Thursday, October 25, 2007

Let’s Stop Pretending We're Friends and Allies

Date: Thu, 25 Oct 2007 17:13:37 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Anne Z. Whitman"
Subject: article today
To: "Jordi Reyes Montblanc"

Anne Z. Whitman, President
Hudson North American

Let’s Stop Pretending We're Friends and Allies
By Christien Tompkins

I am at the breaking point. The events of this semester and student, staff, faculty, and administrative response have convinced me that most of my efforts as a “student leader” and/or “student activist” have been an absurd charade, and I must not be the only person on this campus that feels this way.

As a “student leader” in the Black Students Organization and the United Students of Color Council, and a “student activist” in Students Promoting Empowerment and Knowledge and Stop Hate on Columbia’s Campus, I’ve sat through many negotiations with upper-level administrators. Rather than genuine dialogue, these meetings have served to throw students bread crumbs and contain our dissent. Yet, we continue this inane cycle of meeting with them, detracting from time we could use to build with each other and imagine alternatives. And we do it with smiles on our faces, at least some of the time, like these were meetings between friends. We should dispel these illusions if we’re really going to do anything meaningful.

For example, Lee Bollinger is not my friend and not my ally, and certainly not a hero. He is only the most visible example of a wider problem, totally disconnected from student needs and incapable of any kind of dialogue that doesn’t fit his own agenda. He talks to students with the same disinterest and pathetic platitudes that he offers to local Harlem residents at community forums on the expansion. His introduction to Ahmadinejad was a self-aggrandizing, racist, and warmongering testament to his lack of commitment to an honest, just, and intellectually vibrant university community (read Hamid Dabashi’s recent article for a more academic breakdown).

Lee and friends, let’s stop pretending like we have any love for each other. You and your associates wait for the day that dissenting students will graduate. Sometimes I think that we all just blend together with the ghosts of protest past for you. But the terrifying thing about this University is that “marginalized students” aren’t the only ones who feel so alienated.

The administration itself is not a robotic monolith. I do believe in the sincerity and dedication of many of the people in the administration, although they’re generally more prevalent on the lower end of the totem pole. They must be frustrated too, because despite their dedication, they don’t really have the power to do anything to change this University either. They’re not only subject to the psychological traumas that marginalized students face, but if they don’t toe the line and play ball, they can lose their jobs—no small matter.

Grad students must feel it too. Columbia grad students can’t even get a union to meet their material needs and must suffer through a disciplining process which often does more to stunt their creativity and intellectual vitality than promote it. A quick look into the Spectator archives shows that Columbia has a terrible labor history with its staff. Do they have any effective power in this institution to address their working conditions?

Untenured faculty members live in perpetual insecurity and have little power to address their concerns or stand in open solidarity with students. But, even the tenured faculty must be upset too. Spectator reported that Eric Foner has stood up to say that this University lacks “intelligent, principled, and courageous leadership,” and I know the faculty in MEALAC must be angry that the University won’t stand up for their rights of academic freedom. Looking at meeting notes from arts and sciences meetings of years past, Bollinger seems just as unresponsive to their charges as he has been to mine.

We inhabit a corporate husk of what could be a vibrant intellectual community. You may be able to point to the many positive aspects of this University, and small victories are important, but if we take a moment to really examine how power works at this University and look at who is empowered and who is alienated, I posit that we are surviving on merely table scraps.

I’m not drawing a Manichean line in the sand here. I’m asking us to realize how alienation, hierarchy, and disempowerment permeate the entire University, from students to staff to faculty, and yes, even administrators themselves. My hope is that as we move forward, we break out of our mental chains and call everything that we do at this University into question. We need to dispel our illusions and create a process of emancipation that is as liberating as the University community and the world that we envision.

Christien Tompkins is a Columbia College senior majoring in African-American studies.
Freedom Dreams runs alternate
TAGS: Bollinger

View Comments ( 20)Post a Comment
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 9:45pm

OK, OK - you convinced me. I stopped pretending.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 5:51pm

This is an anti-racist university.
"As most students of color here are aware of, racism and discrimination is a constant thing... if you are not a person of color, it would be very hard for you to experience firsthand these problems. I'm not asking for sympathy, but I am asking for a little imagination."

I can imagine what a racist Columbia would be like. And I'm happy to say that this bears no resemblance to what the actual Columbia looks like.

Here's the real Columbia: If you picked 100 random white students and I stood in front of them and made a genuinely racist statement, you can bet your diploma that at least 99 of them would never, ever again associate with me socially. They would yell and boo me out of the room. Frankly, I think that some of them might even do me violence.

This is an anti-racist university.

"It's about feeling safe where you live"

This isn't about how to feel. What really matters is whether racism and discrimination are actual problems at Columbia.

Your obsession with your own "feeling safe" is the problem - you are coming from such radical ideological assumptions that how you feel has almost nothing to do with the reality of the situation.

