November 17, 2015

Black Students Gather to Share Stories of Racism, Deliver Demands to President Garrett

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Black students and their stories of racism on Cornell’s campus was the focus of the entire Trillium food court, where nearly 150 students gathered to hear and deliver short speeches Tuesday afternoon. For roughly 15 minutes, students shared anecdotes, from being singled out as the “black girl in the back” of the room during a guest lecture to being told that Ujamaa Residential College is like a “cell block.”

Additionally, students delivered speeches on the history of racism at Cornell and in solidarity with the University of Missouri and other college campuses.

“The founding mission of Cornell University is that any person can find instruction in any study. Yet, while Cornell touts its compositional diversity, the campus environment is not conducive to the overall success of students of color and many other students whose cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds do not fit the mold of the historically wealthy, white university population,” said Noelani Gabriel ’16, delivering a speech written collectively by a group of students.

The speech calls on the University to “work with all deliberate and appropriate speed to grant the demands of its students who are demanding a fair shot in the game.”

“If this institution truly expects to uphold the values of Ezra Cornell’s utopian institution on a hill, it will realize that ‘any student, any study’ should not be an empty quip, but a promise of a full, wholehearted, and steadfast commitment to ensure that every student in every school and college has the resources, the love, and the support to survive and thrive the rigors of our institution and the trials and triumphs of life,” Gabriel said. “It is time for Cornell to be on the right side of history.”

Following the speech and a historical recount of racist events on campus, students, one-by-one, shared brief personal experiences with racism.

“Just last week, in my intro swimming class, a couple friends of mine were talking about where we live. They live on West Campus [and] Collegetown, and I said where I live. I lived in Ujamaa Residential College, and one of those people said, ‘You live in a cell block?” a student said. “No. I don’t live in a cell block. Ujamaa is not a cell block. Ujamaa is not ‘the hood.’ Ujamaa is not a prison. Ujamaa is my home.”

Another student recounted how she applied to be a campus tour guide, thinking it would be an opportunity to help bring students of color onto campus. When speaking with a co-worker, the student was told that she was a “diversity hire.”

“I am not your token every time some inner city bus [comes to campus] and wants to schedule a tour for campus,” the student said.

Students around the dining hall spoke, until other students on the second floor of Trillium launched into speeches expressing solidarity with University of Missouri and other college campuses and calling on students to support their movement.

“We urge you to reflect on your place and power in this university. Though our numbers are small, our impact is and will continue to be immense,” another student said. “Do not let injustice go unheard, because you all have the rightful and deserving place on this campus. Support your black peers at this time and galvanize in solidarity with Black Students United and our efforts.”

The speeches ended with a chant that quotes African-American activist Assata Shakur: “It is our duty to find for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains. And we will lose them.”

By 1:20 p.m., the more than 150 black students and allies funneled out of the building, marching in silence towards Day Hall. Once there, students delivered a seven-page letter with demands addressed to President Elizabeth Garrett, who was not in her office at the time.

In an interview with The Sun later that afternoon, Garrett said that while the University is committed to diversity and inclusion and has made progress through Towards New Destinations initiatives, there remains progress to be made.

“I don’t think any of us are satisfied with where we are with respect to making sure that all of our students feel that voices are being heard, that we’re discussing important issues, that we’re bringing all of their perspectives on those issues,” Garrett said. “You talk about all the tensions on campus — this is a reflection of issues we’re dealing with in larger society.”

A student speaks in Trillium food court during a Black Students United action Tuesday. (Michaela Brew / Sun Sports Photography Editor)

Garrett, who met with students at Ujamaa Residential College on Tuesday evening, said the discussions she has had with students have been productive.

“Every discussion that I’ve had with students has been productive and brought up important issues, indicated a willingness to work together with faculty, staff, administration and students,” Garrett said. “It’s going to take some time for us to continue with these discussions. We have a lot of work to do, but I also think that as an institution, we’ve actually accomplished some things.”

  • Abe ’14

    “The campus environment is not conducive to the overall success of students of color and many other students whose cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds do not fit the mold of the majority wealthy, white University population,” a student said.

    WHY!?!?!?! Give an example. The Class of 2018 is made up of 42.9% of students that identify as persons of color. 48% of the students in the Class of 2018 qualified for need-based financial aid.

    Every student at Cornell is allowed to register for the same classes, to join the same clubs, to attain the same leadership positions. Black students live in the same residence halls. They eat in the same dining halls. They attend the same sporting events and play on all of the teams if they so choose.

