November 18, 2015

Students Accuse Garrett of Silence Regarding Racial Issues

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This is the second story of a two-part series. Read the first story here, on a discussion on various potential diversity initiatives that President Elizabeth Garrett and vice president for student and campus life Ryan Lombardi had with students in Ujamaa on Tuesday evening. 

“When other universities across the nation were dealing with racial issues, you didn’t speak on their behalf,” a student accused President Elizabeth Garrett at a Tuesday evening forum addressing problems facing Cornell’s students of color. “This week you spoke in solidarity with the people of France, a country all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, yet here in the United States you couldn’t stand in solidarity.”  

Many other students also expressed their frustration that Garrett has not spoken publicly on behalf of those protesting racial inequities on college campuses across the nation at the meeting with Garrett and Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, facilitated by Black Students United in Ujamaa Residential College.

In response to students who said they felt betrayed and unsupported by Cornell, Garrett explained that she prefers to have discussions with students rather than making “a series of statements.”

“It will be my policy to make fewer presidential statements than have happened in the past,” Garrett said. “I think it is more beneficial for me to listen to you, to work with you. … I agree with you that I could have taken a different path. My not making a statement does not mean that I do not care about how these issues affect our students.”

Garrett explained that she made a statement about the terrorist attacks in Paris because the events directly affected Cornellians living or working in the city and their loved ones on Ithaca’s campus.

Students replied that the racial tensions on other college campuses have also affected them deeply, and thus deserve to be addressed by the administration. Some singled out the recent violent detainment of a Latino Dartmouth student at Brown University during the 10th Annual Latinx Ivy League Conference as a particularly distressing incident, which personally affected a group of Cornellians also attending the conference.  

“As a Latina student, as someone who is undocumented, as someone who has been deathly afraid of police, when a student of my ethnicity is attacked by police on a different campus, and our administration doesn’t make any form of public statement, that cuts me deep,” one student said.

The student added that she has struggled emotionally since the incident, feeling “not just upset, but hurt.”

“I was in tears, not able to explain that I’m undocumented and that that’s why I’m shedding these tears — and my administration isn’t supporting me publicly?” the student asked.

Garrett said she appreciated students sharing their stories with her, and expressed her regret that some had found her response lacking.  

“I want to have a world in which we can have these discussions and people don’t feel that I’ve opined from above,” she said. “But I understand what you’re saying there’s a symbolism to [making a public statement] there’s a level of support in that. That’s helpful for me to hear.”  

Ben Hernandez ’16, who attended the conference at Brown, called the University’s failure to respond to the incident there, which he said affected Cornellians, deeply disappointing.

“On the behalf of the Cornell delegation I wanted to express to you our dissatisfaction with your lack of response, especially because we were traumatized in this experience,” he said. “The fact that you didn’t reach out to us to make sure we were okay was disheartening.”

While Garrett assured students that she was constantly being updated on the safety of all Cornellians during the incident at Brown, she expressed regret that students did not feel supported in the aftermath of the event.

“I’m sorry you didn’t feel supported by me — you are supported,” she said. “It is a very difficult thing to have that happen around you.”

Hernandez said Cornell’s administration must go beyond doing “just enough” to fully ensure the wellbeing of all students affected by such racial incidents.

“It’s more meaningful when the President reaches down and says, ‘My students are struggling,’” he said. “You can empathize with that.”

Garrett ensured students attending the discussion that their views will always be treated with respect and suggested that she is open to potentially reconsidering her policy on public statements are she continues to talk with students.  

“What you have is my commitment that you will always be heard by my and my administration, you always will have a supporter and to the extent that has not been communicated I regret that,” she said.

After the forum, Hernandez expressed his appreciation that Garrett was willing to listen to students concerns and expressed hope that an open dialogue between students and the president will continue.

“I’m glad that President Garrett listens, I can feel the compassion in her and see that she very much wants to hear us,” he said. “But other schools are moving a lot faster so I think we need to keep having these discussions. She said this won’t be the last of these talks and I hope it isn’t.”

  • SixthAmendment

    The one quote above that reads “when a student of my ethnicity is attacked by police on a different campus, and our administration doesn’t make any form of public statement, that cuts me deep” is ridiculous. Why should the administration respond to every incident on a different campus? It makes no sense

    • Recent Alum ’15

      How about because Latin@ Cornell students were at that different campus at the time of the assault and it could just have easily been them

      • Recent Alum ’15

        Or how the President was emailed and requested to make a statement in this case

    • ReplyToStupidity

      How is that ridiculous? People all around the world count people who have no blood relation to them as a part of them because they share the same struggles being a minority. That’s why it’s called a community. Something you would t know about if you’re not a minority.

