Recently, I’ve found myself questioning more often: Why does Columbia have a contract with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection? Columbia Giving Day—an annual tradition that encourages alumni, parents, students, faculty and anyone affiliated with the University to give back to Columbia—is here, and it makes me sick to my stomach to even think about how this university continues to profit off of Customs and Border Protection and profit off of the suffering and dehumanization of undocumented people without a blink.
This issue came to my attention more because of UndoCU’s campaign, #NoGivingDay. Their campaign demands that people do not donate any money this month to Columbia in solidarity with undocumented students and people throughout the country either living in fear of, or currently being held in, detention facilities under inhumane conditions by CBP.
As of last month, Customs and Border Protection’s mission statement goes as follows: “To safeguard America’s borders thereby protecting the public from dangerous people and materials while enhancing the Nation’s global economic competitiveness by enabling legitimate trade and travel.” By supporting this agency financially, does Columbia agree that the thousands of people risking their lives to cross our borders in hopes of escaping violence and poverty in their respective countries are dangerous? What does it say when your immigration or citizenship status determines your worth to an institution of higher education like Columbia?
I have spent the past few months attempting to rationalize why an institution that prides itself on its “diverse” student body would affiliate itself in any capacity with a federal agency that criminalizes the existence of so many people of color in this nation. How can this university claim to protect and provide resources for undocumented students and even international students when they are making money from a government body that does the opposite? And was my own bewilderment with Columbia’s behavior a matter of genuine lack of knowledge or one of finally coming to terms with how evil this institution can be?
Ultimately, the only conclusion I have come to is that this institution is selfish. This does not come as a surprise considering Columbia’s history of profiting from injustices, dehumanization, and labor of Black, brown and indigenous people. Columbia was built from the sweat and tears of slaves, and it has continued abusing the unprivileged for decades. While I do not mean to say that the atrocities of slavery can ever compare to the immigration crisis we are seeing now, I do recognize that there are parallels in this institution placing its financial interests above the humanity of people it deems as unimportant. Nonetheless, NCDP director Irwin Redlener claimed that it would be ethically and morally incorrect to not do anything to provide medical support for people at the border. Doesn’t Columbia have enough money in its over $10 billion endowment to aid people at the border without getting money in return?
How has the neoliberal state become so normalized that the vast majority of us don’t even question contracts like the one Columbia has with CBP? While Columbia and other schools funnel money into harmful institutions, they fail to protect their students. It is commonplace for institutions of higher education to invest large sums of money into businesses that surveil Black and brown communities. They disregard the fact that so many of their students deal with food insecurity and struggle to even pay tuition.
I need to do more to educate myself on the actions that Columbia and other institutions take to harm immigrants in the US. Though my parents are immigrants, I recognize that my experience does not compare to, and is very different from, that of first-generation students’ on campus. If you are from a similar background as well, I encourage you to reflect on your own privilege of being a citizen with regard to how you think about this institution. I am doing that as I think back on my initial shock when I learned about the news of the contract.
If you are considering giving to Columbia this month, I encourage you to deeply consider UndoCU’s #NoGivingDay campaign in alliance with not only undocumented students on campus, but the people throughout the nation that are being affected by Columbia’s contract with Customs and Border Protection. How may our perception of philanthropy harm others? Like the #NoGivingDay campaign suggested, think about giving directly to organizations that bring you the fondest memories of your time here, but especially those that need all the help they can get to resist Columbia’s agreements with harmful institutions.
Daphnie is a junior at Barnard who is still very angry that Columbia profited from a contract with CBP, an agency that continuously violates the human rights of immigrant detainees.
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