Columbia College’s distinctive education is rooted in the belief that scholarship and learning are strengthened through civil conversation, critical inquiry and unprejudiced examination of the world. For true enlightenment, the educational experience must involve myriad perspectives from individuals of all walks of life and a willingness to reflect on, reconsider and possibly change one’s beliefs. The College is deeply committed to its students — the most diverse student body in the Ivy League — and to actively investigating the difficult questions of what inclusion means, how diversity is fully realized and the role each member of our community must play to help shape a society that continues to bend toward justice.
The tragic anti-Black violence and unrest of 2020 have highlighted the unfinished work our country must do to more successfully achieve equity, justice and inclusivity. Columbia College is committed to proactive assessment, reflection and action that helps our institution and individuals recognize, confront and rectify the corrosive and dehumanizing effects of systemic racial injustice. The College is actively tending to this priority, in how we bring students to Columbia, the ways in which we support them, and how we design an intellectual and social experience that facilitates each student reaching their fullest potential.
Learn more about the new and continuing activities underway.
Challenging our Core
The Core Curriculum is the 101-year-old foundation of a Columbia College education. It prizes inquiry and debate and utilizes seminal texts and works of art as starting points for intellectual conversation and growth. Following the Core’s Centennial in 2019–20, Dean James J. Valentini convened the Committee for the Second Century of the Core to reflect on the Core’s objectives, the experience it provides, the impact it has, and to provide an opportunity for discussion on whether the studied material meets the enhanced goals for every College student. This multi-generational and racially diverse committee will pay particular attention to the experience of and impact on students of color.
In addition, the Fall 2020 term’s syllabi were enhanced with new material, including Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric in Literature Humanities; a formal unit, African American Freedom Movement, in Music Humanities; a unit on race and justice in Contemporary Civilization; and the first major revision of Art Humanities’s syllabus since 1947, to now include more women artists and artists of color.
The Eric H. Holder Jr. Initiative for Civil and Political Rights focuses on what 82nd Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. CC’73, LAW’76 describes as “the duties, the rights, and the weighty responsibilities of American citizenship,” with a keen eye on issues of injustice and inequities. Through the Initiative, Columbia undergraduates have opportunities to learn about, discuss and do the work related to exploring injustices and seeking solutions. In 2020, the Initiative continued programming to highlight the racial injustice that permeates our systems and institutions, such as courts, elections and prisons.
Recent programs include a screening of Bryan Stevenson’s biographical film Just Mercy; hiring inaugural Artist-in-Residence Christopher Wolfe, a creative writing teacher in Columbia’s Justice-in-Education Initiative at Rikers Island; a series of lightning talks on racial justice; and an election-related panel focused on voter suppression and every individual’s right to vote. The Initiative continues to develop timely, relevant programs for our community that are investigative and solutions-oriented, aiming to help all students see their role as advocates for justice.
Support and Advocacy for the Student Community
Undergraduate Multicultural Affairs continues to expand its training and services to reflect the needs and interests of students as well as the changing social climate. Recent filled-to-capacity sessions focused on unconscious bias, anti-racism, disability justice, LGBTQ+ support and solidarity, understanding anti-Semitism and communicating across cultures. Staff members work closely with students and University offices to provide necessary advocacy and to bolster the voices and perspectives of diverse student voices. Multicultural Affairs also coordinates the bias response with senior leaders across Columbia College and Columbia Engineering and with campus partners to support affected students, provide educational opportunities and address any harm done to the community through restorative justice practices.
Multicultural Affairs is a resource throughout a student’s time at Columbia. Starting with Orientation, students can connect with others with shared experiences through, for example, the International Student Orientation Program, and engage in dialogue about identity and social responsibility through Under1Roof, a required program that brought particular attention to anti-Black racism this year. From queer and trans student of color socials through LGBTQ@Columbia and small group conversations among first-generation and low-income students through FLI@Columbia, staff facilitate spaces for community building and self-awareness. The Identity and Inclusion workshop/training series and social justice-focused residential program Intercultural House provide opportunities to build competency, empathy and the skills needed to spur students’ allyship with one another and to social action.
College Access for Underserved Neighborhood Youth
The Double Discovery Center is a more-than-50-year-old extension of Columbia College that prioritizes assisting in the education of and providing support for low-income and first-generation college-bound youth from Harlem and Washington Heights. DDC seeks to increase the rates of high school graduation, as well as college enrollment and subsequent graduation, for these high school students. DDC has made college access and success a reality for more than 15,000 individuals, with about 90 percent of its high school seniors graduating annually on time and entering college in the following fall semester. This far surpasses city, state and national outcomes for low-income, first-generation college-bound students.
Local high school students are invited to participate in courses that confront race and inequity in the United States through historical lenses as well as through the arts, such as creative writing. Recent courses include “Crime, Poverty, and Social Inequalities: Examining Justice and Race Through the Written Word” and “Aligned African-American History.”
Due to the pandemic, in early 2020 DDC transitioned all college prep and academic enrichment classes, college advising, mentoring and tutoring sessions to remote learning platforms. In addition, staff launched “Stress Less” and other online coaching sessions to support students’ and families’ physical, mental and emotional health, along with offering a Healthy Minds & Body hotline that allows students to reach a DDC social worker and/or intern whenever they need support.
The College will continue its many efforts to uphold the core values of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion throughout the student experience. As always, this begins with targeted outreach and personalized guidance for prospective students in underprivileged communities and follows with providing supplemental orientations, tutoring and academic support that help disadvantaged students become equally prepared for the rigor — social and academic — of a Columbia undergraduate experience. From academic advising to career counseling, classroom experiences to social programming, staff and administration at Columbia have been engaging more deeply in regular training around unconscious bias, and taking workshops on diversity and intentional strategic initiatives to tackle any racism embedded in processes, programs or culture. Ideas and feedback are welcome.