Columbia University Reflects on Guilty Verdict in the Derek Chauvin Trial

April 20, 2021

Jurors delivered a verdict today in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing George Floyd, a Black man whose death prompted nationwide protests against police brutality.  The jury found Chauvin guilty on all three charges: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.

President Lee C. Bollinger called the decision "both heartening and depressing." In a message to the Columbia community, President Bollinger wrote:

"Justice has been met in this case, but it cannot erase the decades and centuries of injustices to Black people. Our collective awareness of this harsh and continuing reality seems—sadly and shockingly—to ebb and flow. If we learned anything from the Civil Rights Movement centered around the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, it is that only persistent and painstaking efforts will bring true and comprehensive justice. I have waited for legal judgments before, but none has been more important than this one today, in a state court in Minnesota, to recommitting the society to removing the practices of invidious discrimination against Black Americans."

Below, are statements from across the university.

Carlos J. Alonso, Dean, and Celina Chatman Nelson, Associate Dean, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences: 

Regardless of today’s verdict, a life was lost and so justice can never be fully served.

There is work yet to be done. Let us reaffirm our collective commitment as a community to recognize, name, and dismantle racism in all its forms, beginning at home with Columbia and within GSAS. 

Read full statement.

Amale Andraos, Dean, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation:

While there is hope that the outcome of this trial will resonate for a long time, it is important to acknowledge it does not erase the pain and suffering that too many Black Americans and communities of color in this country have endured. I remain dedicated to supporting all of you and our shared commitment to an active anti-racist perspective that will enable new foundations from which to think, imagine, and practice more equitably.

Read full statement.

Thomas Bailey, President, Teachers College: 

The conviction of Derek Chauvin does, however, strike a blow against the edifice of white supremacy and should further galvanize our collective resolve to dismantle systemic racism in our country.
The question for us at Teachers College continues to be: What can we do to dismantle the structures of racism embedded in our society, and rise to meet the call for racial justice and healing?

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Carol Becker, Dean, School of the Arts:

I am deeply heartened by Tuesday’s verdict, yet am compelled to acknowledge the sadness, pain, and anger for all those murders that have not been and never will be equally recognized. But over the past year, it has been truly inspiring to watch this urgent revolutionary movement for change embraced nationally and globally. This force of like-minded individuals from many different backgrounds, has demonstrated that the obvious yet profound truth that Black Lives Matter can capture the attention of the nation and the world. It can awaken consciousness about deeply rooted racism and mobilize significant systemic challenges to the status quo of many institutions—from education, arts and culture, and government to the legal system—and question how that status quo is maintained and for whom.

Read full statement.


Melissa Begg, Dean, School of Social Work: 

What does justice look like? If the world were just, George Floyd would be alive. Daunte Wright would be alive. Breonna Taylor would be alive – as well as so many others. And state and vigilante violence against Black people, Indigenous people, other People of Color – and all who suffer oppression in our society – would not exist. So this verdict on its own could never establish justice, but it has the potential to signal a reckoning that has been too long in coming.

Read full statement.

Mary Boyce, Dean, Columbia Engineering, and incoming Provost:

Witnessing the brutality of George Floyd’s murder reawakened us all to the disturbing reality of horrific acts of violence continually perpetrated against Black Americans. Today’s verdict brings some sense that justice can prevail, but we also recognize much more is needed from all of us, as individuals and as a collective community, to confront the longstanding injustice and systemic racism in our country.

Read full statement.

Steve Coll, Winnie O'Kelley, John Haskins, Melanie Huff, Deans, Columbia Journalism School: 

The killing of George Floyd remains a moment of reckoning in the American story of racial injustice, and in the ongoing crisis of deaths of African Americans at the hands of police. 

As journalists, at moments like these, it is important to hold fast to our work as reporters, shine light on injustice and give voice to those in our communities who are marginalized and too often unheard.

Read full statement.

Columbia University Irving Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian, and Weill Cornell:

Eliminating racial injustice across our society is one of the defining challenges of our time. Discrimination must not be tolerated in higher education, health care, biomedical research, and in the communities in which we live, work and teach. 

Read full statement.

