Extracurriculars & Racism on Columbia's Campus

Over the last few years, universities nationwide have begun to unearth their rocky relationships with slavery and racial discrimination. As with many of these universities, Columbia University has been forced to come to terms with the practices that took place on its campuses for decades. When Columbia was founded, it mainly catered to the New York-based wealthy, white and Episcopalian population. As it began to expand, however, students from different backgrounds arrived on campus. Although small in number, beginning in the early twentieth century African American students began to matriculate at Columbia. Given the continued discrimination against blacks that would only grow stronger as the 1900s progressed, the Columbia community, which was very interested in maintaining its status as a university for wealthy whites, was not a place that the black students could easily call home.

Daily discrimination against black students is clear when looking at the extracurricular clubs, groups and activities of the Columbia community. Many Columbia-sponsored events during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were also clearly anti-black. These actions perpetuated discrimination against blacks on campus as well as within New York City boundaries, contributing to a broad acceptance of racist ideas and actions that continued far into the twentieth century.

Given the above, this project looks to determine the extent to which Columbia’s extracurricular clubs helped to further the discrimination against black students up until the 1930s and how black students consequently dealt with that discrimination.

It should be noted that this project spells out the derogatory terms used by these groups and during on-campus events and activities by way of preserving their original impact and to maintain historical accuracy.


Talia Balakirsky