Working Together to Strengthen our Campus Community

March 03, 2020

A Note About Discrimination and Harassment

It is our collective responsibility to maintain an environment built on respect and free from discrimination and harassment. If you or someone you know would like to file a report or speak with someone, please reach out to your Dean of Students for support. If you have questions or concerns, please contact Student Conduct and Community Standards (students) or Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (University employees).


EVP Goldberg shares this message to all students from Vice President for Student Affairs Joseph Greenwell:

I arrived on campus on August 26, 2019, and, in many ways, I feel like a first-year at Columbia. My eyes are wide open as I learn what makes Columbia amazing, while also witnessing challenges and opportunities for continual improvement. I am excited to be here and to partner across the University as we work to make every student’s experience at Columbia as welcoming and inclusive as we’d want it to be for ourselves.

I share this at a time when we have experienced some insensitive acts and hostility toward Asian and Asian American students on our campus following the outbreak of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. I know that the spread of the infection has caused anxiety and uncertainty, but in these uncertain times, I believe we should comfort and support each other. We know, without a doubt, that the way we treat each other now will have a lasting impact on us as a community.

One student who survived SARS during that epidemic shared in a meeting that he feels that he is reliving the discrimination he felt then. Other students have shared hearing peers call COVID-19 the “Chinese disease.” And when students heading to a study room in Butler Library encountered a blackboard with a message in English and what is reported to be simplified Mandarin characters, they said they found it hurtful and disgusting. “Wuhan virus quarantine district. KEEP OUT,” the message read.

Unfortunately, to some people, the virus is a pretext to justify their existing biases. As we know all too well, comments that express hostility or disregard based on identity – anti-blackness, racism, sexism, xenophobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia, transphobia and ableism, to name a few – are not new.

During the past few months, I have heard from students about their experiences with these kinds of comments. A student who identifies as African American shared in a forum, for example, about how discouraging it was when a peer remarked that it was impressive that he got into Columbia, as though his admission was unusually impressive because of his race.  I have also heard from Muslim and Jewish students that they sometimes experience hostility when they wear their hijab or kippah. And, recently someone drew swastikas, a searing symbol of antisemitism, on a residence hall interior wall.

All of these cause harm, not only to those who experience them, but to our entire campus community.

I share all of this knowing that Columbia, in many ways, is more inclusive than the world we live in and strives to be a place where all students are treated with dignity and respect. I am proud of that commitment. And, to fully achieve this goal we must acknowledge our own biases and those of others. Shining a light on ourselves is not easy, but I think such discomfort is important in order for us to reflect and create change. The good thing is that we are well positioned at Columbia to address these discomforts as a community.

So, I’m asking us to do our part.

First, let’s take the time to educate ourselves about cultural practices that are different from our own. For example, we should not assume that students who wear masks are sick. As students have explained in op-eds in The Columbia Daily Spectator, in some cultures, wearing masks is a common wellness practice meant to protect the wearer and others they encounter.

Second, let’s educate each other regarding the impact of our actions and words on individuals and communities. One way to achieve this is by addressing the use of language – not by shouting others down, but by engaging each other through thoughtful dialogue. I am proud to be part of this community that puts great value on free speech and the exchange of ideas. With that said, when people use hateful speech, there may be opportunities for education and discussion. Two decades ago, a student whom I worked closely with was describing a negative experience to me. She finished by saying, “That is so gay.” She was aware that I am gay, and I knew she meant no harm. I asked her what she truly intended to convey and told her that, for me, being gay was wholly positive and amazing. I used humor to address the behavior in a way that did not put her on the defensive. We had a fuller conversation and she apologized. It’s been more than 20 years and we are friends, and she still shares this story with others as a learning opportunity.

Third, provide assistance to your friends and classmates. If you or someone you know needs support, please reach out to your Dean of Students. They can connect you to additional campus resources as needed.

Finally, notify the University if you believe a potential policy violation has occurred. You can do this by filing an incident report online. All reports are reviewed.  If you ever have questions or concerns about the University’s non-discrimination policy and what constitutes a violation versus what is protected speech, please contact Student Conduct and Community Standards.

I realize that I am focusing largely on individual responsibility, but I am also grateful for Columbia’s deep institutional commitment to education, prevention programs, campus resources, investigations into reports of discrimination and continual assessment of the campus climate. For example, the 2020 Columbia Student Well-being Survey that launched February 10 provides students the opportunity to share feedback regarding their experiences on campus. The University considers this data closely in designing programs, providing resources and setting policies.

Other examples of University-wide programs and initiatives you can join include Campus Conversations, the Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging and the pilot of the Inclusion, Belonging and Community Citizenship Initiative.

We want all students to thrive at Columbia. This can only happen if you know and feel that you are part of a caring and inclusive community.


We welcome your feedback. Please send your questions or comments to [email protected].