President Bollinger— support Black Students and the West Harlem Community!

Lee C. Bollinger, President, Columbia University in the City of New York

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PHOTOS BY RICHARD HOWARD/FROM THE COLLECTION OF PAUL CRONIN; INSET, FROM THE COLLECTION OF FRANK DA CRUZ.

On July 21st, 2020, President Lee Bollinger released a letter that not only specifically denounced anti-Black racism after the murder of George Floyd, but also opened with a promise to “do more and begin again, with a great sense of honesty and new purpose.” Racist incidents on Columbia's campus and Columbia's continuous history of anti-Blackness within the West Harlem community indicate glaring areas for improvement. MAD (Mobilized African Diaspora) demands the university cease anti-Blackness on campus and in the community and meet demands regarding their relationship with the West Harlem community, their relationship with NYPD, defunding Public Safety, ban-the-box, and an improved academic environment for Black students. The link to the full letter can be found here: tinyurl.com/MADdemandletter.

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To: Lee C. Bollinger, President, Columbia University in the City of New York
From: [Your Name]

Dear President Bollinger and Trustees,

Mobilized African Diaspora (MAD) is a coalition of Black people at and affected by Columbia University committed to organizing against racism and structural oppression on campus and beyond. We organize to dismantle and restructure the racist, neocolonial University framework that negatively impacts Black students, staff, faculty, and those in the local and global community. MAD does not represent the voices of all Black people within this community, but instead functions as an open platform to combat the violences inflicted upon us. We work in solidarity with the Black student movements across the United States and internationally.

Columbia students have received many emails over the past months regarding racism and social justice from university leaders. They have read “commitments to anti-racism” and claims of understanding that “now is a time for action.” However, a brief history of this university displays an array of empty promises and a clear lack of tangible institutional support for Black lives on and off-campus.

Columbia celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1968 protests within the same year that Julian von Abele accosted Black women and publicly expressed white supremacist views in front of Butler Library. The following semester, Alexander McNab, a Black senior, was profiled and restrained by multiple Barnard safety officers as he entered Milstein Library. Every year, without fail, photos and reports of anti-Black vandalism surface from dorm rooms across campus. These are not isolated incidents, and they display Columbia’s continual inability to protect Black students.

Beyond systemically failing Black folx on campus, Columbia has also destroyed much of the once majority Black neighborhood of West Harlem. President Lee C. Bollinger chose to displace thousands of Black and Latinx West Harlem residents to construct the Manhattanville campus; in spite of the fact that nearly every community organization (Community Board 9, Coalition to Preserve Community, Harlem Tenants Council, etc), and even Columbia’s own students, fought for almost a decade to stop this expansion. The buildings have since been constructed, the community’s 197-A plan has largely been ignored, and residents are still struggling to see the “benefits” promised in the Community Benefits Agreement.

In response to anti-blackness on-campus and within the community, we clearly and without hesitation demand:

1. Columbia University fulfill its responsibilities to the people of West Harlem with regards to employment, education, affordable housing, expansion, and more.
2. Columbia University a) disclose the extent of and b) end any and all support for the NYPD.
3. Columbia University disclose Public Safety spending and defund Public Safety, instead investing in community safety solutions that prioritize the safety of Black students. This includes but is not limited to: creation of a transparent Community Task Force composed of Black & Indigenous students + faculty + Harlem community members, 24-hour in-person student health services, hiring of queer and trans staff of color at Columbia Sexual Violence Response.
4. Columbia University ban-the-box from all applications, including but not limited to: the undergraduate Columbia supplement application, the General Studies application, and Law School application.
5. Columbia University improve the academic environment for Black students.

The full letter and details to these five demands can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/MADdemandletter. We remind you that it is your duty as a university to protect, support, and value your Black students.

With frustration, exhaustion, and loss,

Mobilized African Diaspora (MAD)