In 1968, Barnard’s black students founded The Barnard Organization of Soul Sisters (B.O.S.S.) to foster community among Barnard’s black students. It also served as a platform for combating the challenges of being black women at a predominately white and female institution, as well as the patriarchal structure of neighboring Columbia University’s Student Afro-American Society. While B.O.S.S. did not initially organize for the purpose of engaging in student activism, they were inspired by the building takeover at Columbia University and the social movements of the era. On February 24, 1969, B.O.S.S. presented ten demands to Barnard’s administration, urging them to implement changes to improve their student experiences, such as creating an Afro-American studies major, hiring black faculty, increasing black student enrollment, improving financial aid, providing a dedicated living space for black students, creating a space for a black student union, serving soul food in the cafeteria, and ending harassment by campus security guards. Many students and faculty were not receptive to these demands. The administration further called for discussions with B.O.S.S, not necessarily to meet their demands. B.O.S.S. rejected the response and instead clarified their position and later engaged in an open discussion with their peers, faculty, and administrators. By spring 1969, B.O.S.S. gained traction when the administration met some of the demands, including hiring three black professors, offering black studies courses, and a lounge in one of the dormitories. B.O.S.S. activism did not end in 1969. Their members, even to this day, advocate for continued inclusivity.
The Barnard Organization of Soul Sisters Collection is 3.92 linear feet and includes organizational records ranging from 1968-2013, including letters, notes, membership rosters, meeting minutes, speeches, reports, photographs, booklets, pamphlets, brochures, flyers, memorabilia, and newspaper clippings. In 2019, Barnard Archives partnered with members and alumnae of Barnard Organization of Soul Sisters to celebrate their 50th anniversary and to honor the founding members. They also created an exhibition to both educate the campus community about the BOSS’s history of activism, and also to facilitate critical discussion around the 1969 demands and the current student experience at Barnard.
Citation: [Documents, March-April 1969], Allen Building Takeover Collection, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.