“Disturbed, Troubled, Disoriented:” How Barnard Students and Faculty are Impacted by the Administration’s Crackdown on Student Protests

With Barnard rolling out stricter policies than Columbia in response to student organizing in the pro-Palestine movement, what does it mean for Barnard’s legacy of cultivating activism on campus?

Almost a week after over 100 Barnard and Columbia students were arrested and suspended, and at least 53 Barnard students were evicted for their participation in the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” on Butler lawns, the College and University administrations have had limited communications with their communities. 

With the Barnard administration laying down seemingly stricter policies than Columbia, not only recently but all semester, students and faculty have expressed their concerns about the current and future state of the school. On April 22nd, a group of Barnard faculty marched to Milbank Hall and delivered a letter to Dean Leslie Grinage, demanding that all Barnard College suspensions and charges be dismissed, and all rights and privileges be restored immediately.

Kristen (BC ’24) was among the students arrested by the NYPD on April 18th, and was suspended and evicted by Barnard on April 19th. However, there was no public communication by President Rosenbury since the encampment’s establishment until an email was sent to students on April 22nd. The letter, entitled “Care During Challenging Times,” affirmed “Barnard’s commitment to open inquiry and expression.” The letter also suggests that the college will be lifting student suspensions to those who “agree to follow all Barnard rules during a probationary period” and have not previously “engaged in misconduct.”

Kristen said that she is “deeply disturbed” by Rosenbury’s “empty statement touting community care.” 

“Rosenbury’s email is entirely dismissive of the painful climate her administration has created for Barnard students who have had their demands ignored, been arrested, evicted, left without normal access to food, and some even doxxed widely in public media,” says Kristen.

“There’s something about a women’s college being harsher to its students that is cruel,” says Aya Aryan (BC ’25), a Palestinian student protestor. “Coming from a woman, coming from a women’s college, it’s more of a blow.”

Barnard alumnae and writers Jhumpa Lahiri and Edwige Danticat wrote in an April 21st open letter that the college has “draconianly punished” “Barnard students – many of them young women of color” for their “refusal to be silent – just as generations of women, throughout centuries, have been told to keep quiet.”

In response to the administration being largely silent in the aftermath of her arrest, Kristen has “felt kept in the dark and distressed by the vague communications” from the Dean’s office, which has “made the conditions of our suspension confusing and unprecedented.” Kristen also feels that her and fellow evicted students’ food and housing accommodations have been treated as “an afterthought.”

It is not only students who have been impacted by the College’s suspensions, evictions, and police presence on campus – Barnard faculty also have concerns. “Everyone has felt it challenging to do work, to finish teaching, to work with students, let alone doing our own research and writing while campus is in such turmoil,” says a untenured Barnard professor who wishes to remain anonymous. 

“We are trying to support students without much directive about how,” the professor explains. “We have been operating with very low information.”

Elizabeth Bernstein, Professor and Chair of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies and Professor of Sociology at Barnard, has had a similar experience, and says that faculty have felt “blindsided” and “disoriented” while receiving “almost no guidance from administrators.”

According to Bernstein, who is also a member of the Barnard chapter of the American Association for University Professors (AAUP), many students are “not feeling cared for at all at the moment.”

“I woke up to emails from concerned students who had medical issues and couldn’t get back to their dorm rooms to access their medications,” said Bernstein in an interview with the Bulletin on April 23rd. “They feel really abandoned.”

The anonymous professor is one of the over 100 “adjunct, lecturer, tenure-track, and other untenured” faculty who signed an open letter expressing solidarity with student protestors and critiquing the University for creating an “atmosphere of fear.” 

“One of the things that has been very frustrating is the suggestion that the police were called to restore an atmosphere that is conducive to learning,” the anonymous professor says. “But I really can’t imagine anything that is less conducive to learning than what we have seen over the past few days.”

“We want the administrations of the universities where we teach and learn to be people who are willing to take that stand for us,” the professor continues. “So far, that is not what we have been seeing.” 

Yet, Aryan, who says she chose to attend Barnard because of the college’s mission to “instill confidence and passion in its students,” says the administration should be “proud” of its student protestors.

“It’s almost like this weird paradox where [Barnard] created this environment with very powerful students,” says Aryan, “and then they are surprised that they feel empowered to stand up for things they believe in.”

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