Troy Eggers, Interim Dean, School of Professional Studies: 

This week’s guilty verdict is a small but important step that deserves a moment of reflection. We must continue to seek out justice on all fronts, support one another, and hold one another accountable.

University Life and the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement hosted a forum today, Racial Justice, the Chauvin Trial and Beyond. I urge everyone to watch the conversation, which included Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement Dennis A. Mitchell and Professors Carmela Alcántara, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Bernard Harcourt, and Josef Sorett, if you did not have the opportunity to join live. 

Read full statement.

Joseph Defraine Greenwell, Vice President for Student Affairs, and Ixchel Rosal, Associate Vice President for Student Life, University Life

The verdict today is but one step in this long journey towards racial justice. As a University community, we have a role to play in that progress, individually and as a collective. We will continue to reaffirm the University’s work to fulfill its commitment to anti-racism, and to foster an environment in which each of us can belong, thrive and contribute to our fullest potential.  

This trial has brought about stress for many. As always, there are Columbia resources available to you,  including virtual health and counseling services (Morningside and CUIMC), and support from Religious Life. We also invite you to stay connected to the Columbia community by working with us to continue to build an inclusive community for all.

Read full statement.

Lorraine Frazier, Dean, School of Nursing:

Mr. Floyd’s death; the shootings within just the past few weeks of 20-year-old Daunte Wright and 13-year-old Adam Toledo; and recent violence against Asian-Americans underscore our need as a society to create an environment that is inclusive and equitable. No one should ever be made to feel that they don’t belong. 

At Columbia Nursing, we remain steadfast in our resolve to dismantle racism and all forms of injustice. We commit to standing up for each other and to calling out disrespectful and hurtful behaviors that we observe or experience. We challenge ourselves to engage in constant self-reflection and self-growth. And we pledge to use our platform as respected professionals to overturn unjust laws, policies, and procedures and to be activists for just laws, policies, and procedures. 

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Linda P. Fried, Dean, Mailman School of Public Health:

Individual violent events of the last year are not new and their cumulative effects are the tip of the spear of systemic racism. Violence instills and perpetuates a legitimate public fear. I know that the trauma of what we have witnessed stays with us all, especially our BIPOC communities.  The solution, however, cannot be laid at the feet of individuals to find ways to cope with it.  Truth—and in this case accountability—is essential to begin that healing, reconciliation and solution. 

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Gillian Lester, Dean, Columbia Law School:

Each of us has a place in the collective effort to dismantle systemic racism at every level of our society. As individuals, as lawyers, and as a community, I know we will carry forward the global movement catalyzed by Mr. Floyd’s senseless death. 

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Costis Maglaras, Dean, Columbia Business School: 

To the Black members of our community, and those who are affected daily by systemic injustice, I cannot begin to imagine the exact ways this trial and corresponding verdict affects you. I want you to know that your CBS community is here for you in any way possible.

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Merit E. Janow, Dean, School of International and Public Affairs: 

The murder of George Floyd was a brutal and horrific act, witnessed around the world on video. Those nine minutes will remain forever with me. As shocking as they were, they also were another – and unfortunately not even the latest – in a long history of injustice faced by people of color in America. Almost weekly we learn of another act of violence against a Black person, hate crime or hostility perpetrated against a person of color, or other violence against innocent civilians. Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man killed outside of Minneapolis, and Adam Toledo, a 13-year old boy killed in Chicago, are just the most recent examples.

There is no question it was necessary and just to hold former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin accountable for the murder of George Floyd.

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Lisa Rosen-Metsch, Dean, School of General Studies

I recognize how difficult watching the trial and jury deliberation has been for members of our Columbia GS community, as we think back to the horrific and heinous murder we all witnessed on video nearly a year ago and particularly after a heart-wrenching year of continued racial injustice and a pandemic that had disparate impacts on communities of color. While you process this verdict, please remember that we have Columbia resources that are always available to you.

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James J. Valentini, Dean, Columbia College

During the last 24 hours, many of us have sought to reflect on and process the relief that the jury in Derek Chauvin’s trial stood by truth and what was right, while also feeling a sense of deep sadness that ‘right’ is not always the norm when race is at play.

Read full statement.