For those entering and leaving Columbia University’s Dodge Fitness Center on Monday night, the walk to and from the building was far from usual.
Approximately eighty student protestors lined the entrance and inside walls, holding signs in silence to showcase their response to a number of racist, misogynistic, and homophobic text exchanges between members of the university’s men’s wrestling team.
On Thursday, Columbia’s independent student-run news site, Bwog.com, published twenty of the messages obtained from the team’s group messaging app. The site called the messages, which dated from 2014 to a few days ago, “shocking” and “troubling.”
Since then, many Columbia students have demonstrated outrage, protesting once in front of the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity house on 114th Street and Broadway and calling for the administration to launch an investigation.
Earlier on Monday, Columbia’s Athletic Department released a statement on the matter.
“The Department of Athletics has decided that Columbia wrestlers will not compete until we have a full understanding of the facts on which to base the official response to this disturbing matter,” the statement read.
The team of 36 men, who are mostly white, were also pulled from competing in its first match of the season against Binghamton University over the weekend.
At Dodge Fitness Center, many passersby slowed their paces and looked around confused as the protesters leaned against the walls with grim faces for a total of hour and a half.
Each protester held a sign that quoted phrases from the wrestling team’s text exchanges.
“I’m at Miami Ohio right now and I swear every girl begs for the c*** so hard,” one sign read.
“He’s such a n***** though that’s all he is,” another sign read.
Other students held two large, yellow signs. One read “Not my wrestling team.” The other, “Not my athletics.”
“Wow, that’s so out of line. That’s definitely not acceptable,” said 23-year-old financial math graduate student, Eric Wang, in reaction to a sign that one protester that read, “She’s your Latina a** pornstar.”
Other bystanders had similar reactions. Thomas Presley, 25, a student studying Germanic languages, called the messages “disgusting.” He said he heard of the story through a post on Instagram.
“There were some quotes lifted from this group conversation,” he said, “None of them were actually as shocking as the ones being shown here right now.”
While protesters found the text messages appalling, some comments on Bwog’s article questioned whether publishing the messages violated the privacy of the team, which bills itself as the nation’s oldest college wrestling program.
“You and the authors both know that this is a blatant violation of privacy and incredibly defamatory,” wrote one commenter. “Your “”””””””good”””””” intentions are irrelevant and you should be ashamed of yourself.”
Requests for comment from Bwog were unanswered.
“Public or private, it doesn’t matter. It’s unacceptable,” said Wang in response to the privacy issue.
Doreen Mohammed, 23, a student protester studying human rights, said she worked at Dodge Fitness Center for two and a half years and that publicizing the messages was needed in order to point to a larger issue facing the university.
“There are great people in athletics, but there are also racist, misogynist people, particularly the administration,” she said.
Mohammed also said the students connected to the messages should be expelled.
“The wrestling team in particular, for whatever reason, never seems to be the most progressive,” Mohammad said, “Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom of consequence.”
She wasn’t alone in her thinking. As of Monday night, a Change.org petition, calling for the expulsion of Columbia’s wrestling team, garnered 905 supporters out of the 1,000 needed for the petition to be sent to university president, Lee Bollinger.
As of Monday, the wrestling team’s Facebook page had been taken down.
Wrestling team members and the head coach did not respond to requests for comment.