    Black students who have graduated Cornell have gone on to do amazing things – they have gotten great jobs and gone on to attend some of the best universities in the world.

    So if that isn’t good enough – if these students aren’t happy at one of the best institutions for learning IN THE WORLD, then there is nothing that anyone is going to do that changes their minds.

    I hope everyone keeps in mind that there were 150 students participating in this march. There are roughly 21,000 students at Cornell. President Garrett should not let these students, who have no sense of reality, ruin the school for the THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS that sensibly appreciate what Cornell offers.

    • CUAlum13

      Let’s wait to see what the requests are and how the bargaining process unfolds. So far the protesters at Cornell have acted with the restraint and intellectualism that one would hope all Cornell students possess.

      If they can cite substantive challenges within the purview of the administration to address, they should be taken seriously and have their demands met with consideration and respect. Not immediate capitulation, of course.

      If they demand the administration clamp down on protected free speech and expression because it constitutes “microagressions,” as was the case at Yale, their demands will lose credibility. If they resort to violating the constitutional rights of observers and journalists, as was the case at Mizzou, their actions will lose credibility.

  • Cornell Alum 1983

    An excellent analysis of this “crisis” in the New York Post.

    The protests at the University of Missouri and Yale University have given us endless tales of racial slights and looming violence at campuses nationwide. But where’s the agenda?

    The alleged offenses range from the horrific — fecal swastikas, social-media threats against black students — to more trivial questions about skin tone, hair texture and economic status.

    Stung by a seemingly endless barrage of race-based attacks, Missouri students feel “awkward,” “exhausted” and “uncomfortable,” The New York Times reports.

    Elle interviewed a Yale senior who says the school makes people of color “feel small” and she, personally, like “the token black girl at the party every weekend.”

    And The Washington Post wrote of Missouri students as “hurting victims” in need of a “rare space where their blackness could not be violated.”

    Having survived my own journey as a minority at a pair of elite East Coast universities, I can understand these kids’ sentiments — no matter the navel-gazing. But the sentiment seems to drown out any discussion of much actual fact.

    Reared on a diet of “microaggressions” and “hostile environments,” “safe spaces” and the need for “validation,” many of these students have seemingly conflated hurt feelings with actual outright discrimination.

    The distinction is important — particularly at a moment when words like “violence,” “outrage” and “marginalization” have become little more than opportunistic jargon. Offense, while unfortunate, does not a movement make — a point wisely raised by Hillary Clinton when confronting #blacklivesmatter protesters this April.

    “I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate,” she said when asked how she would undo many of her husband’s policies on crime.

    Those words could serve as a primer for this latest round of protesting millennials. Many of their concerns are certainly valid and urgent: The racial epithets, Nazi imagery and (if proven) the instances of fraternity discrimination and campus attacks.

    But at their moment of peak visibility, the protesters — much like Black Lives Matter leaders before them — are already succumbing to a lack of concrete objectives and clear platforms.

    From mental wellness to abortion rights, health insurance to “queer” activism, the movement’s talking points are starting to sound random and all over the map. Trendy and (to use one of their favorite buzzwords) intersectional, these issues may make for fine sound-bites, but they do little to remedy the actual grievances now under debate.

    Most worrisome, by rooting these complaints almost entirely in an emotional agenda, the protesters conveniently shield themselves from a cornerstone of American liberal-arts education — self-reflection and honest critique.

    Students demand “safe” spaces — so the rest of the campus feels threatening. One Yale staffer opines on contentious Halloween costumes — and the entire faculty is racially tone-deaf. A pair of Ithaca College alumnae claim they were attacked by campus security — and the school suddenly embodies the “system of institutionalized racism present on primarily white institutions all over the country.”

    It all sounds good — until folks asking for proof are shut down and silenced, wantonly accused of ignoring and exploiting black pain.

    Rooted in “triggers,” “pain” and victimhood, this latest round of student protests may be an ideal poster-child for academic political correctness. But these are serious and meaningful claims, deserving of far more gravitas than Twitter updates or Yik-Yak posts.

    After all, beyond all that media hype, the only actual outcome of this week’s protests has been faculty firings and resignations. But what does the movement want next? An increase in “safe spaces” is simply not an acceptable answer.

    The rise of Black Lives Matter and these student protests have brought social-justice issues to almost unprecedented prominence. And that’s a very good thing — particularly for minorities outside the higher education system.

    But with access comes responsibility; with power comes caution. And this new crop of high-profile voices must act with caution to ensure their moment (and movement) isn’t squandered.

