On Racial Disparities, Police Violence and Tragic Loss

Friday, July 8, 2016

Just days after the anniversary of America’s declaration of independence, with its promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the fatal shootings of two black men by police have reignited anger, fear and profound frustration in many parts of the nation and among many in our University community.  As President Obama observed, “all Americans should be troubled” by these shootings, which he said are ”symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.” 

Within Columbia, numerous ongoing research and teaching projects aim to analyze, critique, and challenge these disparities.  In the coming academic year, the Office of University Life will also continue its intensive series of large and small conversations focused on race, ethnicity, disparities and justice through Awakening our Democracy and other gatherings.

Our hearts go out to those who have lost family members and friends from police shootings, and we mourn with the communities reeling from the fatal shootings of police officers during otherwise peaceful protests in Dallas.

We also recognize that this comes amidst recent massive violence in the world, including large-scale bombings in Turkey, Bangladesh and Iraq that killed many Muslims and others, attacks that themselves were just weeks after the mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando.

Violence of this sort – motivated by identity – can sometimes feel especially threatening.  For Columbia students seeking mental health support, professional counselors are available on the MorningsideCUMC and Barnard campuses (follow telephone prompts to reach practitioners after business hours). In addition, pastoral counseling and faith-based support are offered by the Office of the University Chaplain, with on-call chaplains available.

As many have recognized, it will take a sustained mix of education, research, advocacy and activism to bring about change, all of which are central to the work of a leading university like Columbia.  For students and other University community members interested in writing for a University Life blog on these issues, you can reach us at universitylife@columbia.edu.