Barnard College Apologizes to Student Who was Racially Profiled at University Library

Students at two New York universities were plunged into a conversation about race and implicit bias when a Black Columbia University student was pinned down by public safety officers at Barnard College after he reportedly failed to show his ID. Video of a Thursday, April 11 incident showed a confrontation between a Black male student and Barnard Public Safety officers escalating quickly. Officers accused the student, who has a right to enter and use Barnard’s library as a Columbia student, of running inside the library without showing his school ID. He told them that he was unaware of the policy requiring him to show identification.

Several officers can be seen surrounding the student, pinning his arms back as he tells them, “You have no right to touch me. Take your hands off me.” His requests that the officers get off him become more frantic as an officer repeatedly tells him he has to show ID.

“I did not touch anybody. I did not violate anybody. Why are your hands on me?” he asked. After the student showed officers his Columbia ID, one is seen walking away with the identification card. The same officer then questioned whether he is an active student at the university.

Caroline Cutlip, a Barnard College student who witnessed the incident, uploaded video of the officers’ actions on Facebook. Cutlip said the officers “used absolutely unnecessary force” against the Columbia student. She claimed that officers racially profiled the student because he was Black. “This incident is not an outlier at our school, and certainly not in our country,” she wrote on Facebook. “This happens constantly here and all around us. We must hold Barnard accountable.”

Columbia University student Andrew Wang said he was not present when the incident occurred, but reached out to Cutlip and fellow student Alexis Rabkin to share their videos on Twitter. Wang told The North Star he shared the videos and reported on the subsequent backlash from students in an attempt to inform others.

When asked if he was surprised that such an incident would occur, Wang said he was, “but perhaps out of ignorance.” He acknowledged that he does not know if racially-charged incidents are common on campus.

“Patterns of racial profiling are common in America, but one might assume that an elite college campus would be better at handling implicit bias,” Wang said. However, he said he was not quick to condemn Barnard. “I want to believe that school administrators are working in good faith to make things better.”

In an email to the community, which was shared with The North Star, Barnard President Sian Leah Beilock said the incident “does not reflect the values of the College.” Beilock said she was “deeply troubled” by the videos, which she called unacceptable and antithetical to Barnard’s mission.

“I sincerely apologize to the Columbia student involved and have reached out to him to better understand his experience on campus,” she wrote. “I also apologize to the students who witnessed it and were treated disrespectfully, and to all who have felt its impact.”

Beilock announced that the public safety officers and the supervisor involved were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an independent investigation. She added that an independent firm would conduct the investigation and its findings would “help us evaluate our Office of Public Safety.” The school is reviewing how its public safety officers and supervisors are trained, Beilock’s email said. The school president also announced that Barnard would launch a Barnard Community Safety Group to engage in ongoing dialogue about how public safety is conducted on campus.

A Barnard College spokesperson confirmed to The North Star that the school will make sure the ID policy “is enforced consistently and communicated effectively” going forward.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.