November 16, 2015

TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT | Rethinking Diversity Education

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By YAMINI BHANDARI

Social media has been very active over the past few days, between the horrific acts of terror around the world, coupled with a growing conflict within our own country. As a student of color on a college campus in the United States, the issues facing other universities are hard to ignore at a time like this. With student protests in school as close to home as Ithaca College, this is a time for reflection for universities like Cornell. When just this past weekend, a Dartmouth student faced hostility and excessive force from security hired by the Student Activities Office at the Latinx Ivy League Conference at Brown University, there is a need for us as students of the most socioeconomically diverse Ivy League school to think about these issues and actually do something about it. It is time for us to reflect on how we engage as a community in addressing issues of diversity.

Cornell brings together people from around the world. What this presents us with is an incredible opportunity and a unique challenge. We have students who come from communities where the norm is very different from the norms at Cornell, and often that creates a great deal of tension. Given this state of affairs, Cornell is put in a precarious position to level the playing field in terms of what students understand as acceptable and unacceptable behavior. The most significant effort in this regard comes in the first week students are on campus, through various events during Orientation Week, including Speak about It, Tapestry and discussions with R.A.s and Orientation Leaders.

After these initial conversations and presentations, each freshman class is supposedly left with an understanding of diversity, sexual harassment, academic integrity, mental health and late night drinking, all on top of understanding how to make it to their classes on time. They are given packets of information with detailed resources if anything were to ever go wrong, and often they are left to tackle the rest of their experience on the Hill on their own.

Perhaps an alternative solution to this issue could be extending some of these conversations beyond freshman year orientation week. For those students who have worked towards furthering this dialogue, discussions on extending education and campus resources beyond freshman year have gone on far longer than they anticipated. I am no stranger to that conversation, but now is the time to act on it. This country is at a point where we need to talk about diversity issues — specifically, we must address our biases and expand our understanding of the complexities surrounding the issues at hand. Diversity conversations can no longer just be a check-off within freshman orientation, it has to be a deeply engaging experience.

There is currently a coalition of student leaders working on this issue. We are teaming up  to work on a proposal to get diversity education to be a required part of the Cornell experience through the curriculum. Diversity requirements in a classroom must emphasize a small environment for discussion in order for students to truly understand their own biases. Solutions like this are coupled with efforts to increase requirements in terms of diversity education for faculty and staff, as this type of education is a critical part of the Cornell experience.

Social media has shown us in the past few days that a large population of Cornell stands in solidarity with students on other campuses taking action on these issues. But it is not enough to just make statements. We need to take action and address our own campus’s issues.

Yamini Bhandari is the undergraduate student-elected trustee. She can be reached a  yb94@cornell.edu. Trustee Viewpoint appears on alternate Tuesdays this semester.