It's not that you are "making it up" - not in any direct sense. I think you genuinely believe that you are often experiencing or witnessing racism. But you believe this only because you have come to hold extremist views about what racism is. You have come to believe that almost everything is rooted in racism, that almost everyone is a racist. You are, in effect, operating under a wholly different definition of 'racism' than the rest of us.

What truly troubles me is that you fail to - or refuse to - admit that you are employing a different concept of 'racism' than the rest of us. You're so deeply embedded in an ideology about race that you aren't even talking about the same thing as the rest of us - but you're pretending that you are.

If you were honest, you would not be arguing that racism is rampant at Columbia. You would try to convince us of your racial-ideology. This would be a hopeless attempt, as it isn't an especially plausible ideology - but are least we would recognize you are engaging in an honest discourse.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 5:39pm

The problem seems to be that students of color get to Columbia because of affirmative action (largely because the villain Bollinger is such a supporter of the program), then self-segregat and whine about racism and blame all their troubles on the administration. They offer no solutions nor any specific problems, just a general sense of dissatisfaction which they cannot clearly explain. They then graduate with poor GPAs because they spent all their time "protesting" and have no job prospects because they learned no practical skills in school. They then go on to low paying jobs where they will once again be on the margin.In the real world, people who think like this columnist don't get outlets like this to rant in, and we don't have to hear from them anymore.Oh, and I say this as a student of "color," whatever the hell that means. I prefer to be classified as a student. This columnist clearly does not belong at this school, nor will he ever amount to anything in life.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 3:10pm

Doesn't this young man have any homework to do? Why, in my college days ...
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 1:56pm

I would like to ask a question, please. Those of you who post things here, are you really seriously behind the things you say, or do you do it to get a rise out of people? Because it is actually extremely scary and makes me, and many, many people on the campus highly disturbed to see these kinds of things said all the time. Is it not conceivable to you that sometimes you can't look at something as an objective outsider to reach a conclusion? As most students of color here are aware of, racism and discrimination is a constant thing-we are NOT going around looking for it-no one has that kind of time or energy to waste. Simply put, if you are not a person of color, it would be very hard for you to experience firsthand these problems. I'm not asking for sympathy, but I am asking for a little imagination. Columbia students are some of the most creative people in the country-you are telling me that the student body is incapable of IMAGINING that racist actions exist on this campus, even if they can't experience it? Why do you believe there's a genocide in Darfur, then, or that Britney Spears isn't a good parent, or that Staten Island exists? Honestly, it is not some campus-wide scavenger hunt where we're all out to find as many racist incidents as we can for the grand prize of another safe space. It's about feeling safe where you live, and communicating to those who are charged with that task when they are failing. That's all.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 1:23pm

If you think we are not "behind the things" we say, check the voter roles. And another thing: If you notice that some people are rude to you, or un-caring, or cavalier, welcome to the human race. Some black people seem to think that only THEY suffer from this kind of boorishness and ignorance. Some CVS clerk is rude to you and they're racists. Well guess what? That same person is rude to all. You use the word IMAGINING. Maybe that's what you're doing 90% of the time, because if you haven't found a leftist, liberal "safe-space" at Columbia, you'll find it nowhere, and will spend your days complaining about ghost issues.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 2:36pm

I wrote the sarcastic 12:44 comment, and it reflects my feelings exactly. I do not believe racism to be as prevalent as you do, nor do I feel that the university—by tolerating protests; devoting resources to discussion, advising, and support; holding meetings with students; and acknowledging the lack of perfection—is even remotely close to failing.

Moreover, the assumption that someone who is not a person of color cannot experience or be aware of problems of racism is both absurd and condescending. I am "white", but I grew up in a place far more racist than anything I have seen here; I know what it does to a society, its causes, even perhaps how one ought to respond. Columbia, by contrast, is without exception the most pluralistic, diverse, and open community I have ever seen, and it offends me that people continue to feel oppressed here when there is so much active effort on the part of students, affinity groups, and the administration to make this a comfortable place.

No place is perfect, but I challenge you to point to a better-integrated community than Columbia anywhere in the world.

Get over yourselves already.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 1:59pm

Britney Spears isnt a good parent???
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 1:48pm

I don't see where the writer made racism his theme, other than seeing it in Bollinger's introduction of Ahmadinajad (which is a certainly a stretch), but on the other hand, I don't see even one specific grievance or issue or proposed solution in this piece, just a long list of assertions about how other groups in the university "must" feel about the University.

If he came to college thinking the university president was going to love him, and has now learned that that is not the case, he will gotten something valuable out of his education. Perhaps he won't expect the CEO or executive director or dean of his future employer or graduate school to love him either, which would be an important lesson.

I agree with the earlier suggestions that the writer take a step back, appreciate that is the last year in his undergraduate education, understand that he is the fortunate legatee of generations of Columbians who have created a unique intellectual and economic opportunity for him such as is afforded to a miniscule percentage of the world's youth, and learn to focus his indignation about injustice where injustice truly exists.

