Student Leaders Seek 'Committee on Diversity'; Response from President
As over 100 protesters chanted on the steps of Low
Library yesterday, a group of student leaders presented a list of
demands to University President Lee Bollinger that, if implemented,
would drastically affect the role of race at Columbia.
The proposal advocates nine measures, ranging from the establishment
of a Committee on Diversity to the development of a University policy
for preventing and handling harassment of "marginalized"
students. The students requested detailed responses to each proposal
from the University administration by 5 p.m. Monday.
The demands follow a week of protests that were prompted by
controversial events held by three campus groups--the Columbia
University Marching Band, the Columbia College Conservative Club, and
But students said specific incidents were not intended to be the
focus of yesterday's meeting, which followed discussions between
students and administrators over the past three weeks.
According to the proposal, "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."
Reggie Gossett, CC '06 and one of the students who met with Bollinger,
emphasized that the demands deal with more than just race. The proposal
is "not just about students of color," Gossett said.
"It's dealing with a systematic problem on campus that affects the
University as a whole."
The proposal calls for the immediate establishment of a Committee on
Diversity which would "oversee the future implementation of the
rest of the demands." The Committee would meet monthly, and would
include faculty members, student representatives, and senior
administrators, including Bollinger. The statement gives the committee
"policy-making power in implementing protocol for handling
bias-related incidents," including incidents of racism, sexism,
classism, and homophobia.
Three new administrative positions would also be created: Deans of
Multicultural Affairs for both Columbia College and the School of
Engineering and Applied Sciences, as well as a Vice Provost for
Multicultural Affairs. The deans would oversee a new Multicultural
Affairs Office which would "provide designated safe space for
students of color and other marginalized students." The deans would
also administer "all related policies including those regarding
While the proposal does not focus on specific incidents, it calls on
the administration to set up a policy to deal with future
"It's unfair to ask students who have been hurt to determine a
punishment," said David Johns, CC '04 and a participant in the
meeting. "When an individual or a group of individuals feel that
they have been harassed ... there has to be some formal way that they
can present their grievance and make sure that it will be followed
Johns said that the proposed policy would not be a form of censorship
or a speech code.
"Anything like that would be to the detriment of the majority of
people who feel like they have been offended," he said.
Two of the demands deal with the expansion and increased support of
safe spaces for minority students. They call for the establishment of
permanent on-campus cultural housing, and the move of the Intercultural
House to the next Columbia-owned brownstone that becomes available. The
Intercultural Resource Center, which currently hosts ICH, would house
the new Multicultural Affairs Office as well as the existing IRC
Academic concerns are also addressed in the students' proposal. It
calls for a faculty panel to reassess the Core's relevance to
contemporary issues, and the development of a required Core course that
would address "issues of power and oppression in the United States,
including the process of racialization and the ideology of gender."
The proposal also calls for increased funding and autonomy for the
Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race and the Institute for
Research in African American Studies.
Gossett said that the demands, which were finalized early yesterday
morning, came out of a series of meetings and discussions that began
last fall. The United Students of Color Council and Students Promoting
Empowerment and Knowledge hosted a number of meetings; at USCC's last
representative board meeting earlier this month, 26 of its constituent
groups participated in a discussion of CCCC's anti-affirmative bake sale
and its relationship to racial conditions on campus.
At that time, representatives from USCC and SPEaK, as well as the
Black Students Organization, began discussions with the administration,
and met for the first time with Bollinger last Friday.
Bollinger said he was happy with yesterday's meeting. "It was a
very helpful meeting. I really admire the students and plan to continue
working with them," he said.
Gossett said that the group expects the administration to respond by
the deadline. "I think they understood how important it was,"
Also yesterday, photocopies of "The Man," a cartoon
apparently responding to "Blacky Fun Whitey," the
controversial cartoon published in last week's The Fed, were placed on
top of piles of Spectators at various locations on campus. CUCSC
released a statement saying that the unknown author was not affiliated
with the group, and rebuked the cartoon's message.
"This article is offensive and we feel as though it is
counterproductive to any progress made in the struggle against racism on
this campus," the statement read.