Progress made this semester by the Cornell University Coalition for Ethnic Studies (CUCES) to expand multicultural academic programs came only after a struggle.
Despite sleet and snow, more than 50 students gathered on the Arts Quad on Jan. 30 and marched to Ho Plaza in protest of the alleged reluctance of the administration to implement change in the ethnic studies departments. Admistrators responded and on Feb. 6 President Hunter R. Rawlings III and Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin issued a statement to all students that expressed the University’s commitment to diversity.
Since then a group of 25 undergraduate and graduate students, working together with faculty and adminstrators, have brought their agenda to the foreground of campus politics. Composed of students, faculty, deans from the different colleges, Martin, Vice Provost Isaac Kramnick and Vice Provost Robert L. Harris, the collaborative task force initiated dialogue to address strategies to fund ethnic studies programs and recruit faculty with expertise in multicultural education.
“We have met several times. At the first meeting we discussed process and had a brief discussion [about] some of the issues we considered most immediate and challenging,” said Martin.
“There has been some very good dialogue that’s come up,” said Marc Rivera ’02, a member of CUCES and the task force. “Some of the directors [of ethnic studies programs], who felt uncomfortable laying out on the line saying a program lacked adequate funding, had a chance to speak in a productive atmosphere.”
Students from CUCES as well as independently interested students have participated in providing suggestions for the task force.
“In the beginning I was the one to help initiate meeting with Provost Martin,” said Khary Barnes ’02, student-elected trustee. “We came up with key individuals for making change including deans from different colleges, faculty and students. The task force is comprised of people who moderated the need of ethnic studies. The students involved have a good vision in mind.”
The administration conducted a feasibility study following the Africana rally in the fall 2001, but a group students felt that the administration was not doing anything substantial to implement change in the representation of ethnic studies and thus formed CUCES, according to Rivera.
“Students felt cut out of the process. CUCES is devoted to making sure there is administrative accountability for the concerns of the student body and the ethnic studies,” Rivera said.
Administrative members of the task force agreed that significant progress was made this semester through meetings and discussions.
“The University lacks a long term vision of the growth and intellectual development in terms of scholarship in ethnic studies,” said Nicole Guidotti-Hernandez grad, a member of CUCES.
“I think we have been making good progress this semester,” said Kramnick. “We have established a very good cooperative working relationship based on a common desire to strengthen the place of ethnic studies on campus. We work well together.”
Subsequent meetings addressed specific strategies for implementing change in administrative policy and identifying avenues for fundraising.
“At the second meeting we received and discussed a proposal prepared by students in the CUCES,” Martin said.
On April 17, they submitted a proposal to the task force that provided guidelines for generating financial support for programs that currently cannot afford to expand their academic curriculum. These programs include the Africana Studies & Research Center, Latino Studies Program, American Indian Program, Asian American Studies Program.
The CUCES proposal recommended broadening the available curriculum to address underrepresentation in contemporary issues such as the American historical discourse and the American literary canon, according to Guidotti-Hernandez. Specifically, the proposal suggests beginning a capital campaign by hiring a professional grant writer to identify and utilize financial support for scholarship in ethnic studies.
“A lot of the time the University tries to portray people who push for change as malcontents, but in reality CUCES has accomplished a lot, producing the proposal, which is the equivalent of a 40-page student paper, and helping to increase general knowledge about ethnic studies, especially within the group,” said Rivera.
“Our final meeting [this semester] will be devoted to reports from [Prof.] Shelley Wong from the Asia-American Program and [Prof.] Maria Cristina Garcia from Latino Studies. More in-depth discussion of the programs plans and needs, and of strategies for enhancing our research and education programs will occur next semester,” Martin said.
Archived article by Dan Webb