It’s the return of three hour CCSC meetings! Bwogger Nadra Rahman reports on Republicans, retorts, and well-meaning reports. Oh, and there are a few updates on Lerner space.
The Columbia University College Republicans (CUCR) have come under fire this semester, drawing attention for hosting white nationalist Tommy Robinson at a heavily-protested campus event, and for planning an event with the alt-right figure Mike Cernovich—controversially, protesters of the Robinson event are currently being disciplined by the University. In response to these actions, the Black Students Organization (BSO) drafted a statement asking the Student Governing Board (SGB) to derecognize CUCR and redistribute its funding to “SGB groups who are targets of this hateful ideology” such as Muslim, women/femme-focused, queer and trans, or people of color-focused groups. Last night, BSO asked CCSC to endorse their statement or consider entering into the SGB adjudication process alongside BSO.
Ultimately, CCSC did neither, but took a meaningful step in resolving to file a report on CUCR that will be reviewed by the Student Group Adjudication Board.
The thrust of BSO’s statement is that CUCR, by inviting hateful, offensive speakers who espouse violence and white supremacy, has violated its responsibility to the Columbia community. The statement reads:
When you attempt to intellectualize the fruitfulness of literal hate speech, you dehumanize your peers. Your failure to distinguish between that which is merely contrarian and that which is truly intellectually diverse treads a dangerous line that rationalizes and seeks to continue the legacy of violence against non-white, non-cisgender, non-heterosexual peoples. You are unfit to be a member of this community. You disregard your responsibility with reckless abandon. And now we, the community of which you consider yourselves a part, revoke your standing as a legitimate organization.
It further clarifies that BSO’s request does not constitute censorship, but rather takes away CUCR’s platform and funding, which should be contingent on valuable contributions to the Columbia community.
At the meeting, BSO President Braxton Gunter and other board members further elaborated, speaking to what they called CUCR’s “misappropriation of freedom of speech discourse,” its “wild misuse of funding,” and the role of Columbia community members in deciding what is in line with our values, and as such should receive recognition and funding. Said Gunter, “This [programming] spits in the face of Muslim students, this spits in the face of black students, this spits in the face of queer and trans students.” Political Chair Corrine Civil added, “It’s hard to call this intellectual diversity when you are debating our humanity.”
At this point, CUCR gave its own presentation. The CUCR representatives all characterized the ideas of Robinson and Cernovich as “abhorrent” and “vile,” but defended their right to host the controversial figures on the basis of free speech. They noted that speakers are not simply given platforms to speak, but are subjected to questions, mostly posed by left-leaning students, that result in “productive discussion” and benefit the student body. They also made the important distinction that the events in question had been funded by outside contributions from alumni and groups independent of the University, not SGB funding. The overarching contention of the presentation was that regardless of these few, highly-scrutinized events, CUCR simply cannot be derecognized, or Columbia risks facing an unacceptable dearth of intellectual diversity on campus—the CUCR Director of Communications called the possibility one of “negative profundity.”
CCSC members asked clarifying questions of CUCR, focusing mainly on CUCR’s choice to bring speakers like Robinson and Cernovich to campus. Inclusion and Equity Rep Elise Fuller asked why videos were not shown instead, which could then provoke discussion among a different set of speakers. Other CCSC members asked why, if CUCR members were so vehemently opposed to the ideas of these speakers, the club had decided to give them a platform. The answers provided focused once again on the need to provide a space for intellectual debate, though some found this unconvincing. USenator Omar Khan pointed out the futility of debating with someone whose ideas are “incompatible with me as a human being.” 2020 Rep Grant Pace wondered why speakers had to be invited to understand the mindset that got Trump elected, “when I could basically…call my family.” And VP Nicole Allicock suggested that any “debate” would change neither the minds of the speakers, nor of the liberal students who had walked in to question them.
2018 Rep Matt Neky referred to Cernovich’s “exceptionally offensive” ideas about date rape and sexual assault, calling them incompatible with Columbia’s culture and with the steps being taken by the school to combat sexual assault—at which point he was accused of mansplaining by a CUCR member. The member stated that while Cernovich might hold vile beliefs, it is improper to eradicate the entire club, and the only (open) representation of conservative thought on campus, on the basis of a single event. CUCR Director of Operations Joey Siegel added that the “autonomous adults” who would attend any speaker event could on their own determine that these, and any similar ideas, were abhorrent.
