Columbia University Leadership Responds to the Death of George Floyd

June 03, 2020

On June 1, the president of Columbia University, Lee C. Bollinger, shared a statement with the Columbia community reflecting on recent events and the death of George Floyd. Following his statement, numerous leaders throughout the University have shared similar messages that you can find below.

Dear Colleagues, 

What we have witnessed over the past week is causing all of us to confront the intolerable state of racial injustice that exists in our nation. The inexcusable actions that killed George Floyd, as well as other recent deaths and racially motivated events, are inconsistent with our basic commitment to a civil and just society. Columbia University Irving Medical Center insists upon diversity and inclusion, ranging from our student body and staff to our dedication to our neighborhood and patients. We will not tolerate racism or any of its manifestations. 

At this moment, however, we all are appropriately concerned that the values on which the university and the health care professions are built are not universally shared, and that our nation is moving backwards. We cannot allow our leaders to dismiss these values, any more than we can permit them to politicize our research or demonize researchers whose findings are not consistent with their world view. We must ask ourselves what we can do in our professional and personal lives to help create the conditions needed for our nation and our society to move closer to the ideals we cherish.

An excellent way to start is to endorse the recommendations made today by the Association of American Medical Colleges:

  • We must acknowledge and speak out against all forms of racism, discrimination, and bias in our environments in our institutions, communities, and society.
  • We must stand in solidarity with the Black community and speak out against unjust and inhumane incidents of violence. 
  • We must demonstrate empathy and compassion and acknowledge the pain and grief that the families and the communities of these victims are experiencing.
  • We must take the lead in educating ourselves and others to address these issues head on.
  • We must be deliberate and partner with local communities, public health agencies, and municipal governments to dismantle structural racism and end police brutality. 
  • We must employ anti-racist and unconscious bias training and engage in interracial dialogues that will dispel the misrepresentations that dehumanize our Black community members and other marginalized groups.
  • We must move from rhetoric to action to eliminate the inequities in our care, research, and education of tomorrow’s doctors.

To all of the Columbia University Irving Medical Center community—faculty, staff, and students—our institution and I personally stand with you against racism, intolerance, and injustice. Even in this time of sorrow, let us resolve to be leaders in striving for a better future.

Lee Goldman, MD
Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine
Chief Executive, Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Dear Columbia Nursing Community,

Nursing is, at its core, about caring. It’s about social justice and health equity.

It is thus inherent in nurses, no matter the color of our skin, to be outraged about the injustice, pain, and anguish that African American communities have experienced and are experiencing. Our country has for far too long been torn apart by racism—in its overt and violent forms as well as, just as surely and insidiously, in its subtle and unintended forms.

The senseless killings of unarmed African Americans including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor must end. It is long past time to redress our society’s enormous, systemic wrongs toward people of color.  We must ensure that heinous acts like the one last week never occur again.

In addition, to have such an act occur in the midst of a pandemic that is taking a disproportionate toll on communities of color in this country—to have the insults compound each other—makes the accumulated injuries nearly unbearable. Racism is a public health threat that we must and can counter at every opportunity.

All of you receiving this message have chosen nursing—or the support of nursing—as your life’s work. It thus falls to each and every one of us to help heal these injuries. To care. To treat every person with dignity and respect, no matter their race or ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, gender, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, mental health, or cognitive, sensory, or physical disabilities. Everyone. Without fail.

I pledge that Columbia Nursing, as an institution and as an aggregation of individuals, will continue to stand definitively and vociferously against slights and insults large and small toward people of color. And we will do our very best to push society at large toward doing better than it has done.

As nurses, we can do nothing less.

Our community is here to support you through this time. Please feel free to reach out to the School of Nursing’s Office of Student Affairs, our Office of Diversity and Cultural Affairs, and CUIMC’s Offices of Student Mental Health Services and Wellness for support.

Lorraine Frazier, RN, PhD, FAAN
Dean, Columbia University School of Nursing
Mary O’Neil Mundinger Professor of Nursing
Senior Vice President, Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Dear Columbia Mailman Community, 

I am deeply pained as, yet again, anti-Black violence has demonstrated the continuing racism, discrimination, and hatred faced by communities of color in our country. Our hearts and thoughts are with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and their families, friends, and communities.
    
Every person has a right to dignity, safety, wellbeing, and health. These incidents, which are just the latest in a long line of anti-Black violence, demonstrate how far we are from ensuring those basic rights to all individuals.  As a public health community, we know that anti-Black violence is an epidemic, and we must develop solutions to end it.  The devastating impact of COVID-19 on communities of color has also laid bare the legacies of health inequities and injustice experienced by communities of color in our country, which are rooted in our history of slavery and upheld systemically throughout our society.  
    
As public health professionals who teach, research, and live the social determinants of health, we must do the hard work of individual and collective examination of racism, whiteness, and white privilege in our own School and beyond. Last year, we commemorated the 400th anniversary of the arrival of more than 20 Africans in Jamestown, Virginia who were sold into bondage with a critical exploration of the legacy of white supremacy, which continues to persist in our world. The educational, research, and administrative leaders of the School are committed to taking action to confront this legacy and be part of the solution. In the coming weeks, you will hear more about our  continuation and expansion of our efforts. 
    
