Personal Life

Bard College’s Racism

I’ve been aware of Bard College’s racism against Black people since the day I first saw Leon Botstein. The college’s president did a Q&A after a lecture for Admitted Student Day on Saturday, April 14, 2007. The racism? His answer to a question from a concerned dad regarding the lack of Black students at the elite liberal arts college in upstate New York. Based on my memory, Mr. Botstein simply replied, “We don’t receive many applications from that demographic because of our rural location.”

This photo was taken within seconds of most students and their families (including me) seeing Bard College President Leon Botstein in person for the first time. I took the photo on April 14, 2007, at either 1:01 or 2:01 p.m. The photo shows Leon Botstein as he entered the stage; I did not see any other photographers in the audience, and I remember Mr. Botstein looking scornful.

It turns out I was right all along. A short while ago, while Googling another topic, I came across this article published on August 29, 2020, in The New York Times: “After 90 Years, Columbia Takes Slave Owner’s Name Off a Dorm.” The subheading reads, “Samuel Bard was George Washington’s doctor and delivered Alexander Hamilton’s first son. He was also a ‘pretty significant slave owner.'”

And he was also the grandfather of John Bard, the founder of what is now called Bard College.

During my last year at Bard College, in 2010, the college’s sesquicentennial (150th anniversary), my dad would frequently call me while under the influence–he is unemployed and disabled–and say racist things about then-President Barack Obama (whom I voted for in both 2008 and 2012, as I’ve only voted for Democrats for President). My dad would also deny my requests for money, under the guise of our family not having enough money because of his disabled status.

It got so bad, with my dad acting miserly and racist and knowing Mr. Botstein might be hateful or racist as well–both against Black people–that I told my “girlfriend” (don’t ask about the scare quotes) and my mom that “Bardians Against [N-word, plural]” made just as much sense as any of the other student clubs on campus. Of course, I now regret ever saying that phrase, but I was going through an extremely stressful time in my life. I identified with Black people, not Caucasians, at the time.

So how is Bard College doing today? First, their U.S. News & World Report ranking has slid from (I believe) #37 when I applied to them in 2007 to #60 as of this writing. You can also see this chart I made and posted to Facebook earlier this year:

Chart showing Bard College’s U.S. News & World Report ranking (Nicholas Scribner)

I should also note I was a huge fan of Bard College after they accepted me. I believe I am even the sole reason the “Newsweek-Kaplan College Guide” decided to add Bard College to their list of colleges in the former annual publication. I even received a personal letter from David A. Kaplan, the editor.

It should be noted that Bard College has hired a number of talented Black people as professors over the years. The name that comes to the minds of most people is probably Chinua Achebe, the late Nigerian writer, who left Bard College shortly before I left to become a part of the faculty at Brown University.

For Bard College’s 150th anniversary video, which one can watch on Vimeo at the moment, the college used a photograph I took and posted to my Flickr account (see 4:11–4:13 in the video). No one from the college sought my permission to use the photo, which had my full copyright protections on Flickr.

Bard College illegally used one of my photos for their 150th anniversary video (Nicholas Scribner)

Last year, Bard College received a $500 million gift from philanthropist George Soros, which will total $1 billion at the end of the endowment drive–one of the largest gifts ever to a college.

In conclusion, I hope Bard College learns from their mistakes and improves their reputation.