With brightly colored signs, tambourines, and drumbeats, members of the Harlem community and a few Columbia students joined in a Day of Unity demonstration, calling on the University to provide more jobs for local residents, as the expansion into Manhattanville proceeds.
Shirrell Patterson, a member of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church which organized the protest, said that the demonstration, one of many in the last several years, was “about Columbia, and people finding jobs, and how there aren’t any jobs,” adding that she wants students to know that “Columbia is taking over this whole community.”
“Our stores we used to shop in years ago, Columbia’s bought them all out,” Patterson said.
About 15 people marched in a circle, yelling chants such as, “Jobs yes, racism no, unemployment’s got to go,” “Harlem is not for sale,” and “Columbia U is a big fat phony” outside the Columbia University Employment Information Center, at 125th and Broadway.
Then they headed up to campus and ended the march gathered around the front door of University President Lee Bollinger’s house—a familiar route for members of St. Mary’s and the Coalition to Preserve Community, a local group openly opposed to the Manhattanville expansion.
Yoni Golijov, CC ’12 and a student involved in the demonstration, said job creation is a universal concern.
“We’re uniting students and workers and the community about jobs, because that’s really affecting everyone right now,” he said. “Nationally there’s 25 million people unemployed, and a lot of that you can see here in Harlem right now. Columbia expanded into Harlem and said that they would be providing 6,000 jobs. Obviously not all of them are for the Harlem community. They used that as misinformation—you would need a college degree for many of those jobs ... but at least 2,000 is what we’re looking for,” he added.
The University has said that 6,000 new jobs would be created, with around 3,300 for people starting out in the workforce. In a recent Manhattanville update, the University has said that current employment opportunities are limited as the project is in it’s beginning phases.
Jim White, a volunteer at St. Mary’s and a member of the Coalition to Preserve Community, emphasized the call for unity between Columbia and Harlem that he felt was at the center of the demonstration.
“We want to reach out to the Columbia community. We want to be friends,” he said, adding that the community is “angry” at the current lack of cooperation from the University in providing employment opportunities to Harlem residents.
The University has consistently refuted this claim, saying last spring that the center has hired over 900 local residents since opening and that it has awarded 68 percent of the project area’s construction to firms owned by minorities, women, and locals firms.
Bystanders who watched the group cross College Walk had varying responses.
“It’s catchy,” Sharon Guan, BC ’12, said as she stood on Low Steps, watching the protesters pass by.
Kate Hampton, a graduate student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, had mixed feelings.
“There’s probably something to the claims of Harlem’s gentrification, and Columbia not offering a lot,” Hampton said.
“Columbia shouldn’t retract efforts to spread business into Harlem, but should try to find a compromise. Columbia does a lot to help. People are quick to forget the good [Columbia] has brought,” she added.
The University has taken measures to reach out to the community, including a recent community gardening service day at a local senior center.
Grace Hatamyar, BC ’12, is an urban studies major with a sustainable development concentration who attended the protest to meet community members and learn about the issues for her thesis, which is about the Manhattanville expansion and its effects on employment and housing in the community.
“It’s hard not to get emotionally involved, and be an objective participator,” Hatamyar said, adding that she feels invested as a community resident as well, since she lives on 122nd Street.
Miles Johnson contributed reporting.