  • CUAlum13

    Garrett’s responses are thoughtful and reasonable, as were the students’.

    I honestly do not think minority students are in danger at Cornell, and what racism they encounter will most likely come from other students acting in ways the university cannot address without overreaching its mission. It is not the university’s role to police language and every interaction between students. If there are threats or racially motivated actions taken, the police (campus or city) should take point, and the university should respond appropriately and within its mandate accordingly. If a student chooses to wear a Halloween costume or throw a party with a cultural theme others find offensive — well, it is as much their right to be offensive as it is for an onlooking to express their feelings of being offended. Expression is expression, and that cuts both ways. Ivy Leaguers hopefully understand this (although the display at Yale was unsettling).

    However, I have not been enrolled at Cornell for some years now and do not know firsthand what the current campus environment is like. Still, it is heartening to see how civilized all parties have been in this discussion. It speaks volumes to the kind of student and administrators that can call themselves Cornellians.

  • George

    This truly is becoming the theater of the absurd. These students are simply searching desperately for something to moan about. “OMG President Garrett (you privileged white supremacist), my cereal did not taste good this morning. We, the marginalized and disrespected students (alleged) of Cornell DEMAND that you make a public statement or we will be emotionally crippled for the rest of the semester, maybe for our entire lives.” It is particularly ironic that an undocumented student (one that has no moral right to even be in this country, much less receive financial aid) would make such complaints.

    • Georgie

      And I guarantee that you’re not bold enough to say that to my brown face in person.

      • George

        Georgie- Are you suggesting that you would assault me if I did? Based on what happened in the Dartmouth library, at Missouri and at Yale, such an assault is likely.

    • Cordially Pissed

      You are soooo ignorant. If you don’t believe undocumented students have a right to be in this country, pick up a damn history book and read up on where your ancestors came from. You also assume that every undocumented student requires financial aid and don’t have a “moral” right to receive it; so a) you’re a classist bigot, and b) you don’t get to decide who receives financial aid and who doesn’t, and I’m glad you don’t. Additionally, it is particularly ironic that you obviously don’t understand the issues at hand here, but feel your comments add anything constructive, when in reality you’re just taking up space on the internet and making an ass of yourself. The minority population of Cornell is deeply concerned about a particular incident at the convention at Brown, especially because a Cornell student of color was targeted, and the administration has failed to issue any public statements. It’s honestly kinda scary that I’m getting my education alongside people like you.

      • Ward

        Perhaps you might want to consider a transfer?
        Seriously … no one should remain in an environment where they don’t physically feel safe.

      • George

        Nothing riles up an illegal alien more than being described as an illegal alien. Just so you know, my ancestors came here legally.

        • TVH

          Prove it.

  • Cornell Alum 1983

    A Dartmouth student makes an allegation of abusive behavior by a public safety officer at Brown. Brown is undertaking an investigation of the alleged abuse. Nothing has been determined yet.

    What is President Garrett expected to say now given that we just have an allegation?

    What if the Dartmouth student’s allegations turn out to be false?

    Is the President of Cornell University obligated to opine (offer apologies for actions of others or sympathy for the indirectly aggrieved) for any actions beyond Cornell that result in a non-white, heterosexual male Cornell student being “not just upset, but hurt?”

    Background on the alleged Brown incident below.

    A Dartmouth College student told the Brown Daily Herald student newspaper that a public safety officer slammed him against a wall, threw him to the ground and handcuffed him.

    The student was attending the annual Latinx Ivy League Conference, where Latino students from Ivy League schools discuss race, gender and socio-economic issues.

    He told the newspaper that he was waiting to enter a party at Machado House when he criticized how police were treating an intoxicated Brown student outside. He said police told him not to enter the building, but he entered through a back door and was confronted by the public safety officer.

    The student said he was held until Brown students verified he was a guest. No charges were filed.

    The student did not immediately return messages from The Associated Press.

    Cass Cliatt, Brown’s vice president for communications, told the AP that students feel the incident was racially motivated, but it is too early to make any determinations.

    Cliatt said employment agreements prevent the school from releasing identifying information about the officer, who is on administrative duty pending the investigation.

