May 10, 2012

Taking Responsibility for the Problem, Looking for the Solution

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My name is Sean Fuoco, and tonight I realized that I am an integral part of Cornell’s deep racial divide. Let me explain.

After personally witnessing the last four years of Sigma Pi history, I can tell you that last night’s Forum was one of the most uncomfortable, gut-wrenching, openly embarrassing events our house has been through. And it needs to happen more often. Not just to us, or the people that represent our campus, but to everyone that believes in Cornell as a clear-conscious campus of moral integrity, because it is not. Let me speak of my experience this evening.

Upon hearing about the events of early Sunday morning, I remember feeling a deep sense of shock and regret. Regret that some monster could ever utter such racism to another human being, regret that this event would be linked to something I care so much about, regret that people who do not know me may now look at me as a bigot that intends to inflict hateful pain. I saw the same shock and pain on all 55 of my brothers’ faces — a group of people who pride themselves on their openness and on their racial, socioeconomic and cultural diversity. While we did not realize how those who had never met us could think we represent such hateful values, we knew Sunday’s instance would open wounds to people not only from Cornell, but to every person of non-white descent worldwide. Knowing we needed to hear from those we hurt, the majority of our brotherhood attended last night’s forum.

I walked into the forum feeling embarrassed, wanting to clear my fraternity’s name and meet those who were hurt. And while I worked towards these goals, it became clear to me that the issue was larger than I could have ever imagined, and that my feelings were justifiably unimportant. It became clear that the wounds inflicted upon minority’s are being re-opened every day, and it only cuts deeper. The hurt on people’s faces is something I wish I could share with every soul on campus. I always was cognizant of the discriminatory perception of the Greek system, Cornell’s student bodies and the campus in general, but never did I once stop to think what that meant for other people’s everyday Cornell experience. It’s natural for people who do not come from heterogeneous backgrounds to be hesitant about interacting with those they have not previously encountered; it is not natural for people to be shunned and herded together for four years because of these shortcomings. Those who do not look like the rest of us or do not come from similar places and experiences as the rest of us naturally feel out of place, initially. But when that initial discomfort is not eradicated, and only further perpetuated, at what point do we as the plurality turn the spotlight upon ourselves? It is very easy to want to blame the administration, but ultimately it is up to those who wish to represent a community that embraces, not discriminates.

There is a simple bottom line: What do we truly want as an outcome from the recent events and the deeper problem at hand? It is pointless for minority groups to bring awareness about such problems to an audience of minority students. And this is where I realized my, and the greater Cornell’s, fault.

While I am not a discriminatory person in any way, I realized that my neutral voice on race has certainly not been part of the solution. And the more people like me are not part of the solution, the worse it gets. The more people of different backgrounds feel pushed away. The more insensitive we as a whole become to a problem that hurts others so deeply. While this problem is not my fault, I am at fault in my complacency with the current state of affairs.  By not being part of the solution I am part of the problem. This is what I took from the forum, as did many of my brothers. I immediately no longer cared what those in the room thought of me; I could feel how they felt — if only for a brief moment.  It was all I needed to look inside myself and ask what I could do. I think we all did.

I was looking to clear Sigma Pi’s name with the facts of the incident, let people know our sentiment of deep regret. As it turns out, the fact that it was not someone associated with our house did not alleviate our feeling of embarrassment; it only made us realize how deeply some people have been hurt in the past. Feeling regret is a neutral stance, and that simply won’t do. I plan to push my brotherhood to be an active and involved component of the search for a solution. But we need to be way more than that. We need to be leaders — without the efforts of the plurality, there is no solution, only more of the same. It starts with an uncomfortable, gut-wrenching conversation with those that are not like us. A conversation that opens communication to why such a basic issue is so overlooked, and what can be done about it.

My name is Sean Fuoco. I was part of the problem. Help me be part of the solution.

Sean Fuoco is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at smf223@cornell.edu. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Sean Fuoco

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