In this time of grief and outrage, please know that our community is here for you. Resources are available, including remote emotional and mental services at CUIMC and Morningside, the Office of Student Affairs, the Office of Diversity, Culture, and Inclusion, and Religious Life.
   
If you are feeling vulnerable or have questions about how to support and stand in solidarity with members of our community, please reach out to Dr. Raygine DiAquoi in the Office of Diversity, Culture, and Inclusion (rcd60@columbia.edu).
    
I am also sharing University Life’s message, below. We stand with our colleagues across the University to denounce these acts of hate and violence.
    
Best,

Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH

Dean and DeLamar Professor of Public Health
Mailman School of Public Health
Senior Vice President
Columbia University Medical Center
Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine

Dear GSAS Community,

As we enter the 13th week since classes were suspended on the Columbia University campus to protect our community from further spread of the Coronavirus, many among us and across the nation find themselves at even greater risk of related and new harms now. This past week has seen uprisings in Louisville, Columbus, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, here in New York City, as well as in smaller cities and towns, as people of all backgrounds express deep, persisting pain and outrage in response to the murders of Black citizens. This, even in the midst of a global pandemic. This, even at the hands of the systems put in place to protect us all.

Sadly, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breanna Taylor, and most recently George Floyd are not unusual, and instead serve as a reminder that we live in a nation still marred by a legacy of anti-Black racist ideologies and systems. For those among us who identify and are perceived by others as Black, no reminder was necessary, for this is the reality of our daily lives. The fear, anger, distrust, and, at the same time, the extra care for those who share our experience, are the undercurrent against which we enact our various role expectations on this campus: as students, as scholars, as peers, and as colleagues and friends.
 
We cannot let this moment pass without acknowledging its impact on all of us, and especially those in our community who are personally and directly affected. Not only have Black citizens been specifically targeted by others in the examples of Arbery, Taylor, and Floyd, but also disproportionately harmed by our nation’s systems for law enforcement and criminal justice, health and medical care, housing, employment, and education. The historical and persisting disparities in these systems have contributed to disproportionate diagnoses and deaths among members of our Black and LatinX communities, where in many states these populations account for as many as one-half and one-third of all cases, respectively. To ignore or to remain silent in the face of these facts is to be unwittingly complicit in the assault against Black and Brown lives.
 
Harm to any of us is harm to us all. It should not take the disproportionate loss of life to murder and disease to awaken us to persisting racial inequities in our nation and in our institutions.

In the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, we conceive of diversity as an intellectual and ethical project that pertains to the university community as a whole: as a living and evolving set of practices and goals that require our constant vigilance and commitment if they are to be achieved. We are called upon to invoke this vigilance and take concrete, corrective, and healing action.
  
At the wake of the pandemic, members of our community who are Asian and Asian-American were and continue to be subjected to bias stemming from unfounded fears about exposure to the virus. The GSAS Students of Color Alliance took an active stand against these biases, issuing a public statement of solidarity and resistance and desisting in its patronage of area businesses that participated in acts of harm against Asian and Asian-American students. May this serve as but one example of how each of us might fulfill the GSAS commitment to diversity regardless of our own identities and backgrounds, and stand together as a community against violence and hate in all their forms.

Ways to Get Involved


If You Seek Support

We stand proud as members of the Columbia and GSAS communities in our stance against injustice. But we must also remain aware of our enduring personal and institutional blind spots. We must strive to hold ourselves accountable to our own high standards, and to continually raise our conduct and words to meet them.

With compassion and in solidarity,

Celina Chatman Nelson
Associate Dean for Academic Diversity & Inclusion
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Carlos J. Alonso, Dean
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Dear Members of the SIPA Community,

The School of International and Public Affairs stands firmly with the University in condemning the deaths of Black Americans George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others. These injustices have renewed demonstrations across this country in protest of racism and violence against Blacks, and all people of color. We recognize the pain, fear, and anger this causes, amplified by the disproportionately devastating effect of Covid-19 within communities of color and the poor. We affirm the dignity and equality of all persons and reject bigotry, discrimination, and racism in all forms.

In times like these, we reflect upon our mission – to impart the leadership, skills, and knowledge needed to engage critical public policy challenges in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. As leaders in public policy and international affairs, members of the SIPA community play an important role in defending the dignity and humanity of every member of our global society. These moments remind us of our duty and, sadly, highlight the difficult challenges we face in pursuing equality for all.

Merit E. Janow
Dean, School of International and Public Affairs
Professor of Practice, International Economic Law and International Affairs

Dear CSSW Community,

As protests continue in Minneapolis, MN, and across the country in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, we are outraged and dismayed. But we also are driven toward a call to action to actively address the persistent anti-Black racism that is impacting so many in our community—too often resulting in their senseless and unjust deaths.

