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Bollinger: Administrators studying racial divide at Columbia

  • Justin Chan / Senior Staff Photographer
    GABBING GLOBAL | University President Lee Bollinger spoke about Columbia's global presence and the campus climate at Tuesday's fireside chat.

University President Lee Bollinger discussed diversity, fossil fuel divestment, the First Amendment, and Columbia’s global presence at his first fireside chat of the semester on Tuesday.

Gerardo Romo, CC ’14, brought up one of the more controversial topics of the night when he said that students of color at Columbia felt “a lack of support” in a “predominantly white environment.”

“At least, maybe, a fifth of my friends have had to take medical leaves because of depression,” Romo said.  

Bollinger, visibly taken aback by the question, said the administration was addressing these issues.

“We don’t like hearing things like that, at all,” he said. “We really don’t want that to be the situation here.”

“We’re actually doing a kind of study to try to understand questions like this,” Bollinger said. “What you’re saying is very important for us to know. ... I can say to you, categorically, that the motivation, the purpose, is certainly not to have statistics and so on,” in place of real change.

“I believe in diversity,” he added. “It should be something we all love to be part of.”

There was a long pause before the next question was asked.

Over the course of the night, Bollinger also fielded questions about the campus atmosphere from veteran students in the school of General Studies and ROTC, students with children, and Native American students.

Michael Greenberg, CC ’16, asked Bollinger to consider fossil fuel divestment for the University, noting Harvard University President Drew Faust’s recent decision against divesting in fossil fuels.

But Bollinger said the act of divesting is reserved for responding symbolically to social problems, such as cigarette use and apartheid in South Africa. He said he doesn’t think global warming falls into this category because “people are very aware of the problem of climate change.”

The discussion topics also ranged beyond the University. Bollinger, a renowned First Amendment scholar, discussed issues he had with WikiLeaks in response to a question from Diarra White, CC ’15.

Journalists have the right to publish confidential documents, Bollinger said, because “if we give them the right to publish, they will be very careful in how they exercise it.”

“Julian Assange of WikiLeaks—is he the modern equivalent entitled to First Amendment rights to publish?” he asked, later adding, “Like any good First Amendment law professor, I'm not going to answer.”

Bollinger also connected the First Amendment issue to anonymous comments on blogs.

“This anonymous blog post world is really very ugly, and that really concerns me a lot,” he said. “When I talk about the problem of these blog posts, and anonymity, and how corrupting that is to a culture, and how badly that makes people feel and terribly destructive that is—does that change the notion of anonymity and free speech?”

Throughout the evening, Bollinger turned back to one of his favorite topics—providing students with global education opportunities and using the University’s network of global centers.

When asked what he thinks distinguishes Columbia from other universities, he said it was Columbia’s “public international heritage.” 

“How can you be an educated person and not have at least seen what is going on in China?” Bollinger asked. He said that before becoming president of the University, “I had not been to many countries, I hadn’t seen extreme poverty, I hadn’t walked around villages where people were living under conditions that we just could not imagine.”

“I realized I was ignorant. … So then I said, ‘This is what every student should have before they graduate,’” Bollinger said. “And out of that came the idea for global centers.”

But despite Bollinger’s belief that every student should have the opportunity to visit the global centers, only two students in attendance said they had actually visited any of the centers. One had gone to Mumbai and the other to Paris. 

After the fireside chat, students had the most to say about Romo’s question regarding racial tensions. Romo said he was not satisfied with Bollinger’s response to his question, and other students agreed.

“It’s definitely an atmosphere thing in part,” Javonni Judd, CC ’14, said of the issues she faces as an African-American student. “In part, it’s a matter of not knowing who to reach out to—and I don’t even mean if something is necessarily wrong.”

“The point about racial tensions was pretty accurate in my opinion—the question. The answer was not an answer at all,” Alex Nguyen, CC ’17, said.

Others felt that the problem of depression on campus is one that Columbia is actively working to resolve.

