News | Mar. 13 10:18 pm EST

Bollinger talks divestment and gender-inclusive bathrooms at fireside chat

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At his first fireside chat of the semester on Wednesday night, University President Lee Bollinger fielded questions from nearly 60 undergraduates on everything from gender-neutral bathrooms to a student group’s call for divestment from private prison companies.

Bollinger was joined by University Chaplain Jewelnel Davis, Interim Dean of Student Affairs Terry Martinez, and Executive Vice President for Facilities and Operations Joe Ienuso.

In response to a question about student health on campus, Bollinger said that he believed “on the whole, students are really very happy.”

“We always have people who struggle for reasons we care about, but my sense is that students are really very pleased with the environment and with the education,” Bollinger said. “We always have to be very attentive to issues of depression, extreme anxiety, and basic physical health.”

“I think that we have one of the best student health services in the country, but we may be able to do more,” Bollinger said. “We’re always open to your ideas. This topic may raise the sexual assault issue, which I’m happy and would like to talk about.”

Jessica Silfa, GS ’15 and co-founder of GS Alliance, noted that a Quality of Life survey showed that multiple transgender students are dissatisfied with some aspects of Columbia. Silfa said that one specific concern was with the lack of gender inclusive bathrooms on Columbia’s campus.

“Now, Barnard has been very progressive and they now have the gender inclusive bathrooms in each building, so I’m wondering if this side of campus will reach that level?” Silfa asked.

“We’re probably not where we need to be—and we need to address this issue,” Ienuso responded. Bollinger added that the administration will reach out to students to further discuss this issue.

“I was very happy that both he and the present administration admitted there’s a lot of work to be done,” Silfa said after the event.

Another student asked Bollinger about the student campaign calling on the University to divest from private prison companies, but Bollinger said that the issue was a bit more complicated.

“The endowment is dealt by a semi-separate organization from the university, for the reason of return,” Bollinger said. “It’s important to separate the two to avoid questions like this.”

Bollinger and students also discussed the community on campus, the University’s outreach to Harlem, and undergraduate opportunities at the global centers.





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