  • Cornell Alum ’93

    Cornell should hire a team of about 100 people to read the school newspaper at every university in the world every day. Then, a list of all negative student experiences should be compiled. Then, within 24 hours, President Garrett should be required to console those at Cornell who are from the same ethnic, sexual orientation, physically challenged, financially challenged, etc. group as those from the other school. And, in order to allow her the time necessary to do this, another person can be hired to do her job as President of Cornell because, in doing this, she clearly won’t have any time to do her job, as President of Cornell… Seriously… Yes, there is room to improve how people treat one another. There is always room to improve. But, please, pick your battles. The negativity expressed towards Cornell’s president for not talking about something that took place at another university… seems to me like creating conflict just for the sake of it.

    • CU Alum ’15

      Well said. During my time at Cornell, students were upset by many of President Skorton’s financial decisions, particularly his implementation of the new student health fee. President Garrett was brought in to address these financial concerns. The message I want to get across to current students: LET PRESIDENT GARRETT DO HER JOB! Stop trying to play the victims, and act like the responsible, independent Ivy League students you are. Garrett made a statement regarding the event in France because that was an international crisis in which over 100 people were murdered by a terrorist group that has potential to endanger the entire free world. The event at Brown involved one student who was a little roughed up, and that hurt your feelings. I’m not saying your feelings don’t matter, but asking for pity and sympathy at a time when there are bigger things going on around you won’t help your case. Cornell is a respected Ivy League University, not a daycare.

  • Lew Brown

    Are students are demanding a degree of motherly comforting from Cornell’s first female president that they did not expect from her predecessors?

  • Chopper

    Institutions of higher learning seem to have lost control of the P.C. monster they have helped create and nurture. Watching these clueless liberal white administrators squirm is hilarious.

  • Aisha

    Some of the incidents listed in the Cornell daily Sun were simply peer to peer silliness or ignorance. So if someone tells me that I live in a prison block as they described Ujamaa, is that the Cornell administration’s fault? Are you too weak to counter and say something to them. As for “black girl in the back”, hey, you are black and that is one way to describe you. I have heard Black students call other students worse names. Overhearing a black student yesterday telling a Latino student “you look like a Honduran farmer “. Now should that student have run to the administration? I have been called a lot of things but it is the context and whether or not that other person has the POWER to affect your life negatively. Chill out, fight institutionalized racism and black on black crime as well as white on black and white on white. I am black and I see NO inherent racism in the incidents described. What I see is individual black students who believes that Cornell should be walking like a shadow behind each black student punishing every slight or word that they believe is racist. The world does not work that way. Grow a spine and deal with it.

    • Cornell Alum ’93

      I think Aisha’s response is excellent. Very well said!
      (I’m a 44 year old white male, Cornell alum).

    • CUAlum13

      This reminds me of a passage from Conor Friedersdorf’s Atlantic article “The New Intolerance of Student Activism”:

      “Here’s one of the ways that white men at Yale are most privileged of all: When a white male student at an elite college says that he feels disempowered, the first impulse of the campus left is to show him the extent of his power and privilege. When any other students say they feel disempowered, the campus left’s impulse is to validate their statements.”

      When a minority student at an Ivy League (or similarly prestigious) institution says they are powerless, we should not tell them, “that’s right, you ARE powerless. You need the administration to do everything for you.” We should instead reaffirm their individual power and the great accomplishments they’ve necessarily made to rightfully earn their place at such institutions.

      To simply rely on always falling back on the administration is to further disempower these students. They will not always have the luxury of being in a university environment, which, despite the claims of some protesters, are some of the most tolerant, progressive, and yes, safe spaces in America. If they cannot adapt at University, they will wilt and founder in the real world.

  • Cornell Alum 1983

    Unfortunately these students who take offensive at any perceived grievance and make demands based upon their hurt feelings or emotional trauma will be woefully unprepared for the world beyond the cloistered halls of Cornell or other colleges and universities. That is the sad truth.

  • Steve42

    I thought Cornell was attended by mature adults. I guess I was wrong.

    • Cornell Alum

      They are speaking their mind, and so far they have stayed well within their rights to express themselves and peaceably gather.

      You may disagree with their assessment that the campus is racist and their request that President Garrett personally respond to multiple events that she has no real connection to, as do I, but they are not invading libraries, disrupting study sessions, and shouting racist remarks at white students, as was the case at Dartmouth. Nor have they resorted to spitting on and hurling profanity at those they disagree with, as was the case at Yale. So far Cornell has remained on a more mature level of discourse, and I hope it stays that way.

      • Steve42

        Good points all around, but I am wary that what is happening at these other universities will soon find its way to Cornell.

      • George

        At this point, the actions of the students have been non-violent. Their grievances and demands, on the other hand, are ridiculous.

