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“White people are the best thing that ever happened in the world,” a white man, gesticulating wildly and pumping his hands in the air, yelled at a group of people of color.
The young man, dressed in a blazer and button-up shirt, was hopping off the ground outside a Columbia University library early Sunday morning as he continued.
“We are so amazing,” he added as the students, some of whom were filming him with their phones, yelled back in outrage.
“I love myself,” his voice cracking as his screaming intensified, “and I love my people!”
In the backdrop of his racist tirade, Columbia’s campus in New York was mostly empty in the hours before dawn.
Now, heading into a grueling final exam period, students on campus are contending with the outrage and backlash sparked by a viral video that shows the young white man, whom the school’s newspaper identified as a student, spouting white supremacist remarks at a group of students of color.
The episode comes less than two weeks after a Columbia professor’s office was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti.
In a statement posted on its website on Sunday, Columbia University administrators denounced the episode, calling it “deeply disturbing” and “racially charged.”
“We are alarmed at the rise of incidents of racism and hate speech in our world today,” the deans of three Columbia schools said in the statement, later adding that Columbia stands “firmly against white supremacist language and violence.”
“Our community will not waver in its support for those of any faith, race, gender, sexual orientation, background or identity,” the deans said in their statement.
The university said it was investigating Sunday’s episode.
Kwolanne Felix, a freshman at Columbia, said she was walking on campus with about 10 other students at around 3 a.m. Sunday when the white student in the video began walking with them. Several of the students were conversing with each other, she said, so initially he went unnoticed.
As they neared the library, Ms. Felix said, he touched one of the women, who pulled away. At that point, she said, the man raised his voice and became agitated.
The students became concerned for their safety, Ms. Felix said, and some of them took out their phones and began filming.
“We’ve never seen this man,” she said. “We don’t know what he’s doing. We’re just going to take out our phones in case this situation ends up in a way that it shouldn’t.”
One of the students posted a recording of the encounter on Twitter, where it has been viewed more than one million times. It starts with the white student pronouncing, “We built the modern world,” a claim he repeated several times during a 54-second clip. He went on to bellow his views on the white race, occasionally using profanity to punctuate his point.
Throughout the video, several of the students of color pushed back against his comments. At one point in the video, when the white student asserted that “we” saved billions of humans from starvation, several students rebutted his point by reminding him about slavery.
“Look, I don’t hate other people,” the white man said in a hoarse voice at the end of the video. “I just love white men.”
Ms. Felix said that the group of students eventually decided to stop engaging with the white student. As they headed to JJ’s Place, a campus dining hall, he followed them there but did not enter.
Then, some minutes later, Ms. Felix said, he followed another group of black women into the dining hall and began repeating similar remarks to the ones in the video. Ms. Felix posted a short video of that encounter on Twitter.
In a statement on Monday, Columbia University said it would create a “working group on bias incidents” in response to both Sunday’s events and the graffiti found in November.
The announcement came after several minority student groups insisted that the university take action to prevent similar episodes on campus.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, the school’s Black Students’ Organization decried the rant and said it would discuss possible measures to respond.
Columbia’s Student Organization of Latinxs, a group for Latino and Latina students, also called on the school to hold the white student accountable for his comments. In a separate Facebook post, it said the incident was part of a larger “institutional problem that is perpetuated by its administrative, academic, and business practices.”
Ms. Felix said she was glad the university was taking the incident seriously and that Columbia staff members had been supportive of them.
But she also said that she was disheartened by the experience and had heard that other students were feeling the same way.
“Seeing this as a student of color,” she said, “even being removed from the situation, takes away from the feeling of safety at Columbia.”
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