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Columbia University receives $5 million to develop ‘Racial Justice and Abolition Democracy’ curriculum

Leaders won’t say if they plan to advocate for prison abolition

Columbia University recently announced that it will be developing a curriculum on “Racial Justice and Abolition Democracy” after receiving a $5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The curriculum “will be available for use in universities and colleges, prisons, and community settings,” according to a university news release.

University officials said “the courses will have a practical or clinical component to combine theory and practice.”

“[T]he leadership and expertise of people and communities most impacted by racial injustice and the justice system will be centered to address racism and inequity in the justice system,” officials said in the statement.

Their experiences will also inform reform in “academic and research settings” as well as “society broadly.” The program will “create a climate of vibrancy and urgency in the university community on such issues.”

“The country’s police, courts, and prisons have too often caused real harm in communities of color,” Bruce Western, the leader of the Ivy League university’s Justice Lab and one of the co-leaders on this project, said in the news release.

Western did not respond to two emailed requests for comment from The College Fix in the past week asking for more details on the project. The Fix also asked if the curriculum would advocate for prison and/or police abolition.

Project co-leader Professor Bernard Harcourt, who teaches law and political science at Columbia, did not respond to the same questions from The Fix.

MORE: Columbia failed to disclose $1 million in funding from Chinese sources

Caroline Adelman, the school’s media relations director, did not respond to multiple email requests from The Fix in the past week asking if the grant would include studying police and prison abolition.

The project will “reimagine punishment in the United States,” the university said in its statement.

“Racism is our nation’s foundational sin and, in 2021, remains the defining challenge the United States must overcome to fulfill the promise of our democracy,” President Lee Bollinger said in the news release.

The Fix reached out to the Mellon Foundation via email last week asking for a copy of Columbia University’s grant application, but Laura Washington, the director of communications, said the foundation cannot share such information.

She did not respond to further questions about the aims of the project.

The project is one of a number of new projects funded by the foundation under its “Just Futures Initiative.”

Another Ivy League University, Cornell University, received $5 million from the foundation to study “racialized violence.”

In total, the foundation granted $72 million to projects across the country under the “Just Futures” project.

Justice Lab also wants a racial justice Cabinet-appointment

The Justice Lab at Columbia has previously advocated for President Joe Biden to appoint a “Secretary of Racial Justice” as part of a list of agenda items they want him to undertake in his first 100 days in the White House.

“This position would be responsible for coordinating actions across the administration to correct the impact of racial disparities,” the Square One Project, an arm of the Justice Lab, said.

The new Cabinet-level appointment “would review federal policy…to better understand ways it has increased racial disparities and propose innovative solutions to reverse them,” according to the Square One Project.

MORE: Columbia’s tuition strike co-opted by anti-police activists

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About the Author
Rachelle Hernandez -- Liberty University