story image 1 SHIN LEE/CDS
Last night's town hall meeting provided a forum for students to voice a wide spectrum of opinions regarding this week's events.
Protesters Hold Forum, Draw Up Demands

Students Break Silence, Discuss "Systemic Problems"; Will Present Demands to Bollinger Today

By Morgan Sellers
Spectator Staff Writer
February 26, 2004

After three days of silent protests, the newly-recognized student group Columbia University Concerned Students of Color is holding a speak-out on Low Plaza today, and has gathered a list of demands to present to University President Bollinger this afternoon.

Following a town hall meeting last night that was attended by approximately 300 people, the group is working to establish its relationship to other student groups and begin a broad discussion about racial issues on campus.

At 2 p.m. yesterday, the students sitting on the steps to Low Library announced the end of the silence that they had been observing. The town hall meeting held in Lerner Cinema last night and the speak-out planned for today are intended to promote dialogue and allow the individual students to express their reasons for joining the protest, according to Anthony Walker, CC '07, speaking on behalf of CUCSC.

"We had to give the students affected an outlet," he said. "Those that want to break their silence can speak their mind."

The meeting began by inviting "anybody ... to express their concerns, views, and frustrations." The organizers acknowledged that many students had expressed a desire to hear "what needs to happen for us to be satisfied." They passed out a survey with possible requests for Bollinger, including topics as diverse as repercussions for "transgressions against marginalized [students]," the establishment of a director of multicultural affairs, and increased support of "spaces for students of color." Those who attended the meeting were asked to comment on the suggestions, and indicate which they supported.

Tomorrow, a group of student leaders who have been in contact with the administration since the Columbia College Conservative Club's bake sale three weeks ago and who supported the protests this week are meeting with Bollinger, Provost Alan Brinkley, Director of Student Development and Activities Kevin Shollenberger, and Deans Austin Quigley, Zvi Galil, Chris Colombo, and Corlisse Thomas. They are planning to present a list of demands that reflect the concerns that students expressed last night and at various other forums over the previous weeks.

Student protesters dressed in black and held signs on Low Steps Tuesday afternoon.

Last night's meeting was attended by students from the undergraduate colleges as well as graduate students and alumni.

Many speakers expressed the view that the discussions needed to focus on the underlying "systemic problems" that they said perpetuated racist attitudes. Another point that was emphasized was that students needed to work together to create the changes they wanted.

"The administration is not going to make us feel better," said Isis Smith, BC '04.

In the past three days, the coalition has received numerous statements of support from student groups. Some of them presented their statements at the meeting, including the Columbia chapter of the ACLU and the Columbia/Barnard Hillel--the largest student group on campus.

"It's beautiful that you are all out here," said Alex DiGiorgio, CC '04 and co-president of Columbia ACLU. The statement described the current efforts as "another step in the ongoing civil rights movement," and offered its "utmost support to the CUCSC in its efforts to protest and combat racism and intolerance on campus."

Another issue that the group has not yet decided on is what course of action, if any, it wants to persue against The Fed, which printed the cartoon last week that prompted the protests. Over the past few days, various individuals have suggested repercussions, but CUCSC said that they wanted to move away from specific incidents.

"We want to take the focus away from ... pursuing action against [The Fed]," Walker said. "The larger concern is the systemic problems that lie within this University that allow for a school which purports that it has a commitment to diversity to not take a stand in affirming the beliefs that it holds."

The Activities Board at Columbia, which recognizes and provides funding to The Fed, is "still evaluating what the needs of the students are ... and what the needs of The Fed are," according to Scott Weiss, CC '04 and president of ABC.

"What we're trying to do is find a way to come to some sort of resolution," Weiss said.

He said that taking away any funding was "highly unlikely," and emphasized the importance of free speech in the University community, and the difficulties inherent in balancing "free speech against racism."

"[CUCSC] wants to make this a broader picture," Weiss said. "They're trying to tackle the larger issues of racism and hate-speech ... we support that battle."