Student proposal for a more diverse Columbia

Submitted Thursday February 26, 2004

Nowhere is the freedom of speech an absolute right.  Everywhere it carries certain responsibilities.  Here in the academic setting of Columbia University, we are rightfully given an extraordinary freedom to express myriad viewpoints to encourage debate and a free exchange of ideas. This is a freedom that carries with it obligations, obligations that were blithely ignored by the Federalist Paper, the Columbia University Marching Band and the Columbia College Conservative Club. The CUMB's insensitive attacks on multiple groups, the CCCC's attack on affirmative action and the Fed's publication of a blatantly racist cartoon were reflective not simply of insensitivities, but also of a failure to recognize that the comfort most students on campus take for granted is a comfort some students must fight to achieve everyday.  Unaccompanied the words of a few ignorant student groups would not have been enough to elicit the widespread call for change that graced the steps of Low Library this week. The disappointments, frustrations, and anger expressed are fundamentally products of systemic administrative failures on a number of fronts, which include the failure to adequately address the needs of Columbia's diverse student body. Furthermore, we proceed with this proposal while acknowledging and expecting that adequate attention be devoted toward the individual incidents that serve as the impetus for this proposal. We ask that the following measures be implemented.

Core Curriculum

a. A class to be implemented into the Core Curriculum that must be completed by every student who enters the College and SEAS, which speaks to the issues of power and oppression in the United States, including the process of racialization and the ideology of gender.  The class will provide a common ground in which to integrate critical social formations theory into other Core Classes. It will address vital themes in U.S. history related to the contradictions of rhetoric and reality.

b. A faculty blue ribbon panel that includes an equal number of both tenured supporters and critics of the Core Curriculum. The panel would assess the Core and make recommendations about how to make instruction and curriculum more relevant to contemporary issues including race, class, gender and sexual orientation.  

2. University-sponsored anti-oppression training for the following groups: Core curriculum faculty, all administrators who interact with students (including, but not limited to staff within Advising, Financial Aid, and Registrars offices), New Student Orientation Program leaders, Residential Advisors, and other student leaders (e.g. CCSC/ESC, ABC Representatives, Student group executive board members as well as all Greek and Athletic councils).

The immediate implementation of anti-oppression training will be overseen by the IRC and in the long term by the Multicultural Affairs Office. Training will speak to issues of race, class, gender and sexual orientation in critical contexts that encourage awareness and dialogue. It must include analysis that deconstructs social formations and identifies the interactions between power, privilege and oppression. The training should be run by community organizers experienced in conducting trainings that go beyond "sensitivity" models to encourage systemic analysis and proactive intervention. Funding must be allocated to pay the trainers. 

3. Disciplinary actions and policies to prevent and handle transgressions against marginalized student populations. One example of this would be to reduce the funding for groups that use University monies to verbally and/or physically harass students based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin or class. Repeat offenders should face University de-recognition and subsequently become ineligible for the use of student activity fees as well as resources and spaces which will last for a year at which time they would be re-evaluated by Student Development Activities and the Intercultural Resource Center.

4. Special-Interest housing that pertains to culture should be changed to on-campus cultural housing. In addition, cultural housing will be permanent and thus removed from the normal residential housing pool process. Such houses would significantly contribute to the availability of safe space for students of color on this campus. Furthermore, cultural houses would offer an opportunity for all students to plan and participate in programming designed to increase knowledge about various cultures and to address daily the issues of race, culture, ethnicity, identity and community. 

5. Current Intercultural Resource Center and the Intercultural House

a. The Intercultural House (ICH) will be moved to the next available Brownstone or the currently available open Brownstone on 113th Street. The remaining space will be converted into the Multicultural Affairs Office discussed in item #6.  

b. The building currently housing the Intercultural Resource Center will house the Multicultural Affairs Office, the current IRC administrative offices and serve as safe spaces for student of color groups. 

6. Multicultural Affairs Administration

a. A Vice Provost for Multicultural Affairs to administer and direct the University’s policies affecting students within all the schools of the University.  

b. A Dean of Multicultural Affairs for Columbia College and a Dean of Multicultural Affairs for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to be appointed to administer the Multicultural Affairs Office and all related policies including those regarding bias-related incidents. These Deans will advocate for and advise student of color and other marginalized groups.

7.  The creation of a Multicultural Affairs Office that would provide designated safe space for students of color and other marginalized students. This space would provide a centralized venue for these students to gather as a community and as associations to organize. This office would also provide advising and oversee the University sponsored anti-oppression training referenced in #2. Additionally this office will promote coordination and conflict mediation among the students as well as between the students and the University administration. 

8. In order to support the continued growth of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race (CSER) and the Institute for Research in African American Studies, create a faculty and administrators committee to investigate establishing a mechanism to enable autonomy in hiring and tenuring outside of departmental status, in order to facilitate senior appointments.

•Students support CSER in its request for four additional faculty lines, in addition to the ongoing faculty searches, including two endowed chairs for senior positions and two junior tenure-track positions. This is especially important in light of approval of the Comparative Ethnic Studies major, which requires additional course offerings supported by additional faculty.

•Students support CSER’s need for a research arm that would provide infrastructure and funding for internal research as well as visiting scholars and student collaboration.

•Students ask that the University’s promise of funding for a CSER Resource Center be honored. Monies should be allocated for books, film, magazines and other resources to be available in the CSER Resource Center on the fourth floor of Hamilton.

9. Committee on Diversity that will meet monthly to address the climate among undergraduates and any incidents of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia or other bias-
related issues. The Committee will also have policy-making power in implementing protocol for handling bias-related incidents and fostering an inclusive environment on campus.  This committee will be composed of the President, the Provost, Vice Provost of Multicultural Affairs, the University Chaplain, the Dean of the College, the Dean of SEAS, the Dean of Student Affairs, three faculty members (two appointed by the director of CSER and one appointed by the director of IRAAS), and seven student representatives, comprised of President of CCSC, President of ESC, the two co-chairs of United Students of Color Council, and three representatives at large selected through application to the Multicultural Affairs Deans.  This committee must be constituted immediately and oversee the future implementation of the rest of the proposals.

•This Committee at first will exist without the presence of the Multicultural Affairs Deans. Therefore, the three student representatives at large will be selected by the Intercultural Resource Center. For the immediate future, legal advisors and student of color advocates from the Law School will fill the Multicultural Affairs Deans’ spots.


We ask for a written response to this proposal by Monday March 1, 2004 at 5pm. Thank you in advance for the first steps of what we hope to be expedient and successful negotiations process.

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