The Cornell Freedom Project (CFP) launched the website www.hunterrawlings.com this past month attacking the “self-segregation” of ethnic program houses and the “undemocratic existence of minority, international, and LGBTQ liaisons” to the Student Assembly (S.A.). The CFP, which has no political affiliation, is a privately funded organization not connected with Cornell University.
The organization, which professes to be “dedicated to securing the rights of free speech, due process, and equality for all persons at Cornell University,” was founded this summer by Matt Gewolb ’04, the CFP’s executive director, and Justin Berkowitz ’05; however, Berkowitz is no longer actively involved with the organization.
“The number-one goal of hunterrawlings.com and the Cornell Freedom Project is to increase discourse on controversial ideas and increase offerings in the marketplace of ideas,” Gewolb said. “The actual political goals are secondary to the principles of free and unfettered speech in the marketplace of ideas.”
In an open letter to President Hunter R. Rawlings III, the CFP was critical of housing programs such as Ujamaa Residential College, calling them self-segregationist.
“You can’t have a healthy, vibrant, open society when you have people living in environments that are closed,” Gewolb explained. “I feel that these ethnic houses stifle any substantial discourse on the issue of race and race relations. I think that voluntary segregation is doing educational harm, societal harm, and is contradictory to the very principles of higher education.”
Rawlings responded to the letter on Oct. 1. He wrote, “Much has happened on campus over the seven years to which you refer in your letter. The North Campus Residential Initiative has brought together the entire freshman class in one location and substantially strengthened the coordination of all living/learning units in that section of the campus.”
The argument over Ujamaa is one that the University has heard before.
“Ujamaa is a long-standing program house here at Cornell. At times over the years, some people have raised objections with outside organizations about not only Ujamaa but other program houses as well, but the University has not changed its position,” said Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations.
The website also calls for an end to the minority, international and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) seats on the S.A. because, it says, they create a double representation for some students of the University. Under the current makeup of the S.A., students are represented by their college and by undesignated Assembly members, and some students are also represented by the minority, international and LGBTQ members as well.
The S.A. is currently in the process of drafting an official response to Gewolb and the CFP.
However, Sai Pidatala ’04, executive vice president of the S.A., offered his own response.
“A lot of people bash these seats and say it is very undemocratic to have them. However, their logic is very faulty for a number of reasons. Number one, the reason that these seats were created was because there is a need for them. Number two, these seats were intended to create multiple points of access for the student body to the student government. It is just to help people; the creation of those seats is to create a broad spectrum of views on campus,” Pidatala said.
The issue of double representation within the S.A. has been a topic of interest for many student-run political organizations. However, Gewolb explains that the CFP is in no way related to any other political groups.
“For any given situation, my recommendations are based on fairness and equality, not on partisan politics. I will not be drawn into partisan squabbles,” he said. “I am an independent thinker and will not be held hostage by tragically backward and dogmatic party platforms. I am certainly not a member of, nor am I associated with, the Cornell Republicans or Democrats.”
Instead, Gewolb explains that the CFP intends to expand controversial debate at Cornell.
“I believe in justice, equality and fairness for all people. I want to make every Cornellian a participant in democracy, expand the marketplace of ideas and expand debate on controversial issues at Cornell because that way we will move on as a college, University, institution and society,” he said.
Archived article by Erica Temel