Content warning: this post includes descriptions of physical violence against a black student.
On Thursday night, Barnard Public Safety detained a black male student inside the Milstein Center. According to a Facebook post by Barnard sophomore Alexis Rabkin, Public Safety officers “pinned down” this student, “took away” his student ID, and “tried to force him to leave the building.” While the identity of the student is unknown at this time, Rabkin’s post says that the student wished for the incident to be shared and “spread around on social media.”
According to eyewitness and Barnard sophomore Cara Hudson-Erdman (a former Bwog staffer who took no part in writing this post), there was a commotion in the Milstein Center sometime between 11:30 and 11:45 PM. A man was heard saying, “Why are you putting your hands on me?” drawing a small crowd of students. A group of four to seven Barnard Public Safety Officers were seen crowding the student in front of the counter at Peet’s, giving him no room to move. The officers asked him “forcefully” for his ID, and were heard saying that they would figure out if he was an active student. An officer then took the student’s ID and refused to give it back even after the student requested it.
Instead, the officers told the student they would escort him from the building, to which the student responded that he had just shown his ID and didn’t see why he would need to leave. According to Hudson-Erdman, Public Safety “couldn’t provide any reason why the student had to leave Milstein / be escorted out by a group of officers.” Nearby students reportedly also asked Public Safety why they had pinned the student down, to which an officer responded that he “had only put his hand on the student’s back (and tried to demonstrate). Public safety was being very brusque and condescending with other Barnard students who were asking why this was happening.”
Additionally, Bwog has received and reviewed a video taken shortly after the incident in question. In it, a visibly distressed black student is seen addressing a group of at least five Public Safety Officers on the first floor of the Milstein Center, saying “You saw my ID. What else do you need to see?” and “I’m a student here. This is ridiculous. You put your hands on me. I didn’t touch anybody.” He then apologizes to the crowd before the Public Safety officers exit the scene.
Though it is Barnard policy to ID those entering the Barnard gates after 11 PM, it’s not common knowledge at Columbia, and Hudson-Erdman reported that the student told Public Safety that he was unaware of the policy. Other students in similar situations have not faced the same sort of violence, raising questions of whether racial profiling played a role in the incident. Rabkin’s Facebook post makes a call for other students to reach out to the Barnard administration and ask them to “reconsider what public safety’s role is” on campus. “Public safety is supposed to protect its students,” Rabkin’s post says, “not police, profile, and scare them.”
When contacted by Bwog, Barnard confirmed that a student entered the main gates after 11 PM and failed to produce an ID when asked. The statement goes on to say that “repeated requests were made for identification and the student eventually complied,” after which he was allowed to remain on campus. The statement made no reference to the violence experienced by the student, the Public Safety’s attempts to remove him from campus, or the behavior of Public Safety toward other students on the scene. Similarly, it did not address student questions of racial profiling.
In a statement to the student body several hours later, President Beilock wrote that she has spoken to the Vice President of Public Safety and that “We deeply regret that this incident occurred, and we are undertaking a thorough review of our public safety officers’ actions, and will address our processes and procedures and how they are applied.” Those who are interested in sharing their thoughts about the incident are encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org or attend at a listening session with representatives from Public Safety, the Deans of the College, Furman Counseling, and the Office of Equity at 5 PM in the James Room. This statement similarly makes no direct mention of the violence experienced by the student or the questions of racial profiling.
Update, 9:07 pm: Students are holding a protest against Public Safety’s handling of the incident. We’re including a liveblog of the protest below.
Update, 7:13 pm: Given the identification of the student, we’ve updated the description of “person of color” to “black person.”
Update, 4:40 pm: Two Columbia administrators have made statements to students regarding this event. First, Cristin Kromm, Dean of Undergraduate Student Life for Columbia College and the School of Engineering, forwarded President Beilock’s statement to the CC and SEAS student body, with a note that Columbia administrators “recognize the hurt and pain that many students may be feeling.” Columbia Multicultural Affairs and Undergraduate Student Life will additionally hold a reflection session tonight from 6 to 7 pm in 505 Lerner Hall. Dean Kromm’s email similarly does not mention the violence and racial profiling experienced by the student.
Melinda Aquino, Associate Dean of Multicultural Affairs, additionally sent a statement specifically to a listserv of LGBTQ+ students in CC and SEAS. Her message is the first statement from administrators to acknowledge this event as an incident of racial profiling: “We share in the deep upset and know this brings much pain and reminder of the anti-black violence, racist profiling, police brutality, and systemic racism that plagues our communities. We denounce these and all acts of hate.”
Dean Aquino’s message also emphasizes the reflection session taking place in Lerner tonight from 6 to 7 pm.
Both of Barnard’s statements are included in full below:
“Barnard College is committed to the safety of our students, faculty, staff and guests. For this reason, anyone entering the gates after 11pm is required to show a valid ID. A Columbia University student entered the main gate after 11pm and did not produce ID when asked to do so by Barnard Safety Officers. While inside the Milstein Center, repeated requests were made for identification and the student eventually complied. The student was then permitted to remain on campus and the issue was resolved. Going forward, we will work on ensuring that our policy is enforced consistently and communicated effectively in keeping with our values.”
Dear Barnard Community,
Barnard College is committed to the safety and security of our students, faculty, staff, and guests. Over the past few months, we have engaged students, faculty, and staff in conversations about how best to achieve these goals.
As many of you are aware, there was an unfortunate incident last night in the Milstein Center that has raised concerns about our safety and security policies and how they are enforced. I have spoken to Roger Mosier, our Vice President for Campus Services, about last night’s events. We deeply regret that this incident occurred, and we are undertaking a thorough review of our public safety officers’ actions, and will address our processes and procedures and how they are applied.
Incidents like the one last night highlight the need for us to continue our campus-wide conversations around public safety and to ensure that our policies are clear and are consistent with our values. We appreciate that students have raised such concerns and helped to spark an important dialogue and self-reflection.
We are aware that more work needs to be done to ensure that our entire community feels welcome, safe, and protected. We are dedicated to doing this work in concert with all of you.
We are interested in hearing your views and have established an email address for this specific purpose. Please send any concerns you want to express to Communityresponse@barnard.edu.
There will be a listening session tonight at 5:00 PM in the James Room with representatives from Public Safety, the Deans of the College, Furman Counseling, and the Office of Equity. Your input is important as we all work to make Barnard a place where different viewpoints and lived experiences come together in an environment free of fear and hate.
Sian Leah Beilock
Please contact email@example.com if you have more information about this incident and would like to give a statement. We will update this post if we receive more information from witnesses and/or the university.
Update at 9:31 PM, 4/12: Barnard announced in its listening hours that the officers involved will be placed on administrative leave while an outside firm investigates what happened. They will be paid while on leave.
The Milstein Center via Bwog Staff