"Can I See Some ID?" Barnard Edition.
Today, I did not show my ID card to the woman who oversees the entrance to my Barnard College residential hall. She laughed at me and said, “You’re Rachel, right? You’re the girl who never has her ID. Go ahead, sweetie.” My face flushed with embarrassment but I had no right to protest my negative reputation among the desk watchers—I was totally that girl. Over the course of two semesters, I had successfully managed to lock myself out of my room numerous times and had used my emergency key barely under the maximum limit (it’s like 6—I know, I’m a mess). The people overseeing the front desk have given me numerous free passes when I’ve forgotten my ID card in my room and have turned a blind eye to me when I’ve rushed past the desk in a hurry. I greatly attribute my “finesse,” my ease of maneuvering the desk-watching system, to my appearance as an endearing, 5-foot-tall white woman.
My privilege also extends to my access to food. One day I had lost my Barnard ID; I know, I know, so on brand for me. I woke up in fear that I would be unable to eat on campus, but to my luck, the woman who swipes ID cards at the Hewitt Dining Hall sympathized with my ridiculous forgetfulness and allowed me to eat breakfast for free. Today, I came to Diana Cafe ten minutes after they had closed, but the people who work there gave me a pizza without asking me to use a swipe.
Last Thursday, twenty-three-year old Columbia student Alexander McNab was hungry too. After leaving his dance practice on Barnard’s campus, he checked a Facebook group where information about free food is posted for students with food insecurity. He walked towards Milstein, the Barnard library, in search of promised leftovers. He didn’t show his ID card to the person who guards the entrance to Barnard and was chased down by two public safety officers. Four additional officers joined the scene, grabbed him by his arms, pushed him up against the countertop of the library Peet’s Cafe, and demanded he show his ID card. After showing his ID, one of the officers snatched the card away from him to confirm he was a student. He cried: “This is the third time Barnard Public Safety has chased me down.”
If the juxtaposition between the assault on Alexander McNab and the leniency given to me for breaking the same rules angers you—good. It should. I am not calling for stricter enforcement of public safety rules, but rather that all students regardless of gender or racial identity should be treated the same. We have all been guilty of breaking the ID rule one time or another. We are all students trying to get through the day.
If the fact that I take advantage of my privilege also angers you—fair, I should act better. Like many Barnard and Columbia students, I forget the role I can unintentionally play in perpetuating the systemic inequalities and racism of our institutions. I pride myself for attending a “woke” school, and yet I often fail to recognize that Barnard was originally created for wealthy white women and excluded women of color and of my own Jewish identity. When incidents of racism and white supremacy occur on campus, I have the privilege to choose to become concerned with the matter compared to students who are forced to reaffirm their right to enter the exclusive sphere of academia. It was not until I felt an attack on my own Jewish identity, with the anti-semitic Teacher’s College incident, that I began to feel the alienation and discomfort that many students grapple with daily on Barnard/Columbia campus.
I must do more than just recognize my privilege. Sharing an article about this incident on my Facebook timeline with a caption condemning racial profiling is not ‘doing enough’. Silence is complacency; if I do not show up to support and listen to marginalized students, I become part of a system that shows a blind eye to racist acts by allowing them to continue without discipline. I decided to write this article because I want to continue the dialogue surrounding what happened to Alexander McNab. If Barnard students collectively hold our college accountable, rather than sensationalize and then forget this story, there is a greater chance for substantial reform.