A group of primarily black Columbia underclassmen were harassed outside Butler Library around 4 a.m. Sunday morning by a white student shouting, “White people are the best thing that happened to the world” and “We built modern civilization,” according to students present at the scene.
Julian von Abele, CC ’21, followed the students from outside Butler to JJ’s Place, where he continued to berate them with racist and white supremacist comments in an incident that was captured on video by students and has since gone viral on social media.
Von Abele did not respond to a request for comment sent Sunday afternoon.
This incident follows a string of hate crimes targeted at students of color at Ivy League Institutions in past couple of years. A black student at Cornell was physically beaten by other students in a racially motivated attack last year. In 2016, Harvard students received an email with the subject line “Fight white genocide—vote Trump!” which was signed by a group calling itself Educators and Students Against White Genocide. Additionally, sightings of white supremacist propaganda on college campuses across the country has increased by 258 percent from fall 2016 to fall 2017.
In a statement sent to students Sunday evening, the deans of Columbia College, the School of General Studies, and the School of Engineering and Applied Science denounced the “racially charged incident,” and invited undergraduates to an open reflection on Monday night from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in Lerner Hall. Barnard administrators also emailed students reiterating the importance of campus safety in regard to diversity and inclusion.
The Black Student Organization and the Student Organization of Latinxs released statements in solidarity with the students harassed last night. A statement released by Black Students’ Organization referenced how von Abele also physically grabbed another student during this encounter and asked them if black women like to date white men.
Kwolanne Felix, CC ’22, who was a part of the group harassed by von Abele, advocated for the University to respond effectively to the incident.
“I really hope that 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,” Felix said.
After being notified of the incident, University Senator Alfredo Dominguez, CC ’19, emailed Columbia College Dean James Valentini, Executive Director of Student Engagement Josh Lucas, University President Lee Bollinger, and Vice Provost for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Dennis Mitchell Sunday afternoon calling for disciplinary action. In his email, Dominguez urged the administration to issue a “swift, disavowing response.”
“You can have arguments all you want about free speech and people being entitled to say what they want,” Dominguez said in an interview with Spectator. “But when that bubbles [into] assaulting black or brown people with that and then stalking them ... you’re getting into levels of hate crime and your speech being directly related to violence.”
In response to Dominguez’s email, Dean of Multicultural Affairs Melinda Aquino said that the University is working to address the matter and taking student concerns seriously.
Dominguez also reportedly received an email from a group of anonymous Columbia students calling itself “Justice for Julian.” In the email, the group stated its support for von Abele, claiming that the statements he made were neither racist nor a threat to students of color.
In light of the incident, Dominguez highlighted the need for more consistent diversity programming that requires students to engage in conversation over the course of their four years at Columbia, rather than just during the one-time Under One Roof program, which students must complete during the New Student Orientation Program.
“There needs to be more dialogue,” he said. “It’s not like this person just started on Columbia’s campus—they’ve been here for a year and a half and are still thinking about people this way. It’s clear that the University needs to take a further stance about better educating its students more holistically.”
It is still unclear if any disciplinary measures will be taken against von Abele.
Check back for updates.
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