And Spectator--opinion pages are supposed to have standards--venting without substantive discussion of actual issues does not rise to the level of a publishable opinion piece.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 12:52pm

Clearly, everyone who commented on this article before me is a white imperialist and a racist. I'm not even going to dignify their hateful words with a substantive response. In fact, these words just give weight to my belief that bias against my views is so inherent in the fabric of this university that nothing short of full-scale institutional change will even begin to address it.
If you disagree with me, you oppress me.I feel marginalized by people who think my opinions are wrong.

(I feel guilty about being privileged when other people are being discriminated against for characteristics we share.)
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 12:44pm

Let's stop pretending anyone cares about your inane thoughts
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 12:38pm

i was trying to imagine what this writer's 'liberated' university would look like :
no new white studentsno new white professorsmandatory 'why white people are the cause of all my problems' dialogue sessionsfull divestment from any american corporation that ISNT doing business with Iranall senior fund proceeds would go to Hamas charities ahh... what a world we have to look forward to when Mr. Tompkiens and friends ideas are implemented
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 12:32pm

Being accepted to Columbia is an honor and acceptance is to the college is difficult. How can a student then become accepted only to belittle and complain about the same people who allowed him to attend? If you don't like the administration, then leave. Some people are never satisfied.
If the writer feels marginalized, then why didn't he say how? Look on the bright side - you attend a top university and should appreciate that fact. You obviously don't.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 11:45am

how can you call lee bollinger's address racist? whether or not you like the man, i believe the racist, or at the very least discriminatory, remarks made that day were made by the iranian president. it's fantastic that people such as yourself immediately lash out at those in authority by accusing them of racism and disinterest.

you pay tuition, you attend classes - you are a student, and, despite your leadership positions, nothing more. protesting if fine and dandy, and i'm sure your fellow club members appreciate your passionate diatribes, but the purpose of education is just that - education. if you have a problem so severe that you cannot study at columbia, transfer like everyone else. if you think your education is more important than your personal beef with the administration (which is present at every university and college in the world - no avoiding it) and the nonexistent racism the university supposedly supports, stop whining, grab a textbook, and learn something.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 11:32am

OK - You convinced me. I stopped.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 10:23am

So PrezBo is racist for calling out Ahmadinejad's human rights abuses? Doubleyoo. Tee. EFF.
And if you want to see racism, look no further than what Hamid Dabashi writes.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 9:58am

So what is it that you want? To run the University? You want the Chair? You're a STUDENT (supposedly). Try learning, for now. Plenty of time to rant and rave when you grow up and move on to your profession, which will probably be ranting and raving. Thanks for the input.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 9:53am

Let me attempt to dispel some of the bafflement that Mr. Tompkins and some others seems to be experiencing:

You find it so puzzling that people are not leaping from their comfortable chairs to beg your advice and implement any and every possible change you might suggest because you are making the unfortunate mistake of taking your beliefs to be obvious facts when they are, in actuality, extremely contentious opinions that a great many of us do not share.

I don't intend to comment on the validity of your opinions here - but only to point out that they are in fact only opinions.

The majority of people here, I suspect, do not think that your frequent allegations of 'racism' are justified; they do not think that racism is an especially pressing problem at Columbia. If they did agree with your opinion that racism is so prevalent, they would be marching right along with you.

But most of us believe that, in general, racism is not a widespread problem. And furthermore, that incorporating contentious radical doctrines about race into the curriculum, throwing more rallies, making up more petitions, holding more tolerance sessions, and other gestures is, quite simply, pointless. It's preaching to the choir - it's just a feel-good exercise for people who already are not racist. And it will have zero effect on the few people on campus who are.

What most troubles people (me at least) about your demands is that you are suggesting that Columbia should make administrative/academic decisions based on opinions - political (in the general sense) opinions - as if everyone is somehow obligated to agree with you.

You lament the university's not standing up for academic freedom with regard to MEALAC - how about standing up for academic freedom by not acting in a way that is obviously biased toward certain political/ideological opinions?
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 9:05am

I feel bad for the administration at the school, even though they're only getting what they asked for. Your 'credentials' speak for themselves: race race race race race. Everything on planet earth is about race. This is why you are being ignored. The administration cannot continue to bend over backwards to appease 'race terrorists' such as yourself who keep crying about phantom racism.

I remember when people would go to school to LEARN and not spend all their time 'organizing' and 'protesting' every little thing.

If I were Bollinger I'd kick all of you out and start over fresh: no more 'diversity' groups, no more 'race' based groups, and if you protest anything you are expelled.

Now hit the books and get ready for the real world, because after you graduate and have to work and pay bills you will certainly wish that you could have just stayed on the Columbia gravytrain.

Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 25th, 2007 @ 8:42am

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