college without punctuation #GIFLIFE

From college to adulthood without punctuation because life is like a gif


by DaMonique Ballou, Writing Fellow ’17


College feels like living and never being able to find punctuation

Sentences and questions carry on into the next day next year four years go by too fast to realize when there is a break because the breaks are just other moments where you still remain within the sentence of a college though you are not imprisoned but I guess that depends on your perspective imagine it I could capitalize words to show new beginnings read and pause create huge spaces like Nikki Giovanni well in some of her poems you know but imagine it imagine living and never being able to find punctuation Thoughts have no place to stand on or stop no moments to exhale you keep running reading chasing living being that that starts and continues but is it a start if it never ends do binaries exist with two opposing forces does a part of me stop when I reach adulthood will I know if I do though that must be what I feel after graduation Graduation but I wont really know because I keep going and adjusting to new spaces as if they are new places that I must assimilate into but my presence must incite a change a shift in tone in speech in something that too never ends but that was there before I entered RIGHT why does it seem life is like a never ending gif make it stop make it stop make it STOP Lynn Nottage my favorite playwright wrote a character who wrote a poem that will never be able to find punctuation The poem she says changes and moves and evolves and keeps shifting endlessly searching for a breath

That is never there because you are in college or about to leave Congratulations

My Brother’s Keeper

We have all been moved at some point in time by a powerful speech encouraging us to take action. Part of the art of rhetoric is the ability to inform, persuade, move, and rouse people to act, a fact that the Speaking Fellows embrace and continually seek to promote. Rhetoric is deeply embedded into our daily lives.

Political affiliations aside, Barack Obama is a fantastic example of an inspiring and moving speaker. One of the many examples in which he has embodied the power of rhetoric both content and delivery-wise is during his speech regarding the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which seeks to create opportunities for boys and young men of color. If you have not watched this speech, I encourage you to watch it.

The My Brother’s Keeper #NewDayMovement at Columbia University exemplifies the power of spoken word when it comes to inspiring others to take action: “We hope that this video provides insight into our roles as men of color for our university, for its prospective students and for any others who are interested in the educational advancement of a young man. In addition, if our project inspires other students and colleges everywhere, we encourage them to also work to showcase how their men of color are excelling within their own community. Join the #NewDayMovement.” This video showcases the accomplishments of men of color on campus; breaking educational barriers, and going above and beyond their academic commitments and embracing their passions as dancers, tutors, mentors, and volunteers. I encourage you to watch this video and share it.

I hope that these initiatives will serve as a form of encouragement on Barnard’s campus. Women of color are doing great things for the community. Showcasing their talents and their accomplishments via social media outlets would also inspire other women of color across the nation to continue to strive for their goals. Using social media platforms as a way to spread a message, in this case about educational advancement, is just one example of how a speech can create action.

This initiative represents how rhetoric comes to life. I hope that this example serves to inspire those who have at one point been moved and inspired by spoken word to take a form of positive action. Rhetoric is powerful.

Strong and Beautiful

Every now and then, someone will tell me about some movie that they saw. They’ll say something like, “I really liked [insert character’s name here.] She was a really strong female character!” A few weeks ago, my friend and mentor, Thea, posted this article that came up on my News Feed. (Yes, I often click on the articles that come up on my News Feed.) Prior to reading it, I would have described her as a Strong Female Role Model. But now she’s got me thinking, maybe there’s more to our females than being Strong.

Step 1: Read the article.

Step 2: Contemplate.

I will first admit that I did not come to Barnard with the intention of becoming a feminist. (What? It’s true!) I came to Barnard because I wanted to a good education, a chance to be live in Manhattan, to attend an Ivy League institution. (Tangent alert: Barnard is part of the Ivy League institution that is Columbia University. Condolences to those who think differently.) But I did not start out my Barnard career embracing the idea that we’re Strong, Beautiful, Barnard women.

