“Jena at Columbia”

The New York Times has just reported a hate-crime on the campus of Columbia Teacher’s College, where a faculty member found a noose swinging from her door. The entire article is reproduced below.

I think that teachers of the environmental humanities have a responsibility to articulate the history of political repression and terror tactics as a part of natural history. In the case of lynching, many cultural critics, historians, and political scientists have begun to connect the practice of lynching with the impossibility of pastoral retreat in traditional African American culture. The place of repose in the fields becomes the place of torture and murder. If anyone is looking for a place to start, or a reading to give to students, I recommend Daniel J. Martin, “Lynching Sites: Where Trauma and Pastoral Collide.” Coming into Contact. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007.

Article begins here:

The New York Times

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October 10, 2007

Hate-Crime Investigation at Columbia

A hangman’s noose was found hanging on the door of a black professor’s office at Columbia University Teacher’s College on Tuesday morning, prompting the police to start a hate-crime investigation.

Detectives with the New York Police Department’s hate-crime task force were investigating whether the noose, which was discovered on the fourth floor of the college at about 9:45 a.m., was put there by a rival professor or by a student who was angry over a dispute. Colleagues of the professor identified her as Madonna Constantine, 44, a prominent author, educator and psychologist.

Ms. Constantine is a professor of psychology and education at Columbia and has published several books on race relations, including “Addressing Racism” in 2006 and “Strategies for Building Multicultural Competence in Mental Health and Educational Settings” in 2007. Derald Wing Sue, one of her co-authors and a fellow professor at Columbia, said Ms. Constantine was devastated by the incident.

“She’s all right at this point with the support of colleagues, friends, students and family,” said Mr. Wing Sue, an adjunct professor at the school of social work. “But you can imagine the terrible impact that this has had on her.”

Ms. Constantine could not be reached at her office on Columbia’s campus this morning.

The discovery of the noose — a widely reviled symbol of black lynchings in the South and elsewhere — sparked outrage across the campus. Last night, about 150 students held a protest outside the Teachers College building at 525 West 120th Street, and organizers of the rally called for another protest and student walkout at 2 p.m. today. The news also ignited a chain of e-mail messages between students that described the incident as “Jena at Columbia,” referring to an incident in Jena, La., last year that prompted violence after three white high school students hung nooses under a tree where six black students had been sitting the day before.

In an e-mail message to students and faculty at the school, the president of Teachers College, Susan Furhman, said the incident was a “hateful act, which violates every Teachers College and societal norm.”

The president of Columbia, Lee C. Bollinger, also released a statement condemning what happened.

“This is an assault on African Americans and therefore it is an assault on every one of us,” he said. “I know I speak on behalf of every member of our communities in condemning this horrible action.”

The discovery of the noose comes in the wake of several incidents that have incited racial and political tensions at Columbia in recent months, including a visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in September and the discovery of racist and threatening graffiti in a bathroom at the School of International and Public Affairs. Last fall, the campus drew media attention after a group of students stormed a stage to protest a speech by the head of a group that opposes illegal immigration.

Mr. Wing Sue, Ms. Constantine’s colleague, said students and faculty were at a loss to figure out who pinned the noose to the door.

“You speculate about all the possible reasons that could have instigated such a cruel and hateful act,” he said. “Is it a disgruntled student, is it a conflict with a colleague or staff, is it her work on racism that has pushed buttons on this matter?”

“This is something the police are investigating,” he added, “but to me it represents a major opportunity for Columbia to begin the process of dealing directly and honestly with race and racism. It’s a hot button issue that is representative of the larger community and society.”


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