When Columbia Students Held Their Dean Hostage

By Linda Speckhals
At Columbia University, a student protest turns physical as young men push one another, New York, New York, 1968. Several have fallen into a flower bed. The protest was related to the University's association with a US Department of Defense think tank (th

In 1968, Columbia University was embroiled in controversy; students arranged a protest because the school was stealing land and resources from Harlem. The university is located in Morningside Heights, a neighborhood on the edge of West Harlem. They proposed to build a gym in Morningside Park, on land owned by New York City. The problem was that only 12 percent of the gym would be open to the public, despite its location on public land. The remainder of the gym was designated for use by the university.

The plan helped to fuel community resentment, as Columbia’s expansion was at the expense of the residents of Morningside Heights, who were being pushed out of their homes. The design of the gym was also considered offensive, as Columbia students’ entrance was at the top, while the community entered at the bottom; they took to calling it the “gym crow” door. The black students in the Student Afro-American Society (SAS) brought the complaints of African Americans in Harlem to campus.

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