Transport Workers Union Expresses “Outrage” Following Barnard CARES Comments on Hijab Removal at Security Checkpoints

The Union’s letter addresses comments made by Rosemarie Ronde, Associate Director of the college’s CARES office.

Photography by Samantha Candelo-Ortegon

On March 7th, the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) wrote to Barnard’s President Rosenbury to “express outrage” regarding “shocking” comments made by Rosemarie Ronde, Associate Director of the college’s Community Accountability, Response, and Emergency Services (CARES) office. 

The letter, signed by John Samuelsen, International President of the TWU, and Local 264 TWU President Joseph Rose, claims Ronde approached two Barnard security officers (members of the TWU Local 264) on November 15th, 2023, and suggested that “security officers have female Islamic students remove their hijabs when going through routine security checks to enter school grounds.”

According to the TWU, the exchange took place after Ronde “observed” the officers, who are still employed at Barnard, letting two hijabi students into campus. Ronde then told one of the officers to “go ahead” and ask the students to remove their hijabs if he wanted to.  

“Is this a rogue supervisor who made an off-comment, or is this an agenda of the college?” said Joseph Rose, President of the Trade Workers Union’s Local 264 in an interview with the Bulletin. “This directive really could have put our members’ lives in jeopardy. We want answers.” 

Ronde’s comments come after both Barnard and Columbia’s campuses have repeatedly limited gate access to CU/BC ID holders, often on days when there are planned protests on campus regarding the ongoing violence in Gaza.

The union, which represents “more than 150,000 members across the airline, railroad, and transit, university, utility and service sectors,” including many campus staff at Barnard College and Columbia University, told the Bulletin that they identify Ronde’s comments as a discriminatory workplace issue. “[Ronde’s] comments demonstrate either a startling insensitivity to Islamic religious beliefs and traditions, complete ignorance, or an indefensible bias against followers of the Islamic faith,” TWU’s letter says.

“It is sickening,” says Rose. “We are not going to follow any directives that single out anyone of any other cultures, any other races, any other genders. We are against that agenda.”

Although they acknowledge the comments’ political and religious undertones in context of the “War in Gaza,” the TWU says they maintain no position on political conflicts. “Maintaining neutrality as peace officers is extremely important to us,” the letter writes.

TWU claims that after Local 264 security officers notified the Barnard administration in November, one officer was interviewed by the Barnard Human Resources Department. After being referred to the college’s Nondiscrimination and Title IX office, the letter says neither security officer has yet been interviewed. 

“We waited to hear something from Title IX, and nothing came back,” says Rose. “We waited months. It was such an egregious thing, we couldn’t allow this to go without someone acknowledging what had happened.” 

The union says that while they have reached out many times through Barnard’s official channels since November, they have been met with silence. The TWU’s decision to release the March 7th letter publicly was due to the lack of substantive information received from the administration regarding a response to Ronde’s comments or potential future actions.

“We exhausted everything,” says Juan Ramos, TWU Local 264’s Executive Vice President. 

A Barnard College spokesperson says that “action was taken upon receiving the inquiry,” and that the college is “nearing the conclusion of our investigation and have interviewed a number of people with information as part of this process.” 

The spokesperson also says that Barnard is “unwaveringly committed to providing an environment free of unlawful discrimination, harassment, or retaliation” and is “staunchly against all forms of bigotry, including antisemitism and Islamophobia.”

Rose alleges that this is not the first time Barnard security guards of the Local 264 union have raised concerns about Ronde. “On Sabbath for the Jewish community, they wait in front of the dorms for the doors to open because they can’t scan their IDs,” says Rose. “A little over a year ago the directive came from this director that the students must scan their IDs to enter the Quad. At the time, we had written an email to President Beilock, and that also went unanswered.”

“They [CARES] are repeated offenders,” says Rose.

Barnard’s spokesperson, however, says that this alleged incident did not involve Ronde, and was investigated and resolved by the college.**

While TWU’s March 7th letter says that Ronde “was promoted from Assistant Director to Director” following her comments, Barnard’s spokesperson says that “no changes have been made to her title.”

The TWU Local 264 says that they want to hold Barnard accountable for Ronde’s comments. “We are expecting change from the top down,” says Ramos. 

“We won’t stand for this. We are not complicit in this,” says Rose. “We are going to hold the college accountable for any director, any supervisor, any directives that come out of their mouths that are pushing these racial agendas. We are going to stand against it. In whatever means we have to do that, we will.”

*correction on March 14th: a previous version of this article stated that Barnard’s Nondiscrimination and Title IX office is under the direction of the CARES Department. In October 2023, the Title IX office was moved to the Offices of Inclusion and Engaged Learning.

** added in response to a clarifying conversation with the college.

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