Bollinger Issues a Call to Action to Address Racism

Columbia will engage in not just programs and initiatives, but in a true community-wide effort to remedy deep injustices.

July 21, 2020

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger today issued a strongly worded call to action to the Columbia community. In a three-page letter, he outlined the University’s commitment to addressing and providing remedies to the deep injustices surrounding racism, and anti-Black racism specifically.  

“As a person, an institution, or a society, we are all rightly being called upon to do more and to begin again, with a great sense of honesty and new purpose,” wrote Bollinger, who has spent a significant part of his career dedicated to fostering diversity, supporting affirmative action and ending invidious discrimination in education. “I am committed to that task, but, more importantly, Columbia is committed to it. Columbia is an old institution by the standards of the United States, and it has its share of shameful periods and moments of great progress. I hope we can collectively add to the latter.”

He said Columbia will accelerate its program to recruit, retain and promote Black, Latinx, and other underrepresented faculty members as part of an ongoing commitment to faculty diversity. He added that the University will soon announce a process to consider symbols on campus that have an association with enslavement, racial hierarchy and other forms of injustice.

President Bollinger announced that he has asked University Life and the offices of the Provost and Government and Community Affairs to work with students, staff and faculty to, among other efforts: 

  • Identify systemic issues in the Columbia community, along with solutions to address them.
  • Form a working group with leadership from the Office of Public Safety to ensure truly inclusive safety practices on campus and to review existing trainings and practices and develop recommendations.
  • Strengthen connections in both Harlem and Washington Heights in three ways:
    • Grow existing successful partnerships.
    • Invite new ideas for collaboration.
    • Create University-wide infrastructure to reflect and support the breadth and depth of Columbia’s work and facilitate engagement from neighborhood community members.

In closing, Bollinger noted that all of these efforts cannot “be met simply by programs and initiatives,” and that the community must work together and “dedicate ourselves to living more truly to our intellectual, institutional and constitutional ideals.”

The great Civil Rights Movement is unfinished, he said, “what is called for now is a New Civil Rights Movement, one primarily focused on the criminal justice system, housing, education, and economic inequalities…It is my hope that we can leverage this moment and effect real change.”