A Late-Night Food Run at Barnard College Turns Into a Racial Hashtag for One Black Student

Barnard College in New York City
Photo: Associated Press

A college student’s quest for late-night leftovers turned into a racially charged episode where the student was roughed up and six Barnard College security guards ended up on administrative leave pending an investigation by the school into their actions.

“We deeply regret that this incident occurred, and we are undertaking a thorough review of our public safety officers’ actions, and will address our processes and procedures and how they are applied,” Barnard President Sian Beilock said in a statement, according to the Washington Post.

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The “incident” in question involved Alexander McNab, a senior at Barnard’s sister school, Columbia University. Late Thursday night, he was in search of free sustenance for a late-night study session. A university social media post indicated there were leftovers at Barnard Library, which Columbia students are allowed to access, and McNab told the Post that he decided to make his way there.

As he passed through the entrance gate to Barnard’s campus, McNab said he didn’t show his student ID, as students are required to do after hours. But McNab and other students, according to the Columbia Spectator, say the rule is loosely enforced. So, McNab tells the Post, he didn’t bother to turn around when he heard someone call, “Hello, sir! Hello, sir!”

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He’d entered the library, been greeted by other students, and given a plate of food, when he was approached by a group of Barnard public safety officers. What happened next, as the Washington Post reports:

There were two of them, then four, then more. They demanded to see his student ID, McNab and witnesses said. The officers grabbed McNab’s arms and pushed him against the counter at the coffee shop on the library’s first floor. They forced him onto his back.

That’s when Caroline Cutlip, a Barnard junior who had posted about the food, started filming.

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The video shot by Cutlip, a student government representative, went viral, leading to weekend protests by Columbia and Barnard students, statements by the university, and the placement on administrative leave of the public safety officers involved:

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McNab told the Post he’s been racially profiled by Barnard campus officers before:

... encounters he said were a result of racial profiling. They once demanded to see his ID as he was leaving a two-hour dance practice. Another time, he left dance practice to run — barefoot — to the bathroom, and he was stopped again because the officers assumed he was homeless.

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But McNab says the physical violence of Thursday night’s interaction shocked him.

“What I didn’t see coming was when they got the other public safety officer to come to the side and pin me to the counter,” he told the Columbia Spectator. “I hadn’t made any threats; all I said was I’m not going to show you my ID. I don’t understand where that came from.

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“It’s like I was resisting arrest or something. It was very much like an NYPD police officer-type interaction,” McNab added.

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