Protesters: Bollinger's Response Not Enough

Student Coalition Calls for Systematic Changes to Address Issues of Racism, Discrimination; Fed, CCCC, CUMB Offer Apologies

By Matthew Carhart
Spectator Senior Staff Writer
February 25, 2004

As protests prompted by a string of racially offensive incidents continued on Low Steps yesterday, Columbia administrators, including University President Lee Bollinger, issued formal responses.

Yet students from the coalition organizing the protest said that Bollinger's statement was insufficient, and that their concerns were deeper than the incidents of the last few weeks.

Recent weeks have seen student reactions to what some in the Columbia community have labeled offensive speech: a bake sale protesting affirmative action held by the Columbia College Conservative Club, posters advertising last semester's Orgo Night put on by the Columbia University Marching Band, and, most recently, a cartoon in the latest edition of The Fed called "Blacky Fun Whitey".

Yesterday evening, Bollinger e-mailed a statement to Columbia undergraduates in which he called the incidents "unusually offensive".

In the statement, Bollinger said he is hesitant to say anything that might restrict free speech, but that he also wants to reaffirm the University's commitment to diversity and mutual respect.

He concluded his statement by saying, "In the future, I hope we will all be sensitive to the great harm that deeply offensive statements inflict both on individuals and on the fabric of our community."

Representatives of Concerned Students of Color, the ad hoc coalition that was formed to coordinate this week's protests, said Bollinger's statement was not enough.

"It's taken them entirely too long to issue a statement, and the statement is extremely lacking," said David John, CC '04 and one of three students in the group designated to address the media. "It's poetic and it says nothing. ... I have no idea how this University feels."

Anthony Walker, CC '07, concurred. "I recognize this apology, but ... has anything on campus changed as a result of this apology?"

Yesterday, students protested as they did on Monday and as they plan to do for the rest of the week. From 12 p.m to 2 p.m., about 60 students wore placards and sat silently on the steps. Another group of approximately 15 students handed out fliers that reprinted the controversial materials, along with commentary from the protest's organizers. Though the signs worn by most students on Monday read only "I am being silenced", yesterday's were more explicit: one read "I am being silenced because the Core is exclusive", while another read, "I am being silenced because someone thinks it's funny."

Yesterday, Dan Binder, CC '05 and the head of the Columbia University Marching Band, apologized for Orgo Night's posters and jokes in an e-mail sent to Spectator, Columbia College Dean of Academic Affairs Kathleen Yatrakis, and [email protected], the address of the coalition. In the e-mail, Binder wrote, "The CUMB is usually proud of what we add to campus discourse. We're not proud of last semester's show. Instead of clever humor, we delivered a load of garbage that should have never seen the light of day."

The marching band's apology comes after apologies from both CCCC and The Fed.

Mark Xue, CC '06 and president of the CCCC, said last week in an interview with Spectator, "Our intent was to spark debate and gauge student reaction to our view on affirmative action. ... Most of the controversy has come from comments that were made at the event that don't reflect our opinions... One can make a critique of a policy without extending that to the students."

The Fed yesterday posted fliers apologizing for the cartoon.

The Concerned Students of Color held an organizational meeting Monday night and decided to hold a town hall meeting on Wednesday. The group also agreed that the silence would end on Thursday, when a public speak-out would replace the silent sit-in.

Students from the coalition said Columbia's problems are more complicated than the events of the last few weeks. "I think, essentially, at the heart of the problem is that there are no safe spaces on campus for minority students to congregate, to eat, to feel as though we are as much members of the community as our majority counterparts," Walker said.

John said the problem is not an isolated incident. "The apology came after the fact that they published that cartoon, after people were already upset and voiced discontent with the affirmative action bake sale as well as the Orgo Night fliers, says to me that there is a fundamental problem with the way in which people think and communicate and perceive issues of race, racism, and inequity."

John said he wanted to make Columbia a place "where people do not emerge feeling that they have been, at best, neglected, and at worse, targeted for harassment, during their experience as students here."

The only way to achieve this, John said, is a thorough review of many University policies. "Such a broad and dramatic change involves a serious re-examination of the University's curriculum, administrative and advising structure, and its procedure for complaint and conflict resolution."

A statement released by Barnard College President Judith Shapiro acknowledged the necessity of a free student press, but said that "the consequences are that students will sometimes publish things that are not merely unpopular, but are offensive--and in [the case of The Fed's cartoon], stupid, racist, and disgusting."

The statement explicitly criticized the editor-in-chief of The Fed, Kate Sullivan, BC '04, for The Fed's "disclaimer" above the cartoon that the magazine does not censor. "Would any respectable magazine publish racist material with the comment that it does not censor what goes in its pages?" Shapiro asked.

In response, Sullivan issued a statement to Spectator in which she said she thinks "everyone agrees" that her magazine was wrong to print the cartoon and that "unwillingness to censor is a poor excuse."

She also said that the University should be a place where there is no fear of censorship, which gives her publication more responsibility "to pay attention to who might be affected by what you say."

In this respect, Sullivan said, The Fed has not succeeded. "The intention of the cartoonist was to satirize the absurdity of racial stereotypes, but the cartoon clearly fails at conveying this message," Sullivan said. "Instead, it is only hurtful and offensive. By allowing something so hurtful to be published, we have not done our job, and we take full responsibility and sincerely apologize."

Dean of Student Affairs Chris Colombo also sent out an e-mail yesterday afternoon to the student body of Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "Recent activities regarding Affirmative Action and Black History Month by some student groups have crossed this line, undermining the civil environment necessary to provide healthy debates that respect the views of opposing groups."

The Student Governing Board, which is responsible for the allocation of funds to Columbia's undergraduate student groups, released a separate statement to the undergraduate student body by e-mail saying that it "does not condone the views expressed in the cartoon" and supports "open dialogue" on the issue.

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