Background and History


In July 2020, a group of staff and faculty at Columbia College Chicago convened as a Planning and Design Task Force Team (PDTF) in order to think through the creation of an Antiracism Transformation Team (ArTT) whose purpose is to confront and combat systems of racism as they exist in our college. Facilitated by Chicago Regional Organizing for Antiracism (CROAR), the Chicago affiliate of the national organization Crossroads, the formation of ArTT is the third phase of a longer process guided by CROAR, to lead the institution toward long-term structural and institutional change.

Brief History of Antiracism at Columbia College Chicago

Founded in 1890 by Mary A. Blood and Ida Morey, Columbia College Chicago’s history offers symbolic moments that help us frame our antiracist work.

Many of these are outlined in the timeline below. This is an institutional history that may not capture the complexity of individual experiences, but is meant to highlight key points in Columbia’s history.

1947. At the College since 1947, Mike Alexandroff steers curriculum to rest upon a liberal arts foundation, recruits minority students, and creates noncompetitive admissions to make college education more accessible.

1960s. While honorary degrees had been given sporadically by Columbia, 1964 marks the first year of awarding annual honorary doctorates. Poet Gwendolyn Brooks, who taught at Columbia College from 1963 until 1969, is awarded the first doctorate and is the year's only recipient.

1980s. Founded in 1983 by Dr. Samuel Floyd, the college establishes The Center for Black Music Research, a ground-breaking academic unit that embraces the breadth of Black music in all iterations. Dr. Rosita Sands is hired as assistant director in 2000, becoming director of the CBMR when Floyd retired. Sands goes on to become the chair of the Music Department, and later the Dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts. In line with the trends in higher education, the college works to diversify the faculty and increase access to students. Simultaneously, students organize protests and other demonstrations alongside faculty and staff and mirroring concerns held by students across the country.

1990. The Hispanic Alliance requests more Hispanic faculty as representation on campus becomes their top priority of the semester. The college focuses attention on student retention and persistence and creates an Office of Multicultural Affairs and establishes a TRIO program.

1990s. The first student organizations are established on campus, including the Latino Student Alliance, the Black Student Union, and a range of other groups of students, staff, and faculty working together.

2011. Onye Ozuzu arrives as Chair of the Dance Department. With a goal of decentralizing Western European forms of dance in the curriculum, Ozuzu brings The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond to campus. Faculty and staff in the Dance and Theatre Departments participate in three-day Undoing Racism Workshops and talk about racism and address it head-on.

2013. Dr. Kwang-Wu Kim becomes president of the college. In his inaugural address, Dr. Kim states, “Our commitment to diversity must infiltrate our curricula and permeate all levels of our institution, and it must be embedded in institutional priority and narrative, administrative structure, and appropriate processes.” These moments catalyze campus intentions around antiracism and coincide with the development of our latest Strategic Plan (2014-2015) and the demands of Black Lives Matter (beginning in 2012) and the BYP 100 (Black Youth Project 100). These efforts spur President Kim to make earnest his inaugural commitment to supporting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

2017. Matthew Shenoda is appointed Dean of Academic Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Special Advisor to the President. Shenoda argues for an academic focus for DEI at Columbia and leads the effort by which 70% of the faculty and staff participate in Undoing Racism workshops conducted by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. The Multicultural affairs office changes its name to Student Diversity and Inclusion.

2018. DEI practices are established for the hiring process and funds are set aside for hiring diverse faculty. As of 2020, 81% of fulltime faculty are white non-Hispanic.

2018. Raquel Monroe and Folayemi Wilson become the Co-Directors of Academic, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, following Shenoda’s departure from the institution. The directors witness continued barriers to becoming an antiracist campus, including but not limited to: white faculty continuing to center curriculum and practice on whiteness; documented complaints from students who had been continually misgendered by employees; documented complaints from students, staff and faculty who report discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality. In addition, students raise many concerns about the uneven capacities and awareness of faculty regarding students of color.

2019. The new Columbia Core remove requirements around pluralism and globalization, replacing them with diversity, equity and inclusion designated courses that require transformed pedagogy and address systems of power and oppression.

2019. The number of undergraduate students identifying as people of color grows to 49% , while only 19% of full-time faculty identify the same. The increase in diverse students is partially attributed to a restructuring of financial aid and a CPS-based scholarship that attracts more local students.

2020. The Directors of Academic DEI invite Chicago Regional Organizing for AntiRacism (CROAR) to train an Antiracism Planning and Design Task Force (PDTF) in order to establish an Antiracism Transformation Team for Columbia College Chicago. With the establishment of this team, Columbia aims to continue the transition from individual attempts into sustainable processes throughout the college.