Just in the last few months, we’ve witnessed:

  • George Floyd killed in Minneapolis on Monday, after a white police officer pinned him to the ground by kneeling on his neck for several minutes. Video footage of this incident indicates that Floyd was not resisting arrest for an alleged case of fraud, and pleaded several times that he was in pain and couldn’t breathe. Four officers have been terminated from their jobs, and one, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
  • Christian Cooper falsely reported to the police by Amy Cooper, a white woman, who accused him of threatening her and her unleashed dog while he was bird watching in Central Park.
  • Ahmaud Arbery killed in late February by two white men in Brunswick, Georgia, for the “crime” of “jogging while Black.” The Department of Justice is now investigating this shooting death as a hate crime.
  • Sean Reed killed by Indianapolis police in early May, while the chase and his shooting death were livestreamed on Facebook. The disturbing video of his death includes the recording of a presumed officer saying “it looks like it’s gone be a closed casket homie” – followed by laughter. At that point, Reed had been tased then shot at least 10 times.
  • Breonna Taylor killed by Louisville police. Taylor, an EMT, was shot at least eight times when officers forcibly entered her home to serve what was being called a “no knock warrant” in a narcotics investigation. The FBI is investigating her death.

These are just a few of the named, recorded or reported acts of violence recently perpetuated against Black men and women—and they join a long list of incidents that plague Black communities throughout the U.S.

A third of those who have died during the current COVID-19 public health crisis were Black, and there are numerous instances of Black men having been criminalized for wearing masks to protect themselves against the virus. But, as some activists have noted, the Black community was already facing the public health crisis of racism before the pandemic began.

The lives of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, Breonna Taylor, and countless others matter. As do the Black lives taken by COVID-19. We at CSSW condemn anti-Black racism in all its forms and are committed not just to making statements, but to taking action.

As School leadership convenes in the coming days and weeks, we will be asking the CSSW community to join together in collective activism to fight against the perpetuation of anti-Black racism. More details will be released as initiatives take shape, but in the interim we would encourage you all to be self-reflective, to seek out support and care as you need it, to be vigilant and to be safe. We can no longer just rest on our vocal commitment to social justice; we must be ready to act, and the time to do so is now.

Yours in community,

CSSW Council of Deans

Melissa Begg
Gerard Bueno
Moira Curtain
Jim Glover
Monique Jethwani
Stacy Kass
Kathryne Leak
Michael Lovaglio
Karma Lowe
Ann McCann Oakley
Desmond Patton
Susan Smith
Julien Teitler

Columbia Undergraduates,

We write to you, with heavy hearts, to address the tragedy and unrest we have all witnessed over the last week. Just as our nation was anticipating the next phase of an unprecedented pandemic, the brutal killing of George Floyd, along with the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and others, forcefully reminded us of the pervasive racial injustice and lack of respect for Black Americans in this country.

This tragic moment has united citizens across the U.S. and around the world in anger, heartbreak, frustration and unity to protest yet another assault by members of the police on the Black community. We extend our deepest care and concern to each of you, and in particular to our Black students who we know are experiencing a profound sense of pain, despair and outrage at the acts of anti-Black racism and violence that continue to plague our country.

For all of us, the choice to be at Columbia is also a choice to be a member of a diverse campus environment located in the largest city in the country. It is also a choice to participate in an institution that is rigorous about learning, inquiry and the pursuit of knowledge. While we often hear about new knowledge at the frontiers of science and medicine, we also know that much of what our students explore is knowledge of the self and of humanity.

Through the national dialogue and protest taking place now, there is an opportunity for all of us to step back from our assumptions, reflect on our values and then commit to actions that will steer us towards greater support for one another and the collective creation of a more just world. What we witnessed last week in the death of George Floyd was the most extreme form of racism, but the insidiousness of racism and bias is the unintentional forms that show up in daily life.

When communities come together, it is so that each member can contribute the best of themselves to make the community stronger. For that to happen, each must also be valued, respected and cherished as an individual. While we have always believed this, this moment calls for an explicit expression of our belief that Black lives matter, not only to us but to our entire community.

We encourage you to reach out for any support you may need. Although words are powerful, we understand that now is a time for action. We are committed to our schools and communities being forces for change in the fight against systemic racism. We welcome your thoughts and encourage you to also find opportunities to participate in this movement by educating yourself on Black history and anti-racism, volunteering in local efforts to combat racism, joining peaceful demonstrations in your community and voting in upcoming elections.

In community and solidarity,

Mary C. Boyce
Dean of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science

Lisa Rosen-Metsch
Dean of the School of General Studies

James J. Valentini
Dean of Columbia College and
Vice President for Undergraduate Education

Dear Members of the Columbia Business School community, 

We are confronted again with the killing of an unarmed African American. George Floyd is the most recent victim of injustice and racism in the United States. These acts, and the history of systemic racism that they manifest, are antithetical to the values of Columbia University and Columbia Business School. (Please see the letter from University Life)

Vice Dean Gita Johar is spearheading our School’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and welcomes your thoughts and involvement. You can contact her at dei@mail.gsb.columbia.edu

We stand in solidarity against these acts of aggression and expressions of discrimination. We must challenge ourselves to oppose such behavior, and to take action to genuinely influence change in our community, our country, and the world. This is our individual responsibility as members of this academic institution and as future business leaders. 

Sincerely,

Costis