Let me clarify, before the dynamite of outrage and frustration explodes: I want women to be Strong. All women, in my world, should know how to fight and fight back; women should know how to use power tools and household appliances and carry their own weight, literally. (As in “literally” literally.) I want women to be Beautiful. Women—in all shapes, sizes, shades—are works of art, and the female form should be appreciated and admired (but not exploited). So yes, I want women to be Strong and Beautiful. But they should be allowed to be more.

The article points out that most leading men have an array of emotions. Take Batman: he battles, he broods, he hates, he loves, he has a duty to protect and an ever-guilty conscience. He’s Strong and Beautiful Batman, but he’s also broken, beaten, emboldened, encouraged by a supporting cast of…other men. Like Alfred, or Robin. Why can’t his lady friends be more than Strong, Beautiful romantic attachments?

Why can’t women, especially at Barnard, be more than Strong and Beautiful? Thea, the inspiration for this blog post, is indeed very Strong and very Beautiful. But she’s also a talented performer, a seasoned traveler, and a very-wise-person-from-whom-to-seek-advice. There are many men and women who are both Strong and Beautiful that are none of the above. I’d also like to think that I’m Strong and Beautiful, but more importantly, a writer, a scientist, a teacher.

So instead of fighting for a generically Strong and Beautiful woman—whose claim to fame is “ability to kick ass while wearing strapless dresses”—let us fight for women who are also Vulnerable and Insecure and Angry and Frustrated and Confused and Smart and Good at What They Do.

An argument can be made that many women already are more than Strong and Beautiful, but we need more. We especially need more role models than the ever-strong, ever-sexy females we see on television, in magazines, in movies. We should look to Strong Female Characters as role models like we should look to Brenda Song in The Social Network as a Typical Asian Woman. (Another tangent: Have you seen her character? She’s crazy. But more on lack of Asian women in the media another time.) If being a man can look like a whole array of character types, then being a woman should look like more than just a girl that’s really Beautiful and also good at Fighting, but usually gets relegated to Supporting Character in Story Titled after Male Main Character.

One of my favorite stories as a child was that of Cinderella, who is arguably not a Strong Female Character. She doesn’t walk out of her beloved childhood home into the dark unknown, just to show her stepfamily what’s what. She dissolves into tears and asks for help from some strange magical beings. She gets married, which is basically admitting defeat and succumbing to society’s role for women. She, in no version, fights in combat or distracts an evil villain with her sexy leather pants, so she may not be the Strongest role model. But Cinderella is a housekeeper, a social outcast, a mouse whisperer, a great singer, and a genuinely nice person. She has garnered international fame as a “timeless” character and she ends up with a pretty nice life. (She’s technically a monarch at the end, if you think about it. In a monarchy. Which means she technically rules. That’s pretty cool.) She’s more than a Strong Female Character, she’s more than a Beautiful face; she’s a main character. She’s a legend, for crying out loud! With that in mind, it’s time that more women, instead of becoming only Strong and Beautiful Supporting Roles, became Legendary Leading Ladies too.

“Why merge?” My Barnard Experience

After reading Lanbo Zhang’s provocative op-ed “Why not merge?” I felt it was important to voice one perspective of a Barnard student, since he was lacking that element.

On Monday, Barnard President Debora Spar announced the intention to demolish and rebuild Lehman Hall, so as to build sufficient space after some period of time in excess of 20 or 30 years.

Lehman Library, formally known as Lehman Social Sciences Library, is located in SIPA. Wollman Library, more commonly called Barnard Library, is located in Lehman Hall, right in front of Lehman lawn. I can see how that may be confusing to some, but it’s something I learned right away as a first-year.

Now, as a senior, I study in Wollman more often. The space is humble and quiet, and I actually enjoy studying there. The atmosphere is not tinged with the same stress I feel whenever I study in Butler. Wollman is, for me, a peaceful alternative; an underrated getaway during my studies.

Barnard’s finances have been in shambles for a while. This is undeniable and yet, surprising, given the fact that most Barnard students enjoy their time here. Barnard continually impresses me with its will to survive, and there’s no doubt in my mind my alma mater will pull through.