    As any Taylor Swift song can confirm, young people — still fresh from puberty — are often at their emotional and “feeling” peaks. So, while the protesters’ feelings must certainly be heard, it may be time for a dose of adult intervention across American academia.

  • Steve

    I wonder if the students know that the person they are quoting is a cop killer.

    • Cornell Alum 1983

      It’s hard to take a movement seriously that would quote an unrepentant convicted cop killer as an inspiration for their cause.

      Assata Olugbala Shakur (born JoAnne Deborah Byron on July 16, 1947), whose married name was Chesimard, is an African-American activist and member of the former Black Panther Party (BPP) and Black Liberation Army (BLA). Between 1971 and 1973, Shakur was accused of several crimes and was the subject of a multistate manhunt.

      In May 1973, Shakur was involved in a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike, in which she was accused of killing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and grievously assaulting Trooper James Harper. BLA member Zayd Malik Shakur was also killed in the incident, and Shakur was wounded.[6] Between 1973 and 1977, Shakur was indicted in relation to six other incidents—charged with murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, bank robbery, and kidnapping—resulting in three acquittals and three dismissals. In 1977, she was convicted of the first-degree murder of Foerster and of seven other felonies related to the shootout.

      Shakur was incarcerated in several prisons in the 1970s. She escaped from prison in 1979 and fled to Cuba in 1984 after living as a fugitive for a few years, and received political asylum. She has been living in Cuba ever since. Since May 2, 2005, the FBI has classified her as a domestic terrorist and offered a $1 million reward for assistance in her capture. On May 2, 2013, the FBI added her to the Most Wanted Terrorist List; the first woman to be listed. On the same day, the New Jersey Attorney General offered to match the FBI reward, increasing the total reward for her capture to $2 million.

      In 1998, Shakur referred to herself as a “20th century escaped slave.”

  • Cornell Alum 1998

    If the current administration simply cowers to these “demands,” it will be carving a precedent in stone for all other “disadvantaged” groups (legitimate or not) to govern University policies for years to come.

    Time to take a stand…

    • CurrentBlackGirl

      Who else should decide the policies of a university if not the students?

      • Cornell Alum 1983

        If the policies the students demand include the stifling of free speech then the University has an obligation to its fundamental mission to be against that policy. It serves a broader mission protecting free speech than appeasing a vocal but small group of crybullies.

        • CUAlum13

          Agreed. Several of Cornell’s colleges receive public money, as well. They must act in the public interest and their administration, actions, and mission should reflect that.

          It is in the public interest to defend free speech regardless of its content, just as it is in the public interest to defend any group’s right to peaceably assembly, no matter what their goals are.

          These students have the right to ask that Cornell betray its values (assuming their demands mirror the ludicrous anti-free-speech demands seen at other campuses). Cornell has a duty to soundly reject those calls.

      • George

        Students definitely should not dictate university policy. They are generally too naive and inexperienced to implement anything that is sensible.

      • George

        By the way, CurrentBlackGirl, are you suggesting that you and your cohorts speak for the entire student body?

  • Batista

    “For roughly 15 minutes, students shared anecdotes, from being singled out as the “black girl in the back” Really? That is what passes for racism. So lets be clear, it is okay to say tall girl in the back, blonde, short, red head, with glasses, but oh no you cannot say black. Sorry you are the black girl in the back sitting next to the short white guy with glasses and the tall Asian girl with long black hair. Your own group defines themselves as “Black” students united. We are all tired of the double standards and victim nonsense. If the University were to prefer whites and Asians over blacks in admissions there would be an issue. If the University gave black students the crappy dorms we would all be there with you. However, the University turns away more qualified Asian students and white males to accept more Black students, expends a more per student for special facilities for black students and generally does everything possible to smooth the way for oversensitive complaints like one can say the girl with freckles in the back, but not black girl in the back. When black Students United demands that the University stop favoring one group over another for admission and everyone be treated equally regardless of race let us know. End racial quotas at all Universities today. That is active, institutionalized racism.

  • George

    A white student put a noose on a statue at the University of Mississippi. It is likely that only a handful of people even saw it. He was sentenced to six months in prison. Black students at Dartmouth screamed profanity laced racial taunts at white students while threatening and assaulting some of them. A dean praised their actions. There is no mention of disciplinary action, much less criminal charges. Public sentiment is 90% against the students. But as long as liberals run universities, the insanity will continue.

