Opinion: Bold. Beautiful. Censorship?

How Barnard students have been affected by the College’s dorm decoration policy.

Mila Noshirvani (BC ‘27) returned to her dorm room on March 4th to find that drawings of a cat and dog, along with sticky notes with her friends’ names had been taken down from her door. 

None of the decorations were political in nature but were removed because of a rule meant to limit the presence of messages related to the Israel-Palestine conflict within student living spaces. 

The first-year had a message for Barnard’s administration: “I would tell them to look back to their mission statement as a college, especially a women’s college where they’re aiming to empower, educate, and teach women to advocate for themselves,” Noshirvani said. “You’re contradicting your own mission statement by taking away students’ ability to speak freely about their political opinions.” 

In the weeks since the new policy went into effect, it’s been unclear whether the intended effect has been successful. More decorations and signs have been placed in students’ outer-facing windows, now visible from the Quad and Broadway. Other students immediately put their decorations back on their doors in further protest. Bathrooms have been graffitied in Milstein Library and Milbank Hall, with words such as “Your censorship will not silence us!”.

“I think the intended goal was to limit some of the dialogue around Israel and Palestine which has caused a lot of tension,” said Noshirvani. “You can just see around the quad that there are a lot of posters and flyers.” 

Barnard students feel that this action by the College is a violation of their First Amendment rights.

“I’m outraged. It’s a violation of my freedom of expression and speech,” says Sophie Jones (BC ‘27). “I’m an American citizen, but I’ve lived overseas for my whole life. I came to the U.S. for more freedom and ended up being more censored than I ever was before. I used to live in Abu Dhabi and censorship is a huge thing there, but now I feel even more censored here.”

Despite a push by the College to limit discourse outside of school organized programming, the new policy has had the unintended effect of increasing the very speech that the Administration has tried to tamp down. Restrictive policies like these will not stop Barnard students from using their voice and expressing themselves. In fact, Barnard students are finding new ways to express themselves, in keeping with the progressive ethos that attracted so many of us to Barnard in the first place. 

A quick walk around the Quad dorm hallways further demonstrates the failure of this attempt to suppress political speech in residence halls. After the enactment of this new policy, there are many more expressive decorations harshly critiquing the College. Such signs read “Barnard College Censors” and “Bold Beautiful Censorship” playing on Barnard’s slogan “Bold Beautiful Barnard.”

An email from Dean Leslie Grinage broke the news to students on February 23rd, informing students that they must “remove any items affixed to [their] room and/or suite doors (e.g. dry-erase boards, decorations, messaging) by Wednesday, February 28th at noon” before the College removed it themselves. 

The College offered no additional comment when contacted by the Barnard Bulletin to make a statement on this policy. 

Following the February 23rd email, students who chose to keep their decorations received slips under their doors on February 29th and follow up emails before the items were removed from their doors. 

Students requesting religious exemptions were expected to email Residential Life and Housing to ask for permission to keep their items affixed to their doors.

On Monday, March 4th, Barnard students returned from classes and extracurriculars to bare residential hall doors, their belongings that once decorated their doors hanging in paper bags on their door knobs. 

Another first year student, Sophia Blythe (BC ‘27), didn’t have anything on her door that was taken down. Still, she feels strongly about the new policy. “The school is supposed to encourage individual thinking rather than limit it,” she said. 

While most Barnard students are frustrated with the Administration, they are not ready to give up fighting for their right to make their voices heard.

“When Barnard tries to suppress us, we come back with even more,” says Jones.

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