Moreover, the independent-undergraduate-school-alongside-Columbia-existence is one that is inherently unique. Meaningless rhetoric and labels aside, in 20 or 30 years Barnard will still offer its students a college experience that is substantially and noticeably different from one at Columbia College. It does right now.

Irrespective of mission statements or the almost-merger that took place 30 years ago, Barnard is a small liberal arts college in New York which resides next to Columbia, the big research university that shades us under its many branches. I can’t pretend to know the Columbia College experience, but I can share my Barnard one.

While different degree and major requirements exist, the classes that fulfill those requirements can be the same, or they can be different. As a pre-med student, I’ve had the option to take the requirements at either Columbia or Barnard. While the course material is not substantively different, I’ve felt more of a support system in the science classes I’ve taken at Barnard versus Columbia.

The overwhelming pressure and competition I feel as a pre-med student in Barnard Biology or Chemistry was muted by the fact that I knew most of the women in my class; there was a communal sense of wanting to achieve and also wanting to help others do the same.  Perhaps if I knew more students in my Columbia Physics or Calculus classes, I would have felt the same way.

I understand the difference between the Columbia Core Curriculum and Barnard’s Nine Ways of Knowing. I see the benefits of both; requiring students to take the same classes allows for all students to share the same basic knowledge and a sense of unity, while allowing flexibility in requirements creates a program that caters to the individual student’s academic interests.

And still, it is entirely possible that two students, one registered at Columbia, another registered at Barnard, can graduate with similar degrees, having taken many of the same courses. All I know is that comparing my GER classes with those of my fellow Barnard ‘13ers always creates good discussion. Actively engaging in my education, questioning the merits of that education, and analyzing the different ‘ways of knowing’ is a process that every Barnard student goes through at some point during her time here.

Having used the advising, health, career, and other support services at Barnard, but none at Columbia, I can’t make comparisons or denote tangible differences, but I can again share my experiences. When I go to Health Services, Fabiola, the Receptionist and Administrative Assistant, greets me by name, and we catch up as I sign up for an appointment. I wave to Won Kang, the Senior Associate Director of the Career Development program, whenever I see him on campus – he always has a smile on his face.  My first-year advisor went to the same high school as I did; my current advisor signs off on his emails with “Cheers,” and always says hello to me when I pass him in the halls. These small familiarities define Barnard, and have certainly impacted my experience: that makes all the difference.

The social life during my time here has been an interesting one as I have close friends on both sides of Broadway. It’s always funny when students across the street assume I am a Columbia student until I inform them otherwise – Barnard students somehow always know. My social life is made up of openness and honesty: intellectual friction of the highest quality combined with the camaraderie and casual conversation that creates friendships.

My outlook on life is constantly being called into question by my friends, seriously or for fun, whether we’re at the Heights talking about relationships or in Sulzberger lounge discussing the implication of marriage. This process of questioning how I think and why is a central part of my experience at Barnard, where professors, faculty, and guest speakers are probing our outlooks all the time.

Women-only dorms could be seen as significant, and for some students, it makes all the difference for their experience here. For others like me, it doesn’t matter much, but I do view it as a pillar of the Barnard experience simply because it is important to some of my friends. Barnard and Columbia share the same haunts, but the dynamic within a Barnard seminar versus a Columbia seminar is radically different because of the approach to teaching; everyone at both colleges should take a class across the street at some point in their college careers.

The biggest difference between Barnard and Columbia is Barnard students having to constantly justify our existence as students and as an institution. The constant questioning of our value and worth is reminiscent of the female experience, and comes as a result of the separate history of the two schools.

There is no ignorance in asking why I chose Barnard; however, there is ignorance in failing to try to understand my reasons. There is ignorance in making me validate my choices when they have no effect on anyone else. And as a Latina, I’m no stranger to the ignorance which will manifest itself different ways for the rest of my life, but Barnard has helped me prepare to combat it.

