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The transition from high school to college is always full of change and unexpected situations, but there are even more surprising differences when you go from an all-girls school to a co-ed university. Northwestern (where Divya goes) and Columbia (where Pia goes) are both great institutions with so many opportunities. However, we did not expect the shock going to school with men would bring upon us. So, here’s our top 3 observations after spending almost half of our first year going to school with men:

men in residence halls

Pia: One good Friday night at around midnight, I was watching One Direction videos with my roommate in our dorm (a very typical night in for us) when I decided to go to the bathroom to take my make-up off. After successfully doing so, I exited the bathroom and saw a man leaning against a wall. I let out a yelp and he looked at me weirdly, asking me if I was okay. This was kind of embarrassing on my part but, since I go to Barnard, I was not expecting to see a man outside my bathroom. 

Divya: I live in the Women’s Residential College, the only dorm at Northwestern with no men. The day I moved in, my RA explained that since this is a space where men do not live, whenever we brought over a male guest, we had to go in the hallway and announce, “Man on the floor!” Assuming this to be a joke, I almost started laughing, but I noticed that everyone else seemed serious. The next day, while I was hanging out in my room, I heard someone shout, “Man on the floor!”, confirming that it was in fact not a joke. While I originally thought that the rule was a bit ridiculous, I was surprisingly glad to be notified, since I hadn’t realized that being at a girls school for so long l had taken it for granted that there would be no men around. (Note: A few weeks into the quarter, the phrase “man on the floor” was changed to “guest on the floor” to be more inclusive, a change I support to make everyone feel more comfortable!)

men on campus

Pia: While I am well aware that male Columbia students can register for Barnard classes, I sometimes genuinely forget that means they will be walking around campus as well. So every once in a while when I’m walking to my next class and see men out and about, my brain will simply turn into a giant question mark for a few seconds before I forget that even though Barnard is a historically women’s college, Columbia is right across the street. 

Divya: Sharing spaces with men is an aspect that I hadn’t given much thought to, but it turned out to be more jarring than I thought. After being only surrounded by women in classrooms, hallways and dining halls in high school, during my first couple of weeks here, I was often genuinely surprised for a moment when I saw a man around. Also, Northwestern has made many changes to counteract sexism over the years, but, like most universities, it was built with only men in mind, and that is rather annoying at times. For example, the inscription above the entrance to Deering Library says, “Happy is the man that findeth wisdom.” It’s not a huge deal, but it is a reminder that higher education, like most institutions, was made by and for men, without taking women into consideration. 

men in stem

Pia: The only STEM class I’m taking right now is for Barnard students only (Environmental Science I, which I highly recommend), so I have yet to experience a STEM class with men. However, one of my history lectures takes place at the physics department building at Columbia. Now, I love the color pink. If you’ve ever seen me around campus, you know I’m always wearing bright colors, patterns, etc. One time I was going to my history class and a man came up to me and asked me if I knew where I was. Granted, the class I was taking in that building was not a physics class, but the insinuation that I did not belong there because of something so trivial like how I present myself was so off-putting. I think we should all be allowed to be like Elle Woods — smart and fashionable!

Divya: I have noticed that women seem more likely to participate in my humanities classes compared to STEM classes. It shouldn’t be this way, but it seems like it would be more embarrassing to get the answer wrong or misinterpret something when there are men present versus when I’m in a class with only women. Women have a dual responsibility: we’re not only representing ourselves, but also our gender as a whole. Women are still working to prove that we belong in STEM, and we’re just as capable as men. Of course, I believe we are! However, it’s harder to practically put those ideas into practice in male-dominated fields of study.  

While it took some time to get used to, our time at Northwestern and Columbia has been amazing and we’ve been able to meet so many fun people (including men).

Pia Velázquez is a freshman at Barnard College who plans to study Human Rights. She spends her time swing dancing with her roommate and hanging out by the philosophy building at Columbia.
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Divya Bhardwaj

Northwestern '25

Divya is a first year at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. She loves to read, travel, and go on adventures with friends.
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