“I think Columbia, in my experiences, is very good about making sure everyone has a place,” Maria Martinez, CC ’17, said. “I think the resources are there, but it’s still a hard environment. … I think that the faculty does try to address the issue with all these CPS [Counseling and Psychological Services] things, but the issue is always going to be there.”

news@columbiaspectator.com  |  @ColumbiaSpec

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Romo said that black students at Columbia felt “a lack of support” in a “predominantly white environment.” Romo said that students of color at Columbia felt “a lack of support” in a “predominantly white environment.” Spectator regrets the error.

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Max posted on

Hard to see how anyone can complain about a wonderful place like Columbia University, but complaining just seems to be part of human nature -- more developed in some than in others. If Heaven exists, I'm sure there will be a complaint department.

As for student depression at Columbia, doesn't it primarily come from the simple fact that Columbia demands a high degree of academic excellence? How can that problem possibly be resolved without Columbia lowering its standards? Who would want that?

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Anonymous posted on

High standards, in comparison to what?

And what about standards for personal integrity?

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CU_Alum posted on

Yes, Columbia's wonderful in many ways. But it's far from perfect. When the imperfections matter in people's lives, they should complain. There's nothing wrong with that. They shouldn't have to suffer silently. And even if you don't understand how being treated as an outsider can cause (or at least contribute to) depression, you should recognize that it often does.

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Chopper Read posted on

My reaction to Romo and other whiners:

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=unkIVvjZc9Y&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DunkIVvjZc9Y

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Really Now, folks. posted on

This is a real issue that affects real people. My friends, brilliant and talented all of them, have suffered because of the immense pressure at this school. They aren't whiners or fools. We have had, what is it - 5 - suicides in the last two years?

I'm glad to see Columbia talking about these very important issues of mental health, inclusion, and race. We can be excellent without harming our students this much. We can at least try.

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Anonymous posted on

Altho you make good points, Columbia, like all schools, is what you make of it. Columbia has some of these smartest if not the smartest students in the world come to study here each year. They are very hard working and used to doing well. Most students put pressure on themselves to perform. Columbia is not reaching out and making demands on people. It is your choice to pressure yourself and get all A's, or relax, get some B's and C's join a club, make some friends, go out in the city, etc., the same that you did in high school. Altho Columbia is a collection of the brightest students, it is still your choice on how to react and proceed.

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Anonymous posted on

Absolutely! Everybody has a place at Columbia. Even assaulters, rapists, cheaters, and male strip dancing physicists have places at Columbia. We'll done prez.

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Curious posted on

What was the question from the Native students???

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Anonymous posted on

The only "race" issue on campus is created by the students themselves. Almost everyone self-segregates. There is nothing wrong with that, and it ought to be left alone.

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King posted on

"Almost" everyone self-segregates? I have not seen any self-segregation here. Most of my friends are Caucasian, but I also have Asian and Hispanic friends.

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King posted on

I am a minority student, and I have never once felt that I have not been welcome as a result of my race. At times, I may have felt unwelcome as a result of a combination of a variety of other factors, but never as a result of my race. Where is this coming from? Most of the stress in this school is a result of workload, and not racism (although I am sure that some does exist).

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Anonymous posted on

Seriously, as an East Coaster from what's considered a progressive area, I have never seen a more racially diverse and inclusive community than Columbia. Open racism is frowned upon here to huge extent, and more secretive racism is something unavoidable but I genuinely it exists here less than almost any other school in the country.

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M posted on

I think Columbia is much more diverse and not white-dominant than so many other schools. Also believe it's an issue of how you deal with it and have a support system, and also seek help from resources at Columbia

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M posted on

I think Columbia is much more diverse and not white-dominant than so many other schools. Also believe it's an issue of how you deal with it and have a support system, and also seek help from resources at Columbia

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Anonymous posted on

As a Columbia grad, just got back from visiting Dartmouth and Princeton with my son. Dartmouth and Princeton are seas of white privilege. Columbia students have no idea. You would not believe the scene at Dartmouth! Obviously rich white blond girls all dressed up for their sororities and athletic boys walking around in their vineyard vines. Everyone looks like they are from Greenwich.
Columbia is way more diverse than other ivies.

