“For Alma Mater on the Hudson Shore,” we ask Columbia University to fund a plaque on the Morningside Heights campus acknowledging the Lenni Lenape people to whom we owe a debt by virtue of our sitting, standing, and learning on lands that were originally theirs.
Founded in 1754 as King’s College by Royal Charter of George II, Columbia University in the City of New York has had a rich and prosperous history as one of the oldest and most illustrious institutions of higher learning in America.
Through the Core Curriculum and with a stated commitment “to advance knowledge and learning at the highest level and to convey the products of its efforts to the world,” Columbia stands at the forefront of globally conscious and civically responsible education. Columbia demands that its students, faculty, and administration reflect upon and improve their world.
However, it is our contention that with respect to its own history, the University has done so incompletely. This campus has many statues, monuments, and plaques celebrating a colonial heritage and legacy but neglects to mention the first inhabitants of this land.
Using the name “Columbia” and King’s Crown imagery, the University already implicitly acknowledges the fact that the school has prospered because of a colonial legacy that entailed the persecution and removal of the original owners of this land—the Lenni Lenape people. The Lenape were the victims of disease, warfare, dishonest agreements, and destructive policies. They now mostly live on reservations in Ontario, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma, vast distances away from their homeland.
In light of this history and in keeping with the University’s commitment “to advance knowledge,” we believe our alma mater has a responsibility to acknowledge its debt to the Lenni Lenape people.