As the Organizing Committee of the Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC-UAW Local 2110), we write in reference to recent emails containing racist and dehumanizing content sent to graduate students at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (“Lamont”). We are speaking out in support of those targeted, to condemn this racist attack in the strongest terms, and to demand better from our university.
No action has yet been taken on the part of President Bollinger, a lawyer of free speech, and the administrative response to this incident has been wholly inadequate. While Lamont leadership and the institute’s Office for Academic Affairs and Diversity responded swiftly to offer community conversations, this has not translated to action or support from the graduate school or university channels. The Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) office and the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Carlos Alonso, sent an email following the event that didn’t reach Lamont students outside of being forwarded by students from other departments and Earth and Environmental Science department faculty. This ineffective communication has yet to be explained or resolved, highlighting the lack of centralized channels that manifest in poor support for graduate students.
Beyond failures of leadership, we also condemn the shortcomings of the university institutions as a whole with regards to responsiveness and accountability. Representatives from the EOAA office explained that the messages were re-routed to Public Safety so that students will not receive them, where future messages will be monitored for the potential of escalating threats. But Public Safety, Columbia and Barnard have not earned the trust of the broader Columbia community—indeed, Black Columbia students expressed they do not feel safe coming to Barnard following Public Safety’s well-publicized violent accosting of a Black student, Alexander McNab. If students experience and wish to report racism on the part of Columbia faculty or staff, they face opaque channels through the EOAA office. Concerned primarily with meeting the bare requirements of federal law, EOAA offers fewer protections to those reporting racial transgressions than for gender-based misconduct. The lack of institutional recourse or accountability for these incidents illustrate that the university’s efforts to address systemic shortcomings and offer alternatives to improve support for Black students are insufficient.
Academia’s hierarchical structures disenfranchise students from underrepresented backgrounds, including racial minority groups, at every level of their professional development. Addressing the root causes of racial injustice in every facet of our society, including at Columbia University, requires a collective response.
In the wake of violent messages received by our union membership, we reaffirm our commitment to center the concerns of Black students, including the basic right to safety on campus. We will continue to fight for racial justice through a variety of channels, whether in demanding more from our leadership, informed by the demands of Black and underrepresented minority students and student workers; fighting for real recourse for racial harassment and discrimination through our contract grievance procedure; or improved access to healthcare, which is consistently inequitable across racial and socioeconomic lines.