Around noon on Wednesday, April 14, a staff member at Union Theological Seminary found a noose hanging from metal pipes in an elevator room on the roof of McGiffert Hall, a residential building for students and faculty on Claremont Avenue. The New York Police Department is investigating the incident as a hate crime.
“We are deeply disturbed and devastated by the discovery of a noose on Union’s campus,” UTS President Serene Jones wrote in a statement. “We have always strived to make Union a welcoming, inclusive, and secure place for all. This racist and threatening act is directly antithetical to those core values.”
It was unclear how long the noose had been hanging in the building. Jones said there was no indication of “an explicit continued threat” and that UTS will take steps to further secure the campus. A suspect has not yet been identified, and according to the New York Police Department, no arrests have been made.
“In light of heightened concerns in recent weeks related both to bias-related incidents, the Chauvin trial and other national events, the University has made available additional mental health counseling resources through Columbia Health on Morningside and Student Health on Haven at CUIMC,” a University spokesperson wrote in a statement to Spectator. “We are committed to supporting students’ overall well-being, including their mental health needs.”
This is not the first racist incident specifically involving a noose to occur in connection to the Columbia community. In 2014, a noose was placed on Madonna Constantine’s door at Teacher’s College. At the time, University President Lee Bollinger denounced the event. Bollinger has yet to personally comment on the most recent racist incident at UTS.
Last year, numerous incidents involving anti-Semitic and anti-Asian vandalism occurred directly on Columbia’s campus, even while many students were studying remotely. Swastikas have been drawn on Low Steps and in East Campus. Anti-Chinese messages were written over Butler Library right before the pandemic outbreak in the United States. In addition, throughout the past two decades, at least five anti-Black racist incidents were documented at Columbia. These racist acts have drawn more forceful criticism from the University administration over time, with the most recent being the denouncement of the physical assault of Alexander McNab, CC ’19, by Barnard Public Safety officers in 2019.
This occurrence at UTS is the latest in a string of racist incidents in connection to Columbia’s campus over the past few years that have challenged the University’s capacity to keep its students and faculty safe. The fact that the incident occurred on the UTS campus is also notable, given recent attempts by the school to better serve its community after many Black students shared their harmful experiences with the school in a virtual town hall in April of last year.
Since the town hall, UTS has introduced a Religion and the Black Experience concentration. The school also created a racial task force committee to conduct anti-Black racism training—although some Black students have expressed concern that the task force cannot make significant changes without comprehensive support from the institution—and an anonymous $100,000 donation to the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary in March is set to expand racial justice programming.
After the incident last week, a group of Black seminarians at UTS expressed frustration with administrators’ response. In a letter addressed to President Jones, the UTS administration and UTS Board members, the students who wrote the letter called the noose an “unambiguous and direct threat” and accused school leaders of not handling the situation properly. The letter claims administrators did not directly reach out to the Black caucuses on campus or offer them any “sufficient” support in the aftermath of the incident. They also criticized the administration for increasing campus security rather than fixing the security protocols that are already in place.
The letter includes seven demands, including an apology from Jones, an extension for capstone projects that were due April 16, a reconsideration of increased security presence with an alternative strategy that does not involve the NYPD, and an independent forensic investigation, to name a few. A spokesperson for UTS confirmed that Jones reached out to the students after the letter was received.
“These appeals to safety—in the absence of real accountability and redress for ineffective security policies already in place, and in light of a historical culture of silence and gaslighting from the administration—only reify the American police and surveillance state in which we currently live and do not rectify the traumas Black students are experiencing in real time,” the students wrote in the letter. “Where is the recognition and sensitivity to the Black psyche and its right to fragility?”
Information about Columbia’s Counseling and Psychological Services can be found here, and about Barnard’s Rosemary Furman Counseling Center here. Students on- and off-campus may contact the CPS clinician-on-call, available 24/7, at (212) 854-2878. Columbia Nightline provides free, anonymous peer listening services and can be reached at 212-854-7777. A full list of Columbia’s health and well-being resources can be found here.
Staff writer Zach Schermele can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ZachSchermele.
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