  • Maria

    The Ujamaa argument is ridiculous. The building shares the same structure as Low Rises 6 and 7, the Ecology House, Just About Music, and the International Living Center. These buildings’ riot-proof qualities are indicative of the era in which they were built, not a reflection on any group. Giving Ujamaa a nicer building than the rest of the program houses would be the unfair action. Yes, the low rises can appear to be a “cell block”, yet, hundreds of other students-of all ethnicities- are living in these same “cell blocks”.

    • Nelly

      The student who talked about this was referring to when he stated where he lives in a class, a white student responded by calling Ujamaa the cell block (I.E these students of color live on cell blocks/prisons…really?) The reason he brought this experience up had nothing to do with the building structure or condition but the utter disrespect shown to him by another student. If you were at trillium today, you would know that this student is extremely proud to be an Ujamaa resident.

      • Rob

        So what if he did? The comment is open to interpretation. But the trouble with hair-trigger micro-insensitivies is that the listener decides what the comment means and when they are offended. Did the aggrieved person ask this guy what he meant? Start a dialog? Did he consider letting it go? Or was he determined to put a notch in his stick of grievances and carry the anger and resentment with him? It feels better to be the victim, whether justified or not, than to forgive and try to find out where people are at.

        • Nelly

          Whether he did any of the questions you are asking me, I don’t know but people often assume forgiveness must come with forgetfulness. This student has the right to share his experience. The point is that in that moment, the student would have felt devalued and disrespected by this unnecessary/unwelcomed comment. And whether they talked about it or not, that moment happened and he remembers.

          • Batista

            But the question is whether the comment was even racial. Donlon looks like a cell block too. On many University frat houses look like dumps or slums. A student is entitled to think every comment is racist, but the University and the rest of us do not have to care or act upon their wrong opinions. When someone presents a true example of a racist act, the person involved should be punished, so long as the act is not protected as free speech. Yes the Constitution still applies. Sorry but what is reported is nothing but a bunch of spoiled brats who want to be victims, but are not.

  • Cornell Alum 1983

    No one is denying said student’s right to share his experience or whatever personal feelings he has. An issue is created when such hurtful experiences as used as the basis for silencing others. The best antidote for speech anyone finds hurtful is more speech not silencing the alleged hurtful speech.

    • Student

      No where in this article or in the list of demands is there any mention of quelling free speech. You are missing the point.

      • CUAlum13

        What are their demands? Plus, 1983’s fears about quelling free speech are not irrational or pulled from thin air — look at how faculty and protesters acted at Mizzou. They disgraced themselves by physically violating two journalists’ constitutional rights. Look at protesters at Yale. The embarrassed themselves by claiming it was not the university’s job to create an intellectual space where ideas can flow freely.

        Obviously, the majority of protesters at those universities were peaceful and respectful. And again, it is unfair to paint the Cornell protesters with the same brush until their demands are known. But it’s not fair to say somebody is “missing the point” when their concerns are based on events that have really occurred and been recorded during multiple campus protests.

      • MD Doctor

        Agree. This is not about “free speech”. Institutional racism describes societal patterns that have the net effect of imposing oppressive or otherwise negative conditions against identifiable groups on the basis of race or ethnicity. Please don’t confuse with “quotas”.

        • George

          Then why do the demands include increases in the number of black faculty? Sounds like a quota.

        • CUAlum13

          At Cornell this has not yet become a free speech issue, thankfully. At Mizzou, unfortunately, two faculty members (not student protesters, it should be noted) did violate student journalists’ 1st amendment rights because they disagreed with those student journalists’ views. That is unacceptable.

          That has not happened at Cornell yet. And judging by the protesters’ and administrations’ respectful interactions so far, it won’t.

        • Abe ’14

          Where’s the institutional oppression? Point to something specific. 42% of the Class of 2018 is made up of persons of color. Is this still such an unbelievable minority that they feel SO maligned by their teachers (overwhelmingly liberal) and fellow students (see teachers).

          Black president. Black Supreme Court justices. Black cabinet members. Black military leaders. Black police officers. Black presidential candidates. Black news anchors. Black reporters. Black doctors. Black lawyers.

          Does racism still exist? Sure. But this institutional oppression nonsense is ridiculous. I doubt there has EVER been a time in the last decade(s) that a black student was silenced by a professor in class because of his race. I doubt a black student was ever told not to run for a position because of his race.

          These kids have an amazing opportunity at this school, but they’re choosing to be victims. If they really want to “fight the man” or whatever, then study for class, get good grades, and go get an amazing job.

