The Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority’s Mu Upsilon chapter held a forum entitled “The Cornell Residential Initiative: Is It Working?” Saturday at 2 p.m.
The third in an annual “Minority Perspectives” series, the event featured a panel of professors, students and community development leaders speaking to an audience of almost 40 people.
Over the course of almost two and a half hours, the panel voiced concerns to the audience and to University representatives about the new North Campus and its negative effects on minority communities.
The panel of 10 included Prof. Emeritus Donald J. Barr, policy analysis and management, Prof. James Turner, Africana studies, Susan H. Murphy, vice-president for student and academic services, Donald H. King, associate director of Campus Life and director of community development, Victoria R. Lopez, residence hall director of the Latino Living Center and Ramon L. Knox, residence hall director of the Dickson-McLLU Complex.
Issues discussed ranged from fostering freshman-upperclass relations to whether the University failed to foresee the impact of the North Campus Residential Initiative (NCRI) on minorities. Many goals of the initiative were questioned, including whether or not it should have been implemented at all.
AKA president Natalie Hardnett ’04 opened the forum. “For the past three years, the ladies at Mu Upsilon chapter have tried to
highlight the minority issues here on campus,” she said before introducing the panel.
Murphy then began by summarizing the administration’s position on the North Campus Initiative and the West Campus Residential Initiative (WCRI).
“One of the priorities was to expand housing and provide and guarantee housing for freshmen, sophomores and transfer students,” she said.
“Secondly, [our priority] was to take the mandate by the Board of Trustees in 1997 calling upon the University to make supportive residential communities in the context of the overall academic experience.”
She cited other priorities, including making West Campus “architecturally and progressively attractive for upperclass students,” encouraging fraternities and sororities to move forward with their own goals and continuing to provide freshmen housing choices within the context of the Initiative.
Murphy acknowledged the initiative’s weaknesses, citing the problem of freshmen losing interactions with upperclassmen. She emphasized the Initiative advantages, saying it allows a “sense of community” and “common experience” that lets freshmen connect, especially after Sept. 11.
Knox then spoke from his experience as a residence hall director. “The reality is, not everyone feels as if they’re a part of the community,” he said.
Knox explained what he felt is happening on North Campus with increasing numbers of bias-related incidents: “It becomes groupthink. When you have upperclassmen, it starts to monitor that.”
He also voiced his opinion that Cornell should better implement “diversity in multicultural education” to all incoming freshmen. He emphasized that “we need the community to be vocal, the minority community in particular [to] help us share and mold programs to fulfill needs.”
One problem Knox pointed out is the distance between North and West Campus, which he said divides the minority communities.
“Most people don’t walk it, very few people drive it,” he said.
King then gave Campus Life’s position on the Initiative, saying his priorities include making sure students feel safe and “not condoning messages and interactions that promote hatred and violence.”
King then identified 13 components he is emphasizing to improve living and learning connections on North Campus, including arts and entertainment, community service, multicultural awareness, sexuality and spirituality. Finally, he reiterated the administration’s plans to implement a better sophomore mentor program next year to foster relationships between freshmen and upperclassmen.
Lopez spoke about many issues concerning minorities on campus from a program house director’s point of view.
“Program houses serve a much larger purpose than residence halls,” she said, citing roles such as “a home away from home” and specialized activities.
“[Change] has to begin with students and students approaching faculty,” she said.
Panel member Rosaline M. Pinnock ’03 commented on campus security “That sense of security really don’t see that too much.” Pinnock reiterated the need for upperclass interaction, especially among minorities, saying that “first-year students don’t get that sense of what to do and what not to do … you have to go the extra mile [to find upperclass experience and help].”
Also, she added, “first-year students don’t know where to turn” when bias-related incidents occur.
Panelist Verneda A. White ’05 brought the necessary freshman representation to the event. As someone who lives on North Campus, she found “a one-to-four ratio as far as the strengths to weaknesses” of the Initiative are concerned.
Addressing the administration’s desire to create a community of freshmen, she said that “I couldn’t tell you that I know most of the
students in Dickson [or] Court.”
She also voiced a common concern among the audience at the event, the lack of minorities on West Campus. There is a “certain amount of fear of having to move to West Campus” after freshman year, she said.
The final student perspective came from Funa Maduka ’04, minority representative of the Student Assembly. Maduka encouraged students to fill out surveys sent via e-mail so that the administration can hear concerns about the residential initiative.
She noted “how important community is to people of color. You see a lot of confusion [on North Campus], especially among the minorities.”
Turner ended the panel discussion with a speech touching on many issues relating to the Initiatives.
“I couldn’t help but think that much of this was anticipated,” he began.
He said that the idea of the Initiative was “from a very elementary sociological point of view,” citing the distance between areas such as the townhouses and Balch Hall and Risley Residential College. Three years ago before the Initiative, he said, “many students [already] said ‘we have community.'”
The floor then opened up to questions from the audience.
“We’re not dealing with rats in a cage. This is not an experiment,” Patricia Louison ’95 said, urging the University to go “beyond the rhetoric.”
After the event, audience members felt as if their voice was heard but that there is much work to be done.
“The more we talk about it, the more we break down myths and perspectives in an effort to make Cornell a place we love at the end of the day,” Louison said.
Archived article by Andy Guess