How My First Semester at a Women’s College Changed Me

OliviaLandby Olivia Land One year and two months ago, I received my acceptance email to Barnard College. For that day and the weeks following, I basically lived on Cloud 9, lofted by the stream of congratulations and compliments that came my way. Amidst the warm smiles and pats on the back, however, were the inevitable looks of confusion accompanied by “Barnard’s all-girls, right? Why do you want to go there?” I responded to these comments with a shrug and some protest along the lines of “Well, I really like the curriculum” or “Columbia’s right across the street.” The reason I wasn’t more confident in my rebuttal, quite frankly, is because I wasn’t sure why I wanted to go the Barnard, either.

Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true. I knew I loved Barnard’s location in Morningside Heights, it’s small but oasis-like campus, its liberal arts curriculum— it was my dream school, and I was excited to be heading there in the fall. But in the weeks and months after my acceptance, I was still haunted by that nagging voice in my head saying, “All-girls? Really? You?” I stressed about how I would survive— let alone thrive— in an environment of all-women up until move-in day. Come August, I tentatively began my journey at Barnard, with half of me ready to pack up and jump ship at the slightest provocation.

I suppose I should explainthat I was never that girl who had a lot of friends who were girls. I know, I know— that’s a tired line that I’ll admit I pulled straight out of Pitch Perfect— but its true. I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a loner, but throughout high school and middle school I mostly kept to myself. I sat with a group of girls at lunch, texted and laughed with them between classes, but at my core I was extremely anxious about interacting with other women. At one point a few years ago, my mom wanted to transfer me to an all-girls Catholic school a few towns over. My answer was a resolute no, but it wasn’t the nuns I was afraid of— it was the students. To me, the idea of being surrounded by women and women only sounded like a non-stop rollercoaster of cattiness and competition, along with inevitable fights, tears, and misery.

Then I toured Barnard— and fell in love. To me, the college felt like the ideal haven for cultivating my ambitious, academics-oriented soul into a more realized version of myself. Throughout the college application process, I made it clear to my parents and my college counselor that my heart was set on Barnard and Barnard only, and worked hard in order to turn my dream into a reality. The only problem, of course, was the “all- girls” thing. Although I definitely had my doubts as mentioned above, there was a small part of me that relished in the idea of attending a women’s college. Maybe, at last, I remember thinking, I’ll find “my people.” Women who are driven, inspiring, and true friends. Maybe college will be different. Maybe this is where my life as a woman will really begin.

Thankfully— and I’m not kidding when I say that I thank the Universe everyday for this— that tiny sliver of my conscious turned out to know what was up. Although my first few weeks at college were filled with the inevitable anxieties and bumps in the road, by October I found my stride. In that month alone, I met countless classmates who amazed me with their intellect, ambition, and openness. Not only was I learning in the class room, but I also absorbed so much from talking to the women around me and hearing about experiences far different from my own. Slowly, I noticed a change in myself, as well. After years of clinging to the sidelines, I reached out of my shell. I smiled and said hi to strangers between classes, went to meetings for groups I knew nothing about, and inviting people to go to lunch or museums with me. All-girls school? Forget it. I was at a women’s college, and loving every challenging minute of it.

When I was little— we’re talking as young as three or four— I started idolizing different famous women. From Elizabeth I to Sacajawea and Helen Keller, I hoarded books, pictures, and other mementos that reminded me of how strong and ground-breaking these figures were. The missing link, however, was that I never 100% realized that I could also be strong and ground-breaking. My first semester at Barnard, however, changed all of that. I’m writing this article with full knowledge of my potential because I spend my days surrounded by classmates who are committed to their dreams and remind me to pursue my own. One of my favorite organizations at school is the Seven Sisters Committee, a branch of student government in charge of strengthening Barnard’s relationship with other women’s colleges. I’m so passionate about the work we are doing because I want more high school girls like myself to know about women’s colleges— to come for a tour, talk to students, and realize everything these institutions have to offer. In short, I want every college woman to feel as “bold and beautiful,” as we say at Barnard, as I do every day.