story image 1 SERGIO TORRES/CDS
After three days of silent protest, students spoke out yesterday on issues of race and discrimination.
Protesters Present Bollinger with Demands

Student Leaders Seek 'Committee on Diversity'; Response from President Expected Monday

by Morgan Sellers and
Matthew Carhart
Columbia Daily Spectator
February 27, 2004

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 The Fed.

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 bias-related incidents."

While the proposal does not focus on specific incidents, it calls on the administration to set up a policy to deal with future transgressions.

"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 through."

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 offices.

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," he said.

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.

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