Barnard’s dire finances and Columbia’s desire to expand are two issues that make a merger mutually beneficial. But before that happens, Barnard needs to seriously consider what they would be losing aside from the administrative overlap that currently exists. The decision to attend Barnard was a personal choice that more and more women are making every application cycle.

I can readily say that attending Barnard has made me a socially conscious, well-balanced, confident woman ready to graduate and take on the world – I would not be the same person I am today had I attended a different school. The experiences I’ve had here are not exclusive to Barnard, but they’re every reason I’ve enjoyed my time here and they’re what make Barnard special to me. I hope everyone at Barnard and Columbia feels this way about their college experience.


The Future of Feminism: Some Musings

Women’s History Month at CU/BC is having their first event, “The Future of Feminism,” tomorrow. You should definitely go to hear some good conversation about an important subject.

The Speaking Fellows Program is working on a multitude of different sessions that cover different subjects for students, and one of them, which I happened to be writing last week, was about the art of negotiation. One of the most important elements of negotiation is framing: learning how to present an idea in an amicable way. Framing is essential for positive reception of solutions to problems by the parties involved. When I considered “The Future of Feminism,” I immediately questioned the framing of the ideas presented. A panel full of women, commenting on how women need to move forward, presenting their ideas to a room full of women: something seems very one-sided in this scenario.

Whenever I go to an event about women, I always wonder: where are all the men? Presumably, men raised in this generation are taught not to be explicitly sexist at the very least; a great many believe in choice and women’s rights. So, where are they when discussions like these happen, or when there’s a protest or march? And most infuriatingly, why are women still a small percentage of the top players in the game – any game (Congress, business, medicine, etc.)?

Everyone seems to be talking about women in the media and on campus, but no one is getting it right: not Sheryl Sandberg, not Anne-Marie Slaughter, not anyone. Many present different, sometimes opposing approaches to reaching gender equality, but one glaring factor runs through every narrative: women have to close the gap. Women have to fight. Women have to break the glass ceiling, for the betterment of womankind.

We need to re-frame this idea, this sentiment, this urge. We need to shift the dialogue from discussing how breaking the glass ceiling will benefit women, to discussing how breaking the glass ceiling will benefit everyone. Why aren’t men questioning traditional patriarchy and masculinity when it clearly leaves them sacrificing wants and needs for performance-based esteem? Men’s movements compete with or oppose feminism under the guise of ‘misandry,’ and that’s partially our fault. We’re creating a movement that has unintentionally dismissed male accountability and participation, and it’s high time we bring them back into the conversation.

President Spar wrote an article in September 2012 about how women can’t have it all, and it’s true, we can’t – and shouldn’t desire to – have it all. No one can achieve the impossible, and the ‘all’ is impossible; it’s something that I never considered before I came to Barnard. However, as a black Latina woman going into medicine, I am constantly told I can’t have it all. Successful minorities, especially black women, have to settle for marrying someone with lower income or date outside their race or get comfortable with being alone or even raising children alone. And with these messages constantly berating my conscious, I’m starting to worry about them, even though they were never a desire or consideration in the first place. And furthermore, I start to devalue myself because of it. As President Spar says, women are held up to a standard of perfection at all times, and when you hold yourself to such an unrealistic standard you are going to underrate yourself. How can I feel content with my achievements when I don’t possess enough valuable attributes to get ahead in life? The underlying problem in this is that the attributes we as a society have deemed valuable are male-oriented, and I’m a woman.

The mission of re-framing, then, must start with ascribing value to female characteristics. We live in a capitalist, patriarchal society that values male characteristics (the gendering of personality traits is something I’ve already written about on this site), and society thus far has attempted to even the numbers under this unbalanced system. We need to shift the onus from ‘fair’ to ‘valuable’; from a superficial equality in numbers to a true equality in which female attributes and qualities are viewed just as beneficial and useful as male ones.

I’m sick of having to prove that I am worth it, and I’m sick of being told to change my everything to fit the mold. We – women and men – need to reform and restructure both the professional and social system to value people, male and female. It’s time to take feminism a step further.