I spent fall break staying with my best friend at Barnard College in New York City. Barnard is the women’s liberal arts college of Columbia University and is known for its alternative core curriculum called “Nine Ways of Knowing,” as well as its impressive list of recent commencement speakers: Hillary Clinton in 2009, Meryl Streep in 2010, Cheryl Sandberg in 2011.
I’ve visited Barnard five times, which I believe — wrongly — earns me dual school citizenship. I’ve joined my friend more than once as she guides prospective students (and the occasional Rwandan princess) through campus, I’ve lurked in the back row of three of her classes (who knew dramaturgy was a thing?) and I’ve bonded with a handful of the college’s employees while watching the Dr. Drew show at Barnard’s student center. I even crashed a Barnard event in London in search of free hors d’eourves and a babysitting job.
With each visit, I become a better skilled Barnard poser. I am — for all practical purposes — a Barnard woman. Except that I go here, and that “here” is a Big Ten school. Until last weekend, going to a school that identifies strongly with its football tradition didn’t seem so relevant to my identity. But last weekend at Barnard, it was for that reason all the Columbia students posed as me. Well not me, us.
Last weekend was Columbia’s homecoming football game. Homecoming at Columbia is called Christmas, and it’s a really big deal. The goal, I think, is to flood the streets of the (upper) Upper Westside with the spirit, fandom and debauchery of state school football game days. Because I was the only one celebrating Columbia Christmas who knew intimately well their ideal game day, I became a de facto authority on wildness. (That always happens.) I observed throughout the day how “state school” these city kids could be.
We woke up at 10:30 a.m. to buy fresh fruit for our homemade pancakes. We should have woken up at 8 a.m. to buy a case of cheap beer to wash down (by way of a funnel) our pancakes from a box. And we should have done it all on the fire escape, which, I guess, is the city’s version of a front porch.
We walked down Broadway on our way to the fraternities, stopping alongside children and the elderly to admire baked goods that were being sold at the Broadway street market. Wrong. State schools don’t contain those demographics and, on game day, the only thing we ever stop to admire is an expertly carved ice luge.
By the time we got to the fraternities (by which I mean brownstones filled with boys in bow ties), they were almost out of beer and someone unqualified had hijacked the iPod. But there was a truly limitless amount of bagels and schmear. Not a state school, but awesome.
As the pregame thinned out, groups of students in jerseys asked each other with scrunched up faces, “Are you going to the game?” “Yeah! It’s senior year! Plus, they’re giving away free stuff!” At state schools, you make dumb excuses about why you’re not going to the game.
Then we started our trek to the stadium. In New York City, that means a 25-minute bus ride, which, for me, means a 25-minute nap. And in New York City, when a friend says she’s grabbing something to eat on the way, she might come back with a skewer of chocolate covered strawberries instead of a Panchero’s burrito.
When we got to the stadium (let’s call it the little house), I felt like I was at a carnival instead of a football game. Face painters wanted to draw C’s on my cheeks, the popcorn machines flowed freely and the moon bounces — yeah, there were moon bounces — stood firm. Columbia students wrestled their way past the young children of alumni to climb inflated surfaces. I respected their determination because at state school football games, the students matter.
During our half-time subway ride back to campus, I talked to some guys in plaid about the day. “So what’d you think? Was it anything like a Michigan game day?” Yeah, I think it was. Isn’t Christmas all about the spirit?
Libby Ashton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.