This is an open letter to University President Lee Bollinger, Deans James Valentini, Don Goldfarb, and Peter Awn, and the rest of the undergraduate administration:
I am writing to you as a Columbia College student who does not feel safe on this campus.
In light of the recent arrest of a Columbia football player who harassed a student and has been charged with a hate crime, student publications and groups on campus have looked into the social networking pages of other Columbia football players and have found sickeningly hateful and ignorant statements toward the LGBT community, African-Americans, Asians and Asian-Americans, and Jewish people.
As a gay student, I feel unsafe knowing that I attend an institution that has taken no corrective action against these students, whose published words reflect feelings of not only deep seated bigotry but intense hatred, the kind of hatred that often finds its release in physical and verbal abuse. The University must make the decision to protect either the victimizers or the victimized. I have yet to experience such abuse, but the knowledge that the University has not dealt swiftly with such bigoted individuals is enough to make me fear for myself. This is not a matter of freedom of speech; it is a matter of freedom of existence. Their words and actions infringe the rights of Columbia students based solely on the complexion of their skin, the way they love, and the faith they follow. It is far from much to ask that these students be denied the chance to continue spreading such hatred until they have either proven their own reform or choose to leave the our university behind. I don't know if it's possible that their words and actions went unnoticed by coaches and fellow students, but no one has the right to condone them.
For far too long, this University has allowed the divide between student-athletes and other students to exist and grow, and the product of such neglect is now visible for the world to see on local news outlets. The administration has either failed to notice or has willfully permitted a consistent outpouring of hatred from these individuals, whose words and actions, for better or for worse, are seen as representing the words and actions of students-athletes of a top university. It is an embarrassment. The University can either choose to give these students a slap on the wrist, at the expense of the general safety of the student body, or it can actively acknowledge the faults of these students and its staff begin a long-needed reform of our diversity education programs. Administrators must focus especially on education within the athletics program, in order to prevent this same kind of hatred from festering within athletic teams in the future.
It is not OK for people who openly express hatred and bigotry to be next to me or any other Columbian in class or on the field. Columbia students who express their hatred publicly should not need to be arrested for hate crimes, because they should not be here long enough for hate crime to occur. Their hatred and their words should not be condoned any longer by the inaction of the University. Mass emails in which administrators attempt to cover every base and offended party—without expressing any real action—will not do. The hateful students need to go. Something needs to change, and this all needs to happen now.
This letter is not a diatribe aimed at the entire athletics program or the entire football team. It is a condemnation of the hatred and exclusion we have all witnessed in the past week. Students and student-athletes are one in the same, distinguished by our gender/orientation/race/religion-neutral demonym: Columbian. Protect us and our name—that’s all I ask.
Joseph O’Donnell is a Columbia College first year.
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