Columbia University is only a few blocks from the Harlem public school where Allyson Chavez spent her high-school years. But to her and her schoolmates, she said, the Ivy League institution often seemed little more than a steadily encroaching foreign entity where few, if any of them, would end up.
“It sort of seems like Columbia is this big bully trying to build more and more in Harlem,” she said of the school’s reputation in the neighborhood.
Ms. Chavez, 18 years old, did end up at Columbia—as one of 34 Thompson-Muñoz scholars, beneficiaries of a new grant program the university has created exclusively for students who grew up or went to school in the area surrounding Columbia and its new campus currently under construction in the West Harlem neighborhood of Manhattanville.
Amid continuing tension between the 260-year-old university and its neighbors over the school’s impact on the area’s accelerating gentrification, school officials on Friday are scheduled to formally announce the program participants. They will be toasted at a campus reception, which will be attended by administrators and alumni.
As part of the program, all the scholars will receive grants from the school that vary by need. A university spokeswoman declined to provide a range for this group of students, citing student privacy, but said the average Columbia undergraduate on need-based financial aid receives $42,000 in grants annually. The program, named for two Columbia graduates from Harlem, Dr. Albert Thompson and Carlos Muñoz, also offers students opportunities to meet privately with school administrators and community leaders.
Some in the Harlem area see the initiative as a step toward improving Columbia’s community relations. But others, including some of the program’s participants, have questioned whether helping a few dozen locals attend Columbia is enough to quell concerns about the school’s growing Harlem presence.
With its current verdant campus in Morningside Heights, Columbia has nearly 30,000 students and an endowment of more than $8 billion. A new $7 billion campus, which will add nearly 7 million square feet to Columbia’s upper Manhattan footprint, is under construction between 125th and 133rd streets, with some of the buildings slated for completion by 2016.
By Mike Vilensky