The arrest of a Columbia football player for aggravated harassment as a hate crime on Tuesday sparked a campus-wide debate on the University's athletic culture and students' use of offensive language on social media.
The news of the allegation spurred criticisms of racist and homophobic tweets posted by the football player, Chad Washington, CC '15, and his teammates.
Responses from administrators and student leaders varied—some called for specific action, while others were vague denouncements of racism.
And on Thursday night, the episode drew big laughs as the closing act in the marching band's annual Orgo Night routine.
It all began early Sunday morning, when Washington heckled a 19-year-old Asian student and his two female friends as they were leaving a dormitory on W. 113th Street, NBC New York reported. After the victim tried to defend his friends, Washington called him racial slurs and shoved him against a wall, NBC reported.
Washington, who argued that student-athletes deserve more respect in an op-ed for Spectator this semester, was arrested Tuesday evening and was released without bail Wednesday. His lawyer, Daniel Fetterman, said in a statement that the allegations "do not accurately portray the events that occurred."
After news of the incident spread on campus on Wednesday, WKCR compiled a set of 46 tweets made by Washington and several of his teammates that contained racist, homophobic, or otherwise offensive content. Hundreds of commenters on Spectator and Bwog condemned the language used in the tweets.
Although the tweets themselves were unrelated to Washington's arrest, they raised questions about whether the culture of the football team made it acceptable for the players to tweet what they did and whether Athletics administrators and coaches were aware of the tweets. WKCR noted it had found the accounts in part because the official Columbia Lions Twitter account followed those players.
Washington himself manned the @ColumbiaLionsFB account last Wednesday for the team's first-ever "#WingmanWednesday." He tweeted shout-outs to his teammates using their Twitter handles, including some of those whose offensive tweets made WKCR's list.
In a blog post, football head coach Pete Mangurian said team officials had met with players to discuss standards and expectations during training camp.
"I thought that I could expect our players to use much greater responsibility in how they speak and act," Mangurian wrote. "This is what is so disappointing to me."
"The actions of a few affect everyone who touches this program," Mangurian added. "When the headline reads 'A Columbia Football Player,' that includes everyone."
In a joint statement released on Thursday, Athletic Director Dianne Murphy and Mangurian said that they would address the individuals responsible for the offensive tweets and speak with each of the 31 varsity teams.
"This is disheartening and embarrassing for everyone involved," the statement read. "We are working closely with our campus partners to make sure that we are diligent and proactive in our response to this matter."
Murphy and Mangurian stressed that the tweets did not reflect the athletic community as a whole and added that "personal expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and any other form of bigotry are abhorrent."
Another statement, co-signed by Columbia College Dean James Valentini, School of Engineering and Applied Science Interim Dean Donald Goldfarb, School of General Studies Dean Peter Awn, and Murphy, similarly condemned the tweets.
"Offensive messages in any form are unacceptable and fall far beneath the standards of civility and mutual respect we expect of all our students, including student athletes who represent Columbia," the statement read. "We are addressing this matter aggressively with the individuals involved."
Student leaders also responded to the incident. A statement from the Asian American Alliance, joined by a host of more than 50 organizations, said it was not an isolated event.
"The fact that this incident occurred points to a systemic culture of hateful speech and action on Columbia's campus, of which this incident is merely the latest manifestation," the statement read. "We hope that in the coming months and semesters, the University will work with us to discuss and implement stronger programs and policies to combat this culture of hate and violence."
And Thursday night, the outgoing presidents of the four undergraduate student councils and two governing boards called for an independent commission to investigate the offensive tweets, athletic culture, and administrative responses. They made their suggestion in a petition they called "Fix Columbia," which had received 282 signatures by early Friday morning.
The commission, which the petition suggests be comprised of students and faculty, would hire an investigator to explore "what specific incidents have occurred within the Athletics Department and the football program, what culture existed in the program and the department, and what structures were in place to deal with bias either by the players or department faculty," the petition states. It would make recommendations "for changes in the structure, accountability mechanisms, and culture of the Athletics Department" and pertaining to specific students and faculty in a public report by July 31.
And along with the serious responses, the incident also featured prominently in this semester's Orgo Night. The tension of the past two days broke for a few minutes as Butler 209, packed with spectators, exploded into laughter over the episode. The band concluded their routine with football jokes.
"At the end of the day, football players are people too," said Tyler Benedict, CC '13, a Spectator sports columnist, and the poet laureate emeritus of the marching band. "A select few of them are just really shitty people."
Finn Vigeland contributed reporting.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of Washington's lawyer. It is Daniel Fetterman, not David Fetterman. Spectator regrets the error.
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