing some of the consequences coming out of the pandemic and a well long overdue racial reckoning on injustice,” says Beilock. “Wellbeing does not sit alongside academics or is an afterthought. You have to feel well to do well.”
According to President Beilock, “Barnard has made health and well-being front and center.” Beilock notes the construction of the 2024 LeFrak Foundation Center For Well-Being on campus, as well as the Beyond Barnard offices, as critical to promoting students’ mental well-being. “We are helping students think about what careers are out there, and what happens if the place you thought you were going to be wasn’t where you end up, how you deal with that psychologically,” says Beilock. “I think that is really important because failure is a big part of what well-being is. It is about having resilience, and having a system in place to help you look past to the next step.”
President Beilock reflects on her legacy during her six years at Barnard. “I am proud of our community,” Beilock says. “We have really been able to position Barnard as part of the Ivy Plus group – people knowing Barnard in the higher education landscape and what we produce in terms of our students, and the work our faculty and staff do.”
“Barnard is on the map in a way that it wasn’t before.”