Black Columbia University Student Pinned Down by Public Safety Officers Says He Was Racially Profiled

After video surfaced of the incident, Alexander McNab said he wants people to "understand this interaction."

In the moments leading up to a black Columbia University student being pinned down by several public safety officers, Alexander McNab says he was just leaving a two-hour dance practice.

Hungry, he checked a Facebook group that details where students can get free food on campus. McNab noticed Caroline Cutlip’s post, which indicated there was at a building at Barnard College nearby.

Students who attend both Columbia and Barnard have access to each others campuses with their student ID, but students say the checking of IDs is loosely enforced.

McNab walked into a building on Barnard's campus.

"Not long after I pass through the Barnard gates, I hear somebody yelling, 'Hello sir! Hello sir!'” McNab told

"At that moment, I decided, I do know how to diffuse the situation because it's happened to me twice before at Barnard and once at Columbia. And in those past instances, I just showed my ID and that would be the end of everything. But I didn't want it to be the end of everything,” McNab continued.

“I thought, you know, if I just show these people my ID, there's no attention to what I see to be an issue of only certain students who — not even certain students — certain people who are asked to prove their identities in relation to Columbia University or Barnard College."

In video recorded by Cutlip, McNab refused to show officials his ID, and officers can be seen pushing him down onto a counter. At one point, McNab is completely out of view, surrounded by at least four officers.

Authorities can then be repeatedly heard telling McNab to go with them outside. McNab refuses.

"I thought if you were going to pin me down on the table when people are filming you, and you know they are filming you, you can see all these instances of public safety officers looking back at the camera—who knows what you're gonna do to me once you get me outside where there's nobody," McNab said.

McNab eventually gives the officers his ID, and they continue to ask him to go outside. One officer is heard saying, "We're gonna find out if you're a student."

McNab replies, "You have my ID, what else do you need to see?"

An officer says, "Let's see if you're an active student."

McNab said he was fed up with what he feels is constantly being racially profiled.

"The reason I got loud was not because I was out of control or overwhelmed with anger. Me getting loud was a very intentional decision to say, I want people around to hear what it is I have to say so that they could understand this interaction that's happening between public safety and me. The category into which this story falls is very different for different groups of people. Which, I'm inclined to say, falls along racial lines."

The next day, Barnard held a listening session where students and school officials voiced their concerns. Students say they left feeling like nothing was accomplished. reached out to both Columbia and Barnard for comment. Columbia University did not respond.

Barnard officials said in a statement, in part, “Our policy states that anyone entering our gates after 11pm is required to show student identification. This practice was established in 2013, when students expressed concern about safety after a woman, pretending to be a Columbia University student, failed to produce student identification and trespassed on Columbia’s campus.”

In a message to the student body, Barnard president Sian Beilock wrote, in part, “The confrontation with a black male Columbia University student and several Barnard public safety officers on April 11, 2019, does not reflect the values of the College; what transpired was unacceptable and antithetical to our mission. I am as deeply troubled by what we witnessed in those videos as you are.  

"I sincerely apologize to the Columbia student involved and have reached out to him to better understand his experience on campus. I also apologize to the students who witnessed it and were treated disrespectfully, and to all who have felt its impact.”

The officers involved have been placed on paid administrative leave pending investigation. The college has hired a third party to investigate the incident.

At this point, McNab hasn't decided whether he'll take legal action, but he will meet with Barnard officials on the matter.

"Do I want them to be fired? You know, I don't think it would be a problem if they were fired. But I don't think that the problem is them. I think that they're a manifestation of a larger problem. And I think that when we have these sort of witch hunts where we focus on specific individuals, you know, we ignore the system that created those individuals," McNab stated.

What McNab wants from this whole experience is positive change.

"To make sure that word comes off clearly and then translates into positive change that is tangible, sustainable, significant, and structural. Because it is a structural problem. It's not an individual one," he said.