A 54-second video shared to Twitter captured the chaotic scene that unfolded outside an on-campus library early Sunday morning. The now-viral video has sparked widespread outrage, reigniting concerns about the treatment of minorities at prominent colleges and universities. In a statement on Sunday, Columbia University administrators “unequivocally denounced” the student’s rant, describing it as a “deeply disturbing racially charged incident” and announced that an investigation is underway.
A group of “primarily black” undergraduates was outside the library after midnight Sunday when they were approached by a young man dressed in a dark blazer over a button-down shirt, reported the Columbia Spectator, the university’s student newspaper. The publication identified the man as a sophomore.
The video, which contains explicit language, began with the white student declaring, “We built the modern world.”
When another student off-camera asked to whom the man was referring, he elaborated.
“Europeans built the modern world,” he said, talking over his peers. “We invented science and industry and you want to tell us to stop because ‘Oh my God, we’re so bad.' We invented the modern world.”
Members of the group strongly rebutted his claims. One person could be heard using an expletive and calling the white student a “degenerate."
“We saved billions of people from starvation,” he continued, prompting one female student to shout, “Are you joking me?” Another student appeared to be stunned into silence, standing frozen with her hand over her mouth.
The young man proceeded to assert that white people “built modern civilization,” before passionately professing love for himself and his people, his voice becoming high-pitched and hoarse.
“We’re white men. We did everything,” the student said, as he leaped about, waving his arms. "I don’t hate other people, I just love white men.” A black student could be seen responding to this with an explicit hand gesture.
The video was uploaded to Twitter shortly before 4 a.m. Sunday morning. Text accompanying the video read, “Disappointed, but not surprised,” and included the hashtag “#ColumbiaWhiteExcellence.” As of early Tuesday, the clip had been watched more than 1.8 million times, drawing fierce backlash and criticisms of the university, where just weeks ago a Jewish professor’s office was spray-painted with swastikas and an anti-Semitic slur.
“[Columbia] has a WHITE SUPREMACY problem!” one person tweeted.
“[Columbia] has a disappointing history of not only supporting but uplifting the voices of white supremacists,” another Twitter user wrote. “This school continues to tout statistics about its racial, ethnic, and religious diversity and yet continues to make its minority students feel unsafe. Do better [Columbia.]"
Kwolanne Felix, one of the students in the group, tweeted that the young man “went out of his way to harass groups of black people who were minding their business.” She added that the encounter did not end outside the library because he “continued to instigate and followed us after we left!”
Columbia’s Black Students' Organization wrote in a Facebook post Sunday that at one point, the white student also “grabbed a Black woman and asked Black women if they liked to date white men.”
For context he went out of his way to harass groups of black people who were minding their business. And continued to instigate and followed us after we left!— Kwolanne Felix (@kwolanne_felix) December 9, 2018
Felix told Columbia’s student-run blog, Bwog, that the white student, who she said may have been drinking, followed the group to a nearby late-night dining hall where he continued to espouse the “same rhetoric.” Felix said a public safety officer was called to talk to the student.
"Ultimately the Public Safety officer lingers and when we ask for action, [the officer] replies, ‘He is just saying how he feels,” she said.
A Columbia spokesman told Yahoo Lifestyle, “Neither Campus Public Safety nor the NYPD was involved.”
Felix did not return requests for comment from The Washington Post but told the Spectator that she hopes “Columbia takes further action.”
“They should definitely try to talk to the students that were affected by that and ensure everyone’s okay because that’s really hard to internalize,” she said.
In the Sunday statement, Columbia’s undergraduate deans called the video “alarming.”
“At Columbia, we stand firmly against white supremacist language and violence,” the statement said. “ . . . our community will not waver in its support for those of any faith, race, gender, sexual orientation, background or identity.”
On Monday, a second statement announced that the university was “in the process of creating a working group on bias incidents” that would become part of Columbia’s Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging.
“Statements of white racial superiority conflict with the University’s core value of inclusivity as well as the educational work and research that take place on our campuses,” the university said. “Comments of this sort cut against core values of our community, even when they are within someone’s rights to express.”
Neither of the statements made it clear whether or how the student would be punished.
In recent years, there have been numerous reports of hate crimes and racially charged incidents occurring on college and university campuses. Last month’s vandalism of the Columbia professor’s office left the educator “afraid to be alone,” The Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker reported. In June, the Anti-Defamation League found that white supremacist groups have only increased their attempts to recruit on college campuses, The Post reported. From September 2017 to May 2018, the ADL documented 292 cases of white supremacist propaganda on campuses, a 77 percent increase compared with the 2016-2017 school year.
Sunday’s incident has since prompted several calls for action from Columbia’s minority student groups.
The Black Students' Organization announced it would be creating opportunities for people to not only talk about what happened, but also discuss actions that can be taken as a community.
“We want to make sure that we can come together with a common narrative/message and have a plan of what we want to come from this incident,” the group said.
In a separate Facebook post, the Organization of Pakistani Students called on the university to “address this situation with the severity it deserves, and to take the necessary steps to create a safer space for marginalized communities on campus.”
The Student Organization of Latinxs said in a Facebook post that they were “outraged” and demanded the student be “held accountable.” The group said it wanted to stress that these types of incidents “do not happen in isolation.”
“We demand that Columbia University sees this as an institutional problem that is perpetuated by its administrative, academic, and business practices,” the organization said.
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