Dear President Bollinger,
We, the Columbia Delegation to the Latinx Ivy League Conference, write to inform you of our concerns and experiences at Brown University this weekend. As one of the nation’s most renowned first amendment scholars and a fierce advocate for affirmative action programs, we are confident that you will be able to respond to our concerns directly and strongly with the intent of taking action…in a way that’s less prevaricating than your email to our entire community earlier this week. We also expect a clear delineation of the actions you, as president, are taking to make this campus and the Ivy League safer spaces for students of color.
On Friday evening, a Latinx student delegate from Dartmouth College was the victim of assault at the hands of law enforcement hired by Brown’s Student Activities’ Office. We were so impacted by the excessive use of force that we were compelled to abandon the schedule of events and mobilize to bring immediate attention to the incident at hand.
On Saturday morning, student delegates from all Ivy Leagues wrote a letter of demands addressing the escalating issues regarding race at Brown and the entire Ivy League. These demands included tangible measures against law enforcement’s excessive use of force towards students of color and a public acknowledgment of the incident along with an apology on behalf of Brown’s administration to all parties involved.
A forum later in the day, where President Paxson was invited to speak, revealed that this incident was not an isolated occurrence. Students of color at Brown University had been actively voicing their traumatic experiences with law enforcement on campus to the administration but to no avail. But we need not look at Brown to remind us of the issues this country faces in its treatment of people of color. The unfortunate reality is that people of color must consistently bow to law enforcement to feel a tinge of safety. But this is not safety. This is fear disguised as safety. Today we as a delegation refuse to mask our concerns- to return to campus- and deny our community the conversations you so readily said occur on campus. Race and identity issues still remain an enigma to the individuals outside of our communities, and will continue to do so as long as our community refuses to take initiative and educate themselves on our experiences.
Brown University’s President Christina Paxson listened to our concerns the entire afternoon. Later that evening she released a statement of actions that she was taking that night in regards to the issues we had raised and her commitment to listen and continue to take action this week. Among them she announced an email would be sent to all Ivy League Presidents regarding the incident.
We were amazed at her quick attention to the issue, because a response from a university president is not something with which we are familiar. Though we are aware that attention does not always translate into action and know that her proposal needs more refinement and input from students of color, it’s a start.
We checked our inboxes this morning and received no email from Columbia. We were not contacted to see if we were safe. We later learned that every delegation in attendance was contacted by their administration—either their university president, school dean, or a member of their diversity center- to ensure that they were out of danger. So we are left with nothing but questions, where are you President Bollinger? Where is Columbia? You remain a faceless entity, a ghost that contributes nothing towards making our campus safer for students of color. It’s time that you heed your own words and “bring reason, respect, and empathy to our interactions with one another.” We demand you host an open forum with students of color addressing our concerns before Thanksgiving Break.
Students of color at both Columbia and the Ivy League are tired and disillusioned with the manner in which their administration has failed to foster an inclusive and welcoming university climate for everyone. Our hope is that, in bringing this incident to your attention, you will reflect on the issues that are occurring on other campuses and “our long and deep commitment to overcoming racism.” This incident is part of a larger institutional problem that affects students of color across the Ivy League and institutions of higher learning. We, the Columbia Latinx Ivy League Conference delegation, trust that you and the broader Columbia administration will act to ensure that Columbia reaffirms its actions to eliminate these systemic issues of racial and ethnic inequality.
The Columbia Delegation, 2015 Latinx Ivy League Conference
Jesús Mora-Valle, CC ‘17
Cassandra Muñoz, CC ‘16
Paulina Luna Vázquez, CC ‘17
Alicia Maria Puñales Morejón, CC ’16
Karina Pantoja CC, ‘19
Jon Carlo Dominguez, CC ‘19
Victoria Cardenas, SEAS ‘19
Maria Fernanda Martinez, CC ‘18
Elvis Diaz GS ‘17
Nadeen Watkins CC ‘19