Administrators at Columbia University apologized to a former professor who said she was ousted after complaining about a student’s “rape jokes.”
Ericka Hart — a racial-justice and gender-rights advocate and sex educator who taught courses at Columbia’s School of Social Work starting in 2017 — told Forbes she was pushed out because she raised concerns about a student who made “rape jokes in class as well as being transphobic and generally anti-black in my direction.”
Hart, 35, who is Black and identifies as gender non-binary, said that when she brought her concerns to Dean Melissa Begg and Associate Dean Julian Teitler during the spring 2020 semester, she was told her contract as an adjunct professor for the fall would not be renewed, she revealed in a Feb. 17 Instagram post.
“I want the Deans to be held to account for the harm they caused, to publicly admit what they did,” Hart wrote. She also said the syllabus she developed was being used by a white professor.
“What they’ve done instead is attempt to silence me, push me out quietly, effectively blackball and punish me for being unwilling to teach a gender course from an apolitical basis or hide the fact that I’m queer and non-binary and ultimately for speaking out against an anti-black, transphobic student who tried to intimidate me inside and outside of the class,” Hart wrote in a Medium post.
Hart’s recent comments on her exit sparked a firestorm, with more than 1,300 people signing a petition circulated by a student group calling for the resignation of three deans involved in the case.
The school has not publicly explained why Hart’s contract was not renewed — Hart told Forbes administrators cited COVID-related budget cuts — but Begg issued a broad apology last week.
“First and foremost, I apologize for not honoring your experiences in the way that I should have,” Begg wrote in a letter to Hart dated Feb. 22. “To you and our entire community, I am sorry for any and all experiences of racism and transphobia at our School. No one among our faculty, students or staff should ever have to endure pain and harm due to discriminatory behavior.”
In a separate letter sent to the school community in response to Hart’s claims, associate deans Monique Jethwani and Desmond Patton vowed to tackle disparities in treatment of part-time professors and to stop using Hart’s curriculum.
“We acknowledge that we are operating under a set of policies and practices that are rooted in racism – and in other ways oppressive,” they wrote.
In addition to her work as a sex educator and activist, Hart is a breast cancer survivor who posed for magazines and went viral when she attended a music festival topless, baring her scars. She has more than 475,000 followers on Instagram.
She made headlines in 2018 when she said she experienced racism at The Bean coffee shop near NYU, when a white employee and manager allegedly singled her out by asking her to make a purchase because she had been there for 20 minutes without ordering anything. The shop issued an apology in the wake of intense backlash.
Hart denounced Columbia’s lack of support for adjunct professors — a larger percentage of whom are Black or Latino than full-time faculty — and she demanded the school “release the demographic information” for adjunct and full-time faculty.
In response, Begg posted stats to the school’s website showing 18 percent of full-time staffers are Black or Latino, while 36 percent of adjunct faculty are Black or Latino.
In a statement to The Post, a Columbia University spokesperson said “The School of Social Work is deeply committed to creating a community free from discrimination. “Those efforts are continuing and will include publicizing data on the demographic composition of our adjunct faculty, ensuring accountability and transparency, and clarifying the use of syllabuses developed by adjunct faculty.”
A Columbia spokesperson added, “Adjunct faculty are under contract for a single semester. Whether an adjunct returns to teach in the future is based on a review that assesses student evaluations, effectiveness as an instructor, and other factors, including the level of demand for instructors for a particular course. Decisions about Professor Hart followed this approach.”