Columbia’s School of Social Work is Racist to Black Students and Faculty (Spoiler)

I’ve talked about this situation for awhile, I’ve cried about it, initially thought it might be better handled by administration (even though I had lots of evidence to the contrary) but what they’ve done instead is attempt to silence me, push me out quietly, effectively blackball and punish me for being unwilling to teach a gender course from an apolitical basis or hide the fact that I’m queer and non-binary and ultimately for speaking out against an anti-black, transphobic student who tried to intimidate me inside and outside of the class. When I brought these issues to all levels of administration, I was warned by one dean not to complain about the student as she feared that they would counter with their own complaint purely out of spite (which I didn’t realize was a common practice weaponized mostly against Black professors there). When I did escalate the issue to upper level admin, I was gaslit, told I was the problem, and when I filed a complaint about those deans, to their direct supervisors, I was told, curtly, that they “considered the matter resolved.”

After 4 years of continuous teaching assignments at the University, I emailed CSSW asking why I hadn’t been invited back to teach despite my class being offered on the website and office managers who were normally friendly suddenly turned cold, first telling me it was “due to Covid-19 budget cuts for Fall 2020” and then saying, they didn’t know why and had no “further information” (please note, there was no change in tuition for students during the pandemic or any discernible decrease in faculty. My class was/is still being offered — this time taught by a newly hired white cisgender professor who is using the syllabus I created). Growing more concerned, I contacted 5 different lawyers but because I grossed a whopping $12k a year as an adjunct, I was told that it wasn’t enough of a loss of monetary damages for those firms to take on my case even after they conceded that my case was compelling which speaks volumes to why adjuncts are not paid a livable wage (if you do have any issues with your labor being exploited by the institution, you won’t have enough money to even pay a lawyer to fight a “huge machine like Columbia” — the former was quoted by another lawyer).

Adjuncts do not have job security at any university but instructors that have been at Columbia for 10 years have never had their pictures removed from the website, but both my name and picture have been taken down and my emails wiped from the server without any notification as to why, yet my syllabus continues to be used.

What are the protections for adjunct professors who experience racism? I was 1 of 10 Black adjuncts at CSSW and 1 of only 3 Black, queer and non-binary adjuncts out of we don’t know how many white instructors because they won’t release the numbers — I’ve asked. There have been blatantly racist faculty that met no real consequences and very little reprimand for their anti blackness. White deans do nothing, white instructors and fellow adjuncts do nothing despite releasing a bogus, vapid values statement in June 2020 following last summer’s protest, where Deans Monique Jethwani, Julien Teitler and Melissa Begg signed their names below a letter “condemning anti black racism.” Chattel slavery and gentrification has the building stand and they don’t care and I knew that when I started working there. It still doesn’t make it okay that Black students, Black folks all over Harlem/Morningside Heights and Black professors are caught in the crosshairs of Columbia University’s continued, targeted violence against us.

Folks have been asking how to support: if you want to support, you can…

⁃ Email the Deans of the School of Social Work

⁃ Share this and/or your experiences with antiblack racism as a student, staff or faculty member at Columbia’s School of Social Work or elsewhere at Columbia University

⁃ If you work at school or are a student currently, get interested in how many Black professors have tenure/are currently working there/what their experiences are like and advocate for them

Demands:

  • I don’t want my job back. I don’t want them to use my syllabus or any of my intellectual labor anymore. I want the Deans to be held to account for the harm they caused, to publicly admit and acknowledge what they did, to release the “diversity” numbers/demographic information for adjunct and full-time faculty as well as tenure track faculty. More importantly, I am asking that Deans Melissa Begg, Monique Jethwani and Julien Teitler resign immediately.
  • For racism, misogynoir and/or transphobia not to happen to any Black, Indigenous or Non-Black POC professor at that school (or any) ever again. This isn’t the first time and I’m not the only one.

Lastly, when you experience racism, it’s incredibly exhausting and you lose complete hope that anything will happen in response. Racism takes a physical toll on the body but don’t discount the emotional and psychological exhaustion that comes with territory.

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Ericka Hart

Black, Queer Non-Binary Femme, Sexuality Educator, Service Bottom, based in NYC