UPDATED: Barnard College will be seeking a new Executive Director of Public Safety as one of three steps taken to reform the agency after the assault of a black Columbia student in the Milstein Center last spring, according to a statement emailed to the Barnard community by President Sian Beilock on Thursday.
Antonio Gonzalez, the previous Executive Director of Public Safety, worked at Barnard for 12 years. Amy Zavadil, who served as Barnard Associate Dean for Equity from 2011 to 2017, will fill the role in the interim. Zavadil’s first change, de-escalation training for all current and incoming Public Safety personnel, will begin this summer.
A video widely circulated on social media showed six Barnard Public Safety officers forcefully restraining a black student, Alexander McNab CC ‘19, who entered the Milstein Center without showing his Columbia ID on April 11, 2019. The officers involved were placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation, which has now concluded. Beilock’s statement, emailed to the Barnard student population at 1 pm today, made no mention of what repercussions, if any, the officers involved in the assault will face.
Barnard will also increase enforcement of the 11 pm campus entry policy at the center of the assault case, with signage appearing “across campus at all entrance gates,” according to the letter. Per the policy, all individuals entering Barnard’s campus after 11 pm must present their Columbia student ID to the Public Safety officers monitoring the entries. Though Public Safety claimed to apply the policy universally, black students recounted being unfairly required to present their ID after 11 pm while white students were not.
Many students claimed that the assault was an even more salient example of racial profiling on campus. The official report, released by the consulting firm T&M Protection Resources, LLC, noted that they “did not find evidence to support a determination that race was a factor in the confrontation between BCPS [Barnard Columbia Public Safety] and the Columbia University student.” This starkly contradicts the opinions of McNab, eyewitnesses, fellow students and even members of the administration like Natalie Friedman, Dean of Studies and co-interim Dean of Barnard College, who called the attack “a racist incident” during a listening session following the assault. However, the report does indicate that there’s a lack of consistency in how Public Safety officers respond to individual events due to “a lack of updated written guidelines, policies, and training.” This inconsistent enforcement results in “a perception, if not a reality, of disparate treatment of individuals with whom BCPS interacts on campus.”
Finally, Beilock’s email brought attention to the Barnard Community Safety Group, a group established last spring in order to “increase transparency and community engagement with safety on campus.” In her email, Beilock calls on the group to “assess the climate regarding perceptions and experiences of biased treatment and to recommend additional actions we can take to uphold our policy of nondiscrimination.”
McNab’s assault sparked widespread outrage on campus, with many coming forward to share similar stories of racial discrimination at Columbia. Students led multiple protests in the Milstein Center and on Low Steps in the days after the assault, chanting slogans like “Public Safety is anti-black” and “Public Safety is not safe.”
Though Beilock didn’t name McNab in her email, she closed the email by calling the video of his assault “deeply troubling and antithetical to Barnard’s mission.” Beilock and other members of the administration were criticized for their failure to condemn the assault as racist during listening sessions hosted after the incident.
The full text of the letter from Sian Beilock, as well as the report resulting from the investigation, below.
Dear Barnard Community,
I am writing with an update on the external investigation into the confrontation that took place on April 11, 2019, between Barnard Public Safety officers and a black Columbia University student. This altercation was deeply concerning to us. To better understand how it could have occurred, the College hired an independent investigative firm to look into the specific incident, how it started and then escalated. I wanted to share the findings as soon as I received them and to also make clear that this investigation represents just one aspect of our broader efforts to improve community safety and to ensure that all who visit, study, live, and work on our campus feel welcome and safe. As I know it is summer, you can expect another update shortly after the start of fall classes.
I have heard from many in our community who expressed an urgent need for the College to take the necessary steps to address any racial and other forms of bias and inequitable enforcement of campus policies. I am committed to being part of that change and to working with all of you to create a campus culture that respects and appreciates diversity and ensures that everyone is treated equitably. As an institution focused on academic excellence, we cannot achieve our scholarly goals without a diverse and inclusive community. Campus security is an important part of this work, but it doesn’t stop there, extending to all aspects of campus life both inside and outside the classroom.
