A Columbia University student identified as Julian von Abele sparked mass outrage after bragging about Europeans building the modern world and expressing his love for white men in a now-viral video clip. In an email to undergraduate students, Columbia denounced the "racially charged" incident and confirmed that they had launched an investigation into the matter.
Von Abele has since reacted to the backlash via Twitter, refuting the accusations of racism and hatred and explaining the context of the video. "Nobody has explained what I said that was actually negative or racist, or insulting towards anybody else," he wrote, adding, "I was theatrically and sarcastically demonstrating that whites are not allowed to embrace their cultural achievements."
"As everyone who has known me my whole life knows, I am a kind person and I don’t hate anyone, certainly not for their race or ethnicity," he said.
At the opening of the video, von Abele tells a group of students that Europeans "invented the modern world."
"We invented science and industry and you want to tell us to stop because oh my God, we're so bad. We saved billions of people from starvation. We built modern civilization," he says.
"Oh, my God," one of the students gasps. "What about slavery?" shouts another.
"White people are the best thing ever. I love myself and I love my people," von Abele declares in response. "F*** yeah, white people! We're white people. We did everything. I don’t hate other people, I just love myself. I just love white men."
One Columbia student posted the video to Twitter, tagging the university, and writing the caption, "Twitter, do your thing." A #ColumbiaWhiteExcellence hashtag was included.
The Columbia Daily Spectator accused von Abele of "harassing" students of color and "spewing racist, white supremacist rhetoric."
"A group of primarily black Columbia underclassmen were harassed outside Butler Library around 4 a.m. Sunday morning," the Spectator stated. "Julian von Abele, CC '21, followed the students from outside Butler to JJ’s Place, where he continued to berate them with racist and white supremacist comments in an incident that was captured on video by students and has since gone viral on social media."
At least one student called for the administration to take "further action."
"I really hope that Columbia takes further action. They should definitely try to talk to the students that were affected by that and ensure everyone’s okay because that’s really hard to internalize," said Kwolanne Felix, a Columbia freshman.
University Senator Alfredo Dominguez argued that allowing free speech on campus essentially sparked the encounter. "You can have arguments all you want about free speech and people being entitled to say what they want," Dominguez told the Spectator. "But when that bubbles [into] assaulting black or brown people with that and then stalking them ... you're getting into levels of hate crime and your speech being directly related to violence."
The Black Student Organization and the Student Organization of Latinxs claimed von Abele "physically grabbed another student during this encounter and asked them if black women like to date white men," the Spectator reports.
The video does not show von Abele assaulting anyone, though at least one of the other students touches von Abele's chest and face.
"We write to you to unequivocally denounce a deeply disturbing racially charged incident involving Columbia undergraduates that took place in front of Butler Library and JJ’s Place early this morning," reads a statement from the university's administration, addressed to
The statement adds, "This incident is already under investigation by the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, and we want to assure you that it will be investigated thoroughly, beginning with interviews of witnesses."
The incident triggered numerous headlines in the mainstream media:
- Miami Herald: "Video of Columbia College student's racist speech in New York"
- New York Post: "White Columbia University student goes on racist tirade"
- The Hill: "Columbia University denounces white student who berated black classmates with racist language"
- USA Today: "Columbia University denounces 'racially charged' rant by white student"
- TIME Magazine: "Columbia University Denounced a Student's 'Racially Charged' Rant"
- The Daily Beast: "White Columbia University Sophomore Taunts Students of Color in Racist Tirade"
Von Abele says that the media have demonized him and misrepresented his views in their reporting. He posted a full statement on the matter to Twitter.
"I am not a white supremacist or racist, nor do I subscribe to any views that support that ideology," the statement reads in part. "I unequivocally denounce all groups that support racism."
"My reaction that evening grew out of my distaste for the overuse of the term 'white privilege' and similar divisive rhetoric as a means of dismissing views of others," he explained. "[E]very single person should love themselves and their culture, and we should all be allowed to be proud of our heritage."
"The specific dialogue I reacted to in the video began when several students were accusing Trump supporters of encouraging sexual violence," said von Abele. He says he was then told by other students that he had no right to express his views because he was male and white. "I was offended for being held personally responsible for the historical actions of the people who have the same skin color as me, and I was tired of the divisive rhetoric that blames all the ills of society on white men."
"I was theatrically and sarcastically demonstrating that whites are not allowed to embrace their cultural achievements," said the student, noting that the video was "out-of-context."
Addressing the accusations on harassment and assault, von Abele wrote, "At no time did I shove, grab, or physically or verbally assault anyone, nor did I denigrate anyone's race."
Von Abele closed the statement, "I apologize for going over the top, and I emphasize that my reaction was not one of hate."
Read the full statement from the university, below:
Dear Undergraduate Students,
We write to you to unequivocally denounce a deeply disturbing racially charged incident involving Columbia undergraduates that took place in front of Butler Library and JJ’s Place early this morning.
Many of you have heard about or seen the alarming footage online, which includes painful language directed toward students of color in our community. Although we cannot comment on the proceedings, this incident is already under investigation by the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, and we want to assure you that it will be investigated thoroughly, beginning with interviews of witnesses.
We are alarmed at the rise of incidents of racism and hate speech in our world today. It is more important than ever that we continually demonstrate our core values and restate our commitment to a diverse, inclusive community on campus. At Columbia, we stand firmly against white supremacist language and violence. As we said last week, our community will not waver in its support for those of any faith, race, gender, sexual orientation, background or identity.
We understand this may be a difficult time for you and your classmates. Members of our on-call team began to provide individual support as soon as we learned of the incident. If you need support this evening, please reach out to your RA, who will connect you to additional resources as necessary.
All undergraduate students are invited to an open reflection space tomorrow night, Monday, December 10, 6:00-8:00 p.m. in Lerner Hall 505, hosted by Multicultural Affairs, for students to be in community with each other. Additional areas of support will be announced as we are able to plan.
Our collective work toward peace, respect and understanding must continue, both within our community and society at large.
Mary C. Boyce Dean of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science
Lisa Rosen-Metsch Dean of the School of General Studies
James J. Valentini Dean of Columbia College and Vice President for Undergraduate Education