A Columbia University student can pay $51,000 in annual tuition, but she can no longer bear the burden of fictional white characters.
Nissy Aya was a panelist during the university’s “Race, Ethnicity, and University Life” discussion on Wednesday. She told attendees should would not be able to graduate in four years because learning about white historical figures and characters has been too psychologically taxing.
“It’s traumatizing to sit in core classes,” Aya said, the Columbia Spectator reported Thursday. “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?”
Aya alleges that Columbia’s core curriculum has been so racially stressful that she will graduate in 2016 instead of 2014.
“Aya mentioned that even in her most recent art humanities class, the word ‘primitive’ was used five times to describe Congolese art – a label she did not speak up against because she was tired of already having worked that day to address so many other instances of racism and discrimination,” the Spectator reported.
Columbia’s associate dean for the core curriculum, Roosevelt Montás, declined to strenuously defend the school’s policy.
“You cannot grow up in a society without assimilating racist views. 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,” said Montás, the newspaper reported.
Aya’s claim is not new to the university. Students with the school’s Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board wrote for the Spectator in April that Roman poet Ovid should come with trigger warnings.
“Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ is a fixture of Lit Hum, but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background,” the authors wrote April 30, the Washington Times reported.
The piece referenced a student who said she did not feel safe reading “Metamorphoses” because it depicted rape scenes.
“As a survivor of sexual assault, the student described being triggered while reading such detailed accounts of rape throughout the work. However, the student said her professor focused on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text,” the Spectator authors said. “As a result, the student completely disengaged from the class discussion as a means of self-preservation. She did not feel safe in the class. When she approached her professor after class, the student said she was essentially dismissed, and her concerns were ignored.”