Who does the "greater good" serve?

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November 20, 2019 - 4:23pm

Critical Commentary

Staff members at Columbia asserted that the University’s primary goal was to fulfill its mission as a global institution and to act for the “greater good.” However, the “greater good” did not appear to include Grant residents, particularly the young people targeted by various programming seeking to mold them into the idealized citizens who might eventually enter higher education’s fold and contribute to the knowledge economy. Following the police raids, the “disconnected youth” narrative both influenced and justified the University’s actions. Yet in the aftermath of crisis, Grant residents sought to transcend from the historically determinate position of “secondariness” often propagated by the media and institutions, leveraging their own social force in Morningside Heights. In Columbia’s attempt to carve a Manhattanville out of Harlem, young residents were subjected to the University’s dual coercive mechanisms of gentrification and policing. According to residents, the utilization of eminent domain was emblematic of Columbia’s off-hands approach, while the mass raid seized a large group of young people without addressing the underlying structural issues that rendered the moment of crisis. Such was a perpetuation of 20th century urban renewal and order maintenance tactics exhibited by the University and city, the likes of which served to protect the “white ethnic imagined community” from the imaginary threat posed by that which seemed to challenge it the most: the Black spatial imaginary of residents at Grant and Manhattanville, and particularly of the young people living there, bearers of the neighborhood’s future.