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Anonymous posted on

The billion+ dollars Columbia gets annually from the U.S. government could do much for early childhood education.

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Anonymous posted on

Honestly, Columbia is not as bad as people make it out to be. You're at one of the greatest universities in the country-- you think it's going to be easy while you're here?? The years spent at this institution will only make you stronger if you're willing to be challenged. I agree that some people like those of minority race may feel that they are at a disadvantage because of their background or past experiences. But if you complain and expect extra attention, then yeah, you will find Columbia a bit more challenging as the years progress. Toughen up people!

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Anonymous posted on

CC+SEAS is only 36% white.

http://undergrad.admissions.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/classprofile.pdf

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Anonymous posted on

I don't think this article, or the people it quoted, is saying that Columbia is a racist institution. All that it is pointing out is that people of color feel a "lack of support". For Columbia to be the most diverse Ivy, and arguably more diverse than America at a whole, should mean that black people are retained and supported.

It is similar to women being recruited into companies now, as we try to move towards gender equality. Companies are asking themselves how to retain women in male-dominated spaces, and how to support them enough for them to rise up and be in leadership positions. We should be asking: "How do we support our students of color, and ensure that they are achieving at the same level as our white students? How do we help them 'move up the ranks', at the same speed as their peers?"

If you make the argument that race is invisible, you are part of the problem. Read an article about the racial divide, or racism, or this definition of stereotype threat and educate yourself. http://www.reducingstereotypethreat.org/definition.html

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Yes! posted on

I was just about to write an almost identical post. I don't believe outright spoken prejudice is what Gerardo was referencing (although I did experience that at Columbia as an undergrad). I think he was referencing the experiences of some friends who identify as PoC. I believe there could definitely be more structured academic and social support for Columbians, especially for those who come are more likely to experience stereotype threat (mentioned in the post above). Programs similar to the academic support offered to Varsity athletes or the Opportunity Programs for financially qualified students should be expanded to help more students transition, to be able to confidently meet the demands of the institution.

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King posted on

Ok, but why is it the university's job to make sure that people are doing well in school? That is the job of the student. Nobody is entitled to an "A" or to academic success for any reason. People need to learn that they have to work for things; they cannot expect someone to hand them success on a platter if they are not willing to work. Attend fewer parties and spend more time hitting the books.

Also, note that Columbia already has programs to help people from disadvantaged programs adjust, such as ASP.

Finally, the Skinner lab from Columbia published an article in the prestigious journal Science last year that indicates that the "stereotype threat" does not exist.

So yeah, if you want to be successful, you need to work. I have no problem with people who do not work not doing well. I hold myself to this same standard as well.

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Cromulent posted on

Ah, the sight of seeing Lee Bollinger hit with racist accusations is truly delicious! Its fun to see the Left eat their own.

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King posted on

Why should there be a special academic support structure for minority students? Who would qualify for that anyways? Would it include Asians?

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King posted on

Like, in what manner are minority students not receiving fair support? Is there some special support network for Caucasian students that I was not aware of?

The only people who get special attention are the Scholars, and that is something that I will fight tooth and nail against. Considering the fact that there are entire Scholars programs dedicated to specific types of minority students (not all minorities since Asians are not included), and that the vast majority of the student body does not even have access to these programs, I would say that this is not racism against the minority students who have access.

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HARLEM - MANHATTANVILLE EXPANSION posted on

AND YOU WONDER WHY OUR ATHLETIC PROGRAMS CAN NOT WIN CHAMPIONSHIPS
IT WILL ONLY WORK IF WE WORK TOGETHER AND PUT ASIDE OUR DIFFERENCE. NOW WE SEE HOW MUCH WE ARE MISSING WITHOUT A CREDIBLE ATHLETIC PROGRAM WHICH IS AN ESSENTIAL PART OF CAMPUS LIFE. IF YOU THINK WINNING IS BAD TRY LOSING.....

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