The question period revealed that while the speakers’ fees may have been paid by outside groups, the facilities and security fee had to have come out of CUCR’s SGB allocation—which comes from our student activities fees.
Discussion continued after the question period ended, with Academic Affairs Rep Dafne Murillo commenting on the fact that derecognition would not silence conservative thought, especially if CUCR had the capacity to put on events with outside funding. The members would still exist and the group would still exist—spaces could still be booked and events hosted, even if co-sponsorships are needed to do so. This sentiment was echoed by Rosin and Gunter, who suggested that mediation or derecognition be viewed as a path to re-recognition that requires CUCR to think more “thoughtfully” about the ways that its events can build community.
Overwhelmingly, CCSC members seemed to feel as though CUCR, by bringing in such divisive speakers, had failed in its responsibility to organize responsibly, a matter of particular importance because student fees had gone toward the event. VP Campus Life Alex Cedar went so far as to claim the events fetishized hate speech and were “a publicity stunt to inflame tension,” distinguishing between PrezBo’s condemnation of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when the latter spoke at the World Leader’s Forum in 2007, and CUCR’s lack of any similar critique at their first Robinson event last year. Others, such as Student Services Rep Monique Harmon and Alumni Affairs Rep Maria Fernanda Martinez, spoke to concerns about mental health, which were dismissed by Siegel. In response to Harmon, Siegel asked how a statement alone could rob someone of their humanity. Later, he said that protecting emotional or mental well-being is a “flimsy” criterion for censoring speech, a statement which was challenged by multiple members. Martinez, for example, cited statistically-proven linkages between emotional well-being and physical safety. Khan asked where CUCR drew the line, if not at harming mental health: Robinson, as head of the English Defense League, had advocated for and organized violence—why was he, as a speaker, not already deemed dangerous and violent? (Here, Siegel made a strange analogy comparing Robinson to prisoners who are given the opportunity to learn from Columbia professors, in that he doesn’t “hold [their criminal past] against them,” but rather focuses on the present possibility of an outbreak of violence.) VP Communications Sreya Pinnamaneni commented that none of these arguments could justify the suppression of viewpoints, but rather illustrated the need for even more free speech to combat speech deemed offensive.
Ultimately, CUCR members resisted committing to not host similar speakers in the future, citing the need to gauge a group consensus. Siegel hesitated to agree with Allicock’s recommendation that a dialogue be opened on the appropriateness of future speakers, though he said the club was “always open to a conversation,” after nudging from his fellow members.
After two hours of discussion, it seemed as though the representatives had come to an agreement, with similar points on community-building and mental health circulating throughout the room: while full derecognition might be too far, CUCR had to be held accountable for its actions. However, a surprising result emerged. Instead of going forward with one of the options BSO had presented, 2019 Rep Sofia Petros motioned to have CCSC file a report to the Student Group Adjudication Board, to which she is the CCSC representative. This adjudication process would be different from the SGB mediation, in that it is more external (with representatives from all schools involved) and designed to handle such complaints. The process could result in anything from CUCR losing its ability to book spaces, to full derecognition, though as noted, even derecognition would be temporary.
CCSC voted unanimously to file the report, with the specific language slated for finalization sometime this week.
The Lerner space discussion was overshadowed by the CUCR debate, but there are some exciting developments in the works for the beloved glass monstrosity/failed student center. USenator Josh Schenk gave a brief presentation on the achievement of short-term space goals in Lerner—the siting of dedicated spaces for people of color and LGBTQ+ students and the establishment of a student food pantry—and the challenges that lie ahead for the medium-term goal, the creation of a 3-story student lounge that would take up space on the 200, 300, and 400 levels of the building.
The 200 level space may be ready as early as next semester, though its creation necessitates the loss of two rooms that are currently reservable (the East and West Ramp Lounges). Based on Schenk’s presentation and recommendations, CCSC members agreed that the construction of the 200 level lounge should coincide with the formation of two new reservable spaces of the same size as the lost lounges, replacing the computer lab on the 300 level. Students can then use a temporary computer lab (fitted with laptops), until it too is rehoused in a site that has already been selected. Of course, final decisions on the timeline will be made by the Senate committee.
(Long-term goals for Lerner, if you’re interested, involve the establishment of a unified student health center that would take the place of the different medical services scattered all over campus and the relocation of administrative offices currently in Lerner.)