Local community members voiced their support of Columbia’s Mobilized African Diaspora demands calling for University action against anti-Blackness at a board meeting Thursday.
Community Board 9, a local advisory board that represents West Harlem and surrounding areas, has formally voted to support the demand letter in a written resolution, where they also urged University President Lee Bollinger to build a relationship with the community premised on “collaboration, respect, and an understanding that the University is part of a greater West Harlem Community.”
In a unanimous vote, 37 members of CB9 formally approved the resolution.
MAD is a University group committed to using its ties to the University to combat anti-Black practices on campus and in the surrounding West Harlem neighborhoods. In a letter addressed to University administrators last month, the group compiled a list of demands meant to hold the University accountable.
A significant portion of the letter, which calls for “a shift from monetary centered support to outcome centered support,” focuses on the University following through with promises it made in the Community Benefits Agreement, a 50-page long document listing $150 million worth of plans for community revitalization.
Brianna Sturkey, BC ’20, a member of MAD, presented the list of demands at the meeting, emphasizing the letter’s role in addressing affordable housing issues caused by the University’s 17-acre Manhattanville expansion. Sturkey emphasized the importance of hearing out community members in the process of drafting out the letter’s demands.
“[Community Board 9 has] already done the work; we’re just trying to use our positions as students and as alumni to help get your voices heard and to get you guys in those rooms with administration so that they can’t shrug you off like they have been doing for years,” Sturkey said.
April Tyler, the board treasurer and co-chair of the Housing, Land Use and Zoning Committee of CB9, said she was impressed with the letter and saw its potential for long-term effects, which she considered a change from students' usual fleeting interest in supporting the community.
“There’re so many groups of students who have come through this community board and used us for our knowledge, used us for what we have done in the community, and they use it to write their papers or they use it to write articles, and then they disappear,” Tyler said.
The letter looks to play the long game by urging Columbia to uphold the Community Benefits Agreement beyond the term date of the agreement, which currently relieves the University of responsibility to the community by the end of 2040.
Sturkey said that among the list of demands, MAD is “big on affordable housing,” especially considering the current age of COVID-19 and related evictions. A lack of affordable housing in the area—a perennial problem in the Morningside Heights and West Harlem neighborhoods—was a major point of concern covered in the MAD demand letter.
The letter calls for the University to denounce the use of eminent domain, collaborate with the West Harlem Development Corporation to increase access to affordable housing, and maintain University-owned, rent-controlled, and rent-stabilized privately owned units, among other demands.
Among other topics on the meeting agenda were issues surrounding health care, affordable housing, education, and homelessness, which were heightened by the pandemic.
Barry Weinberg, chair of CB9, said that the pandemic has brought West Harlem and Morningside Heights to a “pivotal point” in the neighborhoods' histories, emphasizing his concern for students' online school experience and resulting academic struggles.
“The futures of these kids ten, fifteen, twenty years down the line, these critical moments and months and years in their lives have continued to snowball, so that is one of my primary concerns, and what we are doing to reach them and engage them and enrich their lives in ways is hugely important now, even more than it was a year ago,” Weinberg said.
Weinberg explained that the letter calls to not only fund programs listed in the Community Benefits Agreement but also to aim for positive outcomes across the board in regard to social issues.
“If you look at certain things like the idea of making the Community Benefits Agreement as something that’s about outcomes rather than dollar amounts, I think that’s powerful [...] it’s really addressing an issue that’s in the community and making sure collectively we overcome that issue and fix it,” Weinberg said.