Bard Student Profiles

Jonian Rafti

Jonian Rafti came to Bard to broaden his horizons. He’d grown up in New York City and attended Brooklyn Technical High School, where he was immersed in the STEM fields as part of a student body of more than 5,000. He wanted a more intimate setting where he could get to know his peers and his professors. He also decided that it was time to change the focus of his studies. “I came to Bard because I really wanted a different experience and different outlook,” he says. “I was well versed in the sciences because of my high school, but other parts of my education were lacking. Bard’s focus on the liberal arts was definitely a deciding factor.” As a joint major in economics and history, his mathematical background has proven useful: his Senior Project is a study of the 1937 recession in the United States, and incorporates both qualitative and quantitative methods.

Jonian has found that the varied backgrounds of Bard students make for interesting and enlightening conversation, both inside and outside the classroom. “Just look at our student clubs—we have so many for a small school,” he observes. “The challenge is learning how to agree or disagree with all your peers since there are so many different beliefs on this campus. That’s an essential life skill: to understand where someone’s coming from and to be able to express your views in a meaningful way.”

Getting to know the student body began early in Jonian’s college career. First-year seminar made an immediate and long-lasting impression. “In FYSEM, first-years were taking the same course and reading the same books. We lived in dorms where everyone was going through the same thing, had the same questions, and had essays to write at the same time,” he says. The shared first-year experience created an immediate sense of community. “It was a grounding and very common experience that we all benefited from, and we all helped each other.”

Getting involved in student activities comes naturally to Jonian. He serves as a peer counselor and as the treasurer of the student government. He works for Bard’s Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), where he has organized local outreach events for the annual Citizen Science program. With Citizen Science, first-year students spend the month of January in an intensive science literacy workshop on campus, during which they also participate in numerous volunteer activities in the Hudson Valley.

He has also been instrumental in the success of Election@Bard, the student-led voter registration initiative on campus. Jonian reached out to the Andrew Goodman Foundation and helped forge a partnership between the voting rights organization and CCE. Now the foundation funds voting efforts on campus, including paying a stipend to Jonian and another student as “vote everywhere ambassadors.” Jonian also recently spoke at the foundation’s 6th Annual Hidden Heroes Awards, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Right’s Movement’s Freedom Summer. The Election@Bard team registered more than 400 students to vote between August and October, 2014, and Jonian was moved by the strong support of student volunteers. “The willingness of Bard students to give their time to things that they believe in really contributes to an atmosphere that’s supportive and engaged.”

Jonian’s work in voting rights has helped lead him to the next chapter: law school. He plans to take a gap year for a civic engagement project after graduation, and then head back to school.