Barnard Seniors Demand Recognition of “Palestinian Genocide” & Divestment From President Rosenbury

Along with a silent act of protest, Barnard seniors delivered a letter to Rosenbury with a set of demands.

Photography by Martha Castro

On February 21st, Barnard Class of 2024 students staged a silent protest at the annual Senior Toast dinner. As President Laura Rosenbury took the stage, students at the event placed keffiyehs over their shoulders to demonstrate their disapproval of her leadership in the months since October 7th. 

This silent act of resistance comes in tandem with a letter of demands the students delivered to Rosenbury on Monday February 26th. The Instagram accounts @bcseniors4palestine and @cuapartheiddivest published a letter to Rosenbury in a joint statement.  

The letter states that the actions Rosenbury has taken during her presidency have “deeply harmed [Barnard’s] community” by undermining the “values outlined in the College’s mission statement.” 

The students also consider how the Administration’s new stringent policies restricting the right to assembly, expression, and inquiry on campus compare to the history of student protest on Barnard and Columbia’s campuses. “Your celebration of Barnard’s history of student activism rings hollow when contrasted against your efforts to silence the voices of those who seek to carry on that tradition,” the letter says.

Izzy Lapidus (She/They), a Barnard senior who worked on drafting the letter, in an interview with The Barnard Bulletin explained, “the administration has responded to October 7th and the months that have followed have been really out of character for what Barnard purports itself to be. It really feels like Barnard is going against its mission and values as an institution right now, especially when it comes to how the school prides itself on student activism.”

Another senior who drafted the letter, but wished to remain anonymous, stated that Barnard is “supposed to be this incredible core of progressive thought and academic freedom in the United States, and Barnard prides itself on that history of progressivity and pushing for social equity. The administration capitalizes off that history.” 

“When we’re living through those same moments, the same energy [from the Administration] is not there,” the senior says. “They instead turn their back on the same tradition of radicalism and forward thinking that Barnard makes a lot of money off of.”

The letter also highlights the individual damages that Rosenbury’s policies have on students. The seniors write that her actions “further traumatize the Palestinian community on campus,” “denies the existence of dissenting Jewish opinions” critiquing Israel, and “jeopardizes the physical and emotional safety” of students of color on campus as the Barnard Administration relies on NYPD and Public Safety.

In response to the outlined “transgressions,” the students called for President Laura Rosenbury to meet four demands outlined in the letter by March 26th, 2024, a month after the letter was delivered. 

The letter demands Rosenbury give verbal and written recognition of the “Palestinian genocide,” and issue a public apology to students called in for “disciplinary inquiry meetings in response to the exercise of rights to assembly, expression, inquiry, and discussion.” The letter also requests a decrease in Barnard Public Safety and NYPD on and around campus. Their fourth and final request calls for greater transparency regarding Barnard College’s endowment portfolio holdings, and divestment from “corporations supplying and profiting off of Israeli genocide.” 

Unless these demands are met, the signatory members of the class of 2025 will withhold all financial support to the College indefinitely.

“[The Barnard Administration] cares the most about us as alumni because we’re giving money to the school in a few months,” says Lapidus. “This is a really powerful strategic choice for us to withhold our money, because ultimately, they need that to continue this school.”

The anonymous interviewee illustrated why this decision was the most meaningful coming from seniors. “Seniors felt compelled to respond,” says the anonymous interviewee. “We’ve been here for four years, and I think we felt that we had a unique position to call, to make demands, because we’re graduating — with graduation comes efforts from the administration to get money from us.” 

Both student organizers saw the Senior Toast as the best moment to send this message to Barnard administrators. 

“It really just seemed like the first big opportunity where the senior class would be in the same room with all of these admin,” says Lapidus, “and we’ve all been feeling a lot of pretty negative things so it made the most sense to take advantage of this opportunity in terms of actually writing the letter.”

Lapidus says that Barnard seniors were able utilize the opportunity to organize their protest quickly and effectively. “It was wonderful to see so many people in keffiyehs, so many people in the pins,” she says. “I would definitely say it was the majority of the room that had them on.” 

According to the @bcseniors4palestine Instagram page as of Friday March 1st, the letter had over 400 signatures from Barnard class of 2025, other current students, alumni, and supporters. On Tuesday March 5th, Lapidus confirmed that the letter had over 550 signatures. 

The letter has received support from a variety of stakeholders in the Barnard community — students, faculty, and alumni from a variety of years – but Lapidus hopes other class years of Barnard students to also take up similar anti-financial support positions. “As upsetting as it is, we want change to happen before we graduate but this is so much bigger than us, and this certainly doesn’t work on an academic calendar,” Lapidus says. “So how are we also creating a sustained movement of Barnard students who want Barnard to uphold the mission and values that they came here because of?”

Both student organizers expressed how disillusioned seniors are with the school, and the administration’s lack of acknowledgement of the needs of their student body. The anonymous interviewee stated that the letter “looks with great sadness on the four years” at a college they have called “home” and has “so terribly failed its students,” but expressed optimism in the outcome of the letter’s demands. “Universities and colleges operate like businesses, for better or for worse. An enormous part of funding comes from alumni, so that is our power,” the student says.

Members of the senior class hope that this letter will help “empirically show, again and again, that Barnard students do stand with Palestine,” says Lapidus. “Barnard students are not silent in this. There’s people power and there’s money power. I think right now the senior class is really able to have both.”

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