The external investigation was initiated on April 23, 2019, and has now concluded. (Here you can find the full investigation report, details about the process, and a list of Campus Safety FAQs.) The investigators reported on community perceptions of racial bias. They also cited flawed policies and training that may lead to biased enforcement. As detailed in the investigation report, Barnard Public Safety includes officers who are dedicated to their mission and who succeed in keeping our campus safe from crime. However, the investigators found that Public Safety’s response in this incident was not consistent with best practices and served to intensify the confrontation, rather than de-escalate it. The report also makes clear that a lack of updated, written policies and procedures and clear guidelines for Public Safety officers contributed to the severity of the confrontation. Without the very best in training, each officer responds to events differently and — as noted in the report — creates a “perception, if not a reality, of disparate treatment of individuals with whom [Public Safety] interacts on campus.” These are systemic failures that affect everyone involved: the officers and the community members they interact with.
The investigators’ findings demand serious attention, and we are acting promptly to make needed changes in the operations of Barnard Public Safety. As a first step, we are changing leadership of Barnard Public Safety. While we conduct a national search for a new Executive Director of Public Safety and Emergency Management, I am grateful to Amy Zavadil, who will serve in this role on an interim basis. Ms. Zavadil holds a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision and most recently served as University of Dayton’s Equity Compliance Officer. She knows the Barnard community, having served as Associate Dean for Equity from 2011 to 2017. As Interim Executive Director, Ms. Zavadil will help us make necessary improvements to the Public Safety Department, address important issues related to culture and inclusion, and implement the recommendations of the report. One recommendation, training in de-escalation tactics for all current and incoming Public Safety personnel, began this summer.
Second, in an effort to effectively communicate our safety policies, our 11 p.m. entry policy now appears on signage across campus at all entrance gates and on the Public Safety section of the website and will continue to be included in the Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, which can be found online and is shared with all students, faculty, and staff at the beginning of each academic year. Many in the Barnard community report that this policy has been enforced inconsistently in the past, and we commit to addressing that immediately. These modifications are only the beginning stages of Barnard’s efforts to ensure the consistent application of our policies and procedures and equitable treatment for all members of our community and guests to our campus.
Third, as I wrote to you about previously, we created the Barnard Community Safety Group last spring to increase transparency and community engagement with safety on campus. Now chaired by Ariana González Stokas, Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Molree Williams-Lendor, Executive Director of Equity, this Group will work closely with Ms. Zavadil to review current policies (making sure they are transparent and equitably enforced) and help in Barnard’s assessment of campus openness and security more broadly. I am also asking this Group to assess the climate regarding perceptions and experiences of biased treatment and to recommend additional actions we can take to uphold our policy of nondiscrimination. You can find more information on the Group here and can expect an update on their planned work shortly after the start of fall classes.
What we witnessed in videos of the April 11 confrontation was deeply troubling and antithetical to Barnard’s mission. Racial and other forms of bias — though often systematic and institutionalized — are unacceptable in our community. I am grateful to all in the Barnard community who have shared their personal concerns, experiences, and suggestions to help us continue to build a campus community that values each individual and treats every person equitably. The honest conversations and exchange of ideas have not always been easy, but they are vital to strengthening our ability to create a culture that is genuinely respectful and embraces and learns from our differences. I look forward to doing this important work together.
Sian Leah Beilock
Update August 22, 2019 12:30 PM: Bwog reached out to Barnard regarding the employment status of the six Public Safety officers originally pictured in videos of the assault. Barnard declined to comment.
Update August 19, 2019 5:10 PM: Alexander McNab’s legal representation, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), has reached out to us with the following statement.
LDF Statement on Racial Profiling Incident at Barnard College
On April 11, 2019, Alexander McNab, a recent Columbia University graduate, was the victim of excessive force as a result of racial profiling by Barnard College Public Safety (BCPS). Unfortunately, Barnard’s investigation and report about the incident does not allay our concerns that the confrontation between Mr. McNab and BCPS personnel was unwarranted and unjustified, and that race played a factor in BCPS’s disproportionate reaction to the situation.
Janai Nelson, Associate Director-Counsel at LDF says, “The actions taken by the BCPS against Mr. McNab not only vilified and demeaned him as a student at the university, they violate Barnard College policy. LDF firmly believes that racial profiling played a substantial role in this incident, despite the report’s cursory and conclusory assessment that it did not.”
Racial profiling is a chronic problem within law enforcement systems, and universities are, unfortunately, not exempt from this harmful, at times lethal, policing tactic.
“It is clear that there is much work to be done on the Barnard campus to ensure that the entire Barnard and Columbia community can feel secure that they won’t be racially profiled,” says Raymond Audain, Senior Counsel at LDF. “Every student should be able to walk their campus freely without fear of prejudice from anyone, but most importantly, safety enforcement staff.”