          • Khal

            Please don’t doubt what you have never experienced.

  • Abe ’14

    Also: this comment system is absolutely brutal. Daily Sun: can we please get something that actually let’s us understand who is talking to whom?

  • Cornell Alumn 1958

    “Do not let injustice go unheard, because you all have the rightful and deserving place on this campus. Support your black peers at this time and galvanize in solidarity with Black Students United and our efforts.”

    “… you all have the rightful and deserving place on this campus”

    These days, we have to consider those students who were only accepted because of affirmative action? What about those who, despite coming from wealthy families who sent them to prep schools, still received extra support in the admissions process? Are they more deserving than poor whites or asians, some of whom, despite coming from poor families, worked harder and received better grades?

    Consider these two cases:
    1. Black student, wealthy family, preparatory school. Happens to be lazy, doesn’t work hard, everything is paid for by parents. Poor grades, SAT Scores, no extracurricular activities.

    2. White/Asian student, poor family, public school. Works jobs alongside schoolwork to save for college. Excellent grades, SAT, various club leadership positions, etc.

    In this case, the black student still gets preferential treatment.

    Undoubtedly, some black students worked their hardest to get to Cornell, and they deserve every bit of their education.

    Undoubtedly, some black students fit into the category I described above.

    In the latter case, do they really deserve to be at Cornell? The younger generation needs to more closely examine the standards set not by income based, but by race-based affirmative action, and reassess their perspective on “fairness”

  • Concerned Student

    @Cornell Alum 1958

    The ignorance that some people possess that have went to this school astounds me. It makes me happy that a new, more enlightened student body has come to take the place of the old. I will happily take you up on your considerations, just to show you how wrong you are.

    In case 1, it doesn’t matter at ALL that the student came from a prep school or the state of their economic situations at all prior to acceptance. Black students of all creeds, economic situations are CONSTANTLY discriminated against through the usage of microaggressions on the part of the white and in some non trivial part, the asians at Cornell. The whites at Cornell, in your case 2, have been supported all through out their lives. The “laziness” that you say the black students possess is nothing more than the product of the institutionalized racism created by white supremacy and the industrial prison complex. How do you expect black students, regardless of how much income their parents already have when the entire culture around us brings us down. This is why we need affirmative action, to make up for the negative effect that the culture and expectations around us impose on us. Things are only going to become more and more drastic unless we change it. As Martin Luther King, one of the greatest advocators for peace said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” For the sake of Cornell, we will be heard.

    • George

      Don’t flatter yourself Concerned Student. The banality of your comment is painfully obvious.

    • Batista

      “Constant microagressions”. The pathetic thing is you actually may not realize all races and genders face “constant microagressions”. That is called life. Hopefully you are just ignorant and not actively trying to game the system for more handouts, which is all that affirmative action is. Discriminating against innocent persons to profit entitled persons for not legitamate basis.

      • Khal

        OH! Batista


        All races

        trying to game Handouts
        Affirmative Action

        I wish words lost meaning ,sometimes.

    • Old Man McCloud

      After I read your first sentence I really don’t believe you attended Cornell University. Your writing is so miserable I doubt if you ever climbed the steps of GS! You must read in order to improve your writing.

      • CU Alum ’15

        Haha beat me to it.

    • CU Alum ’15

      “The ignorance that some people possess that have went to this school…”

      You’ve already lost all credibility before the end of your first sentence. “Have went”? Really?

      “…have been supported all through out their lives.”

      Now you lose even more credibility. Throughout. Spellcheck!

      “How do you expect black students, regardless of how much income their parents already have when the entire culture around us brings us down.”

      How do I expect black students to do what? This is not a complete sentence! You cannot make an argument against laziness when you are clearly too lazy to even proofread your own post!

      Posts like yours do not help your case, they hurt it. Calm, constructive discussion will help address the issues you are concerned about, not hot-headed rants. You are at an Ivy League University, you should try to represent it well.

  • GreenerGrass

    So much of the injustice the black student body faces stems from white people not knowing the “black experience” and being able to empathize properly. Perhaps hear black students have never lived the “white experience”. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be, life is hard for everyone.

  • Batista

    Some people do have easy lives. They can be black, white, red, yellow. The disconnect come from where some think all whites live a gifted existance. Same is false. Whites go hungry, homeless, get discriminated against. Adversity is a harsh task master and is color blind. The sooner Black Students United stop defining people by color the faster we can deal with real issues like inner city violence, hunger and poverty regardless of race.

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