October 27, 2013

Cornell Officials Say They Will Continue to Work on Diversity

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By RACHEL WEBER

The University has come a long way to increase the diversity of its students and employees, but it still has much left to do, trustees and officials say.

This fall, Cornell welcomed “the most diverse freshman class ever in terms of proportions of African American students, the proportion of students who consider themselves people of color and international students,” Robert S. Harrison ’76, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said at a meeting Friday.

The University has also seen increasing diversity among its graduate students and workforce — something that Lynette Chappell-Williams, associate vice president of inclusion and workforce diversity, said she “felt really proud of.”

Even then, one of the biggest challenges the University continues to face as it seeks to increase diversity is community engagement, officials said.

Although the University has tried to promote diversity through efforts such as the launch of a diversity and inclusion website and the introduction of mentoring organizations for students of color, officials say they do not think enough people know about ongoing efforts on campus.

“We’re finding our biggest struggle is getting individuals aware of the process and challenges that we’re experiencing. Despite all the efforts that we’ve had to get the word out, we’re still finding pockets of individuals who are not aware [of the University’s diversity initiatives],” Chappell-Williams said.

Echoing Chapell-Williams’ sentiments, Student Assembly President Ulysses Smith ’14 said that “one of the big things we’ve noticed about [new diversity initiatives] is that many people, both students and employees, are not aware of it.”

“It’s really a shame, because this is such an interesting approach that really requires that we all take an active interest in promoting it,” Smith said.

According to Smith, the S.A. has been working to get more undergraduates involved in conversations about diversity through measures such as United Student Body, which encourages student groups to implement their own diversity initiatives.

The S.A. is also actively partnering with the University to try to promote a “culture change,” Smith said. Students cannot be excluded from the process of trying to increase diversity on campus, he added.

“As students, we are an integral part of this University, and our participation is really key if we want any of these long and sometimes difficult conversations to yield any tangible results,” Smith said. Ultimately, change in the University’s campus climate and composition will take time, officials said. “It’s going to be years — not days or weeks or months,” Harrison said.

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