President Bollinger Announces the Creation of a Community Advisory Council

harlem 125 st columbia neighbors

As part of the ongoing work of Columbia University’s Antiracism Task Force, President Lee C. Bollinger today announced the creation of a Community Advisory Council to expand and deepen the vital relationship among all facets of the university and the communities surrounding its three Manhattan campuses.

The Council’s mandate is to support and expand community programs through partnerships across the university and with Harlem and Upper Manhattan community leaders and organizations. Community partners may include small businesses, health providers, nonprofit organizations, faith-based institutions, schools and other educational entities, and affordable housing ventures that contribute to the well-being of community residents.

The initiative was conceived as part of the university’s Antiracism Task Force, formed in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, to advance Columbia’s longstanding commitment to addressing the entrenched consequences of racism in this country. One of the task force’s primary areas of focus was Columbia’s relationship with the neighborhoods of Harlem and Upper Manhattan and building on work that is ongoing throughout the university to reach more people, in more areas of life, and with greater impact.

“Columbia has an enduring commitment to strengthening our neighboring communities and improving the lives of those who reside here,” said President Bollinger. “To fulfill that commitment, we must adapt to changes in society, listen to the needs expressed by our neighbors, and be alert to the sweep of history. This is a moment when fresh thinking and redoubled effort are demanded, and I am certain that the members of the Community Advisory Council will deliver the inspiration, insight, and hard work required to achieve the goals we have set.”

Leaders From Across the University

The council will be chaired by Dr. Melissa Begg, dean of the Columbia School of Social Work; Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, Columbia University Professor and the director of ICAP at Columbia University and Columbia World Projects, at the Mailman School of Public Health; Dr. Rafael A. Lantigua, director, Office of Community Service Programs, associate dean for Community Service and professor of medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center; and Dr. Olajide A. Williams, Professor and Chief of Staff of the Department of Neurology at CUIMC and co-director of the Columbia Wellness Center.

Council members will include representatives from across the university, including Columbia Business School, Columbia Climate School, Columbia Law School, Columbia Nursing School, Columbia World Projects, the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, Mailman School of Public Health, the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the School of Social Work, Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, along with numerous offices from across the university, ranging from research to athletics. The offices of University Life and Government and Community Affairs at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) and Morningside campuses will provide administrative support.

The council’s focus will be fostering a thriving and equitable ecosystem in Harlem and Upper Manhattan by deploying the most potent resources a world-class university can offer: extraordinary academic, intellectual, service and research capabilities. The collective experience and knowledge represented on the council will enhance the university’s ongoing work with community organizations and local government entities, guiding Columbia to new levels of even greater impact.

“I’m eager to join my colleagues to launch the Community Advisory Council and expand the important work of the Antiracism Task Force at Columbia,” said Dr. El-Sadr. ” Over the span of my career at Harlem Hospital Center and now at ICAP, Columbia World Projects, and the NYC Pandemic Response Institute, the genuine engagement of communities has undergirded our work. We are committed to leveraging local leadership across Harlem and Upper Manhattan to support community-based programming with the goal of achieving the desired impact.”

“It is an honor to participate in this important participatory model that advances academic-community relationships,” said Dr. Williams. “Together with our community partners, the Council will play an important role in addressing systemic inequities by coordinating the myriad leverageable resources from across all Columbia Universities Schools.”

Collaboration Will Focus on Expanding Opportunities

The council will examine opportunities ranging from shorter-term projects to open-ended, more ambitious commitments. Examples may include:

  • Establishing an institutional relationship with the living monument for Malcolm X with the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, the Middle East Institute, the Data Science Institute, and the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center;
  • Developing further the Entrepreneurial Design Thinking program at Columbia Business School, New York City Department of Probation, and Columbia’s Office of Government and Community Affairs;
  • Working with CUIMC to scale up the Clinical Translational Science Awards with the Harlem Health Promotion Center and the Columbia College of Dental Medicine;
  • Enhancing a robust collaboration with University Research, the Data Science Institute, Columbia Finance, and Government and Community Affairs to partner on sponsored projects with a consortium of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

In addition to supporting existing programs, the council will explore new ways to meet challenges that are specific to Harlem and Upper Manhattan, such as support for small businesses that represent the backbone of the local economy, initiatives that advance educational and workforce development opportunities, and community-based programming that target basic needs such as health, food and housing. An urgent area of focus will be identifying local solutions to climate change-related threats, especially regarding extreme weather, with the Columbia Climate School, Columbia World Projects, and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

One model that will inform the council’s approach to more ambitious initiatives is the new Pandemic Response Institute, an example of how Columbia’s research, academic and programmatic strengths can intersect with local priorities in securing effective preparedness and response to major health threats. Established in September 2021 by the city to prepare for future health emergencies, the institute to be led by the Mailman School of Public Health and located on the Manhattanville campus, with key partnerships with CUNY School of Public Health and numerous Harlem and Upper Manhattan community organizations.

A Network of Community Stakeholders

The council also will oversee the development of a network of community stakeholders, representing community development corporations, economic development groups, hospitality associations, business improvement districts, merchant associations, education opportunity centers, locally based healthcare providers, civic groups, faith-based institutions, youth- and justice-related organizations, nongovernmental groups, and in some cases individuals and others who are interested in working with the university. Council staff will develop communication channels with these individuals and organizations and will convene meetings, seminars, and larger gatherings on a regular basis.

“This is a really important step for Columbia, and I’m delighted to be taking part in it,” said Dean Begg. “The Columbia School of Social Work has a long tradition of partnering with hundreds of local organizations through our extensive field education program and a research portfolio that is deeply engaged with communities, recognizing the depth of expertise and lived experience that community members bring to these efforts. I look forward to building on this foundation across the university as we seek to achieve measurable progress toward reversing the damage caused by ongoing racism.”

Finally, the council will consider additional steps that the university may take to forge more fruitful community partnerships, and offer recommendations to the president of Columbia University. In this capacity, the council may recommend new strategies and initiatives aimed at advancing Columbia’s community mission, including the creation of a permanent administrative entity like a center, that would be dedicated to the University’s community-facing work.

“As a longtime advocate for best practices in community-academic partnerships, I am pleased to be part of this unprecedented initiative to tackle socio-economic and racial inequities in our surrounding communities comprehensively,” said Dr. Lantigua. “Joining efforts across our various schools and departments gives us a unique opportunity to provide invaluable support to our anchor community partners in their efforts to address racial inequities with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of life of Northern Manhattan residents.”

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