A student at Columbia University is urging the school to inject more diversity into its required courses, claiming she suffered severe emotional trauma from reading too many books by and about white people.
Columbia students and faculty gathered Wednesday night for a panel discussion on “Race, Ethnicity, and University Life.” According to the Columbia Daily Spectator, much of the commentary revolved around the idea that minorities on campus simply spend too much time being traumatized by the white-centric content of their classes.
One of the panelists at the event was black Columbia student Nissy Aya. Aya was supposed to graduate in 2014, but instead is only on track to receive her degree in 2016. That, Aya says, demonstrates “how hard it has been for me to get through this institution,” though it’s worth noting she is an exceptional case, as Columbia has one of the highest four-year graduation rates in the country.
Aya attributed some of her academic troubles to the trauma of having to take Columbia’s current Core Curriculum, which requires students to take a series of six classes with a focus on the culture and history of Western, European civilization. Aya says this focus on the West was highly mentally stressful for her.
“It’s traumatizing to sit in Core classes,” she said. “We are looking at history through the lens of these powerful, white men. I have no power or agency as a black woman, so where do I fit in?”
As an example, Aya cited her art class, where she complained that Congolese artwork was repeatedly characterized as “primitive.” She wanted to object to that characterization but, in the Spectator’s words, was “tired of already having worked that day to address so many other instances of racism and discrimination.”
Roosevelt Montás, Columbia’s associate dean for the Core Curriculum, didn’t exactly offer a spirited defense, instead saying Aya was showing the troubling racism that may lurk inside the Core.
“You cannot grow up in a society without assimilating racist views,” he said, according to the Spectator. “Part of what is exciting about this conversation is that it’s issuing accountability for us to look within ourselves and try to understand the way that racism shapes how we see the world and our institutions.”
This isn’t the first time students have complained about the mental anguish of studying the Western canon. Last spring, four students published an editorial for the Spectator complaining that a student was triggered by having to read Ovid, and proposed replacing his offensive works with those of Toni Morrison.
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