    • Old Man McCloud

      Sorry Steve, they’re still brain damaged. Generally, after 25 the frontal lobe is fully developed.

      We use it to make decisions, such as what to eat or drink for breakfast, how much beer to consume, how fast to drive, as well as for thinking or studying for tests. The frontal lobe is also where our personality is formed and where we can carry out higher mental processes such as planning, reason and judgment.

  • Cornell Grad Student

    It is extremely disappointing to see students complain about the President issuing a statement after the Paris attacks and not giving the same treatment to some of the incidents happening across US campuses. As someone who comes from a developing country and as a person of color myself, I just have one thing to say to these students: Grow Up! Your first world problems about Halloween costumes might be important to you but in the larger scheme of things, they are extremely trivial. To imply that these problems are as serious as the Paris attack is downright ludicrous. Gain some perspective as to what is going on in this world and stop your childish attention-seeking rants!

  • Stu

    The dean of a college within CU brought up an interesting point to me in regards to addressing issues: “It is not in our place to take a stance on tense issues going on across the country. We would very well offend different parties on every issue by doing that. However, as administrators, we must facilitate and guide discussion around these tough issues to find a common ground. That is why you see panels and roundtables hosted by our college.”

    As a student of color, I actually agree with this view. I do not agree with the very forceful actions other students are taking.

  • Cornell Alum 1983

    This leaves you speechless. I was glad to see the Cornell Black Student Union and the Cornell Latinx group condemn the ugly, racist behavior of the Black Lives Matter Movement at Dartmouth. Oh wait….they didn’t. Yet they demand that President Garrett condemn and apologize any behavior that hurts their feelings. Can you say “double standard?”

    From the New York Post.

    Dartmouth kids just learned the ugliest lesson ever taught at a university: If you’re assaulted by the “right” sort of people, the school will apologize — to your attackers.

    About 150 Dartmouth students this week protested in the school’s Baker-Berry Library, chanting “Black Lives Matter” — and harassing kids who tried to keep studying.

    Oh, and assaulting them, too, according to The Dartmouth Review, which reported that protesters pinned one girl to a wall while calling her a “filthy white b - - - h.”

    Other chants: “F - - k your white privilege!” and “F - - k you, you filthy white f - - ks!” (Who’s the racist here?)

    Cue the school’s vice provost for student affairs, Inge-Lise Ameer, who told the BLMers, “I’m very, very sorry that you feel this way. We don’t want you to have this experience here.”

    What. Is. Going. On? Not a word about the other students or their right to study? Nada?

    Worse, she noted that her office had gotten “a lot of terrible calls” decrying the protest, but: “We told them that they were all ridiculous and that the protest was a wonderful, beautiful thing.”

    The problem, she told the kids, is, “There’s a whole conservative world out there that’s not very nice.”

    Know what’s not very nice? Yelling in the faces of innocent students trying to study and calling them “filthy white f - - ks.”

    Next time you see that bit of idiocy from some millennials, remember: It’s adults like the leaders at Dartmouth who are to blame.

    • George

      It is comparable to apologizing to the person who has just stuck a knife in someone for the fact that their knife got blood on it.

  • Cornell Alum 1983

    A student at Columbia University is urging the school to inject more diversity into its required courses, claiming she suffered severe emotional trauma from reading too many books by and about white people.

    You just can’t make this stuff up! Incredible.

    Columbia students and faculty gathered Wednesday night for a panel discussion on “Race, Ethnicity, and University Life.” According to the Columbia Daily Spectator, much of the commentary revolved around the idea that minorities on campus simply spend too much time being traumatized by the white-centric content of their classes.

    One of the panelists at the event was black Columbia student Nissy Aya. Aya was supposed to graduate in 2014, but instead is only on track to receive her degree in 2016. That, Aya says, demonstrates “how hard it has been for me to get through this institution,” though it’s worth noting she is an exceptional case, as Columbia has one of the highest four-year graduation rates in the country.

    Aya attributed some of her academic troubles to the trauma of having to take Columbia’s current Core Curriculum, which requires students to take a series of six classes with a focus on the culture and history of Western, European civilization. Aya says this focus on the West was highly mentally stressful for her.

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  • Batista

    These past few weeks have actually shed some real light upon the dangerous path this PC victim cult mentality has lead us to. Even South Park has lampooned the recent events but they really are not that funny. South Park foreshadowed the reality that on campus the PC people can physically harm us and get away with it because the liberal administration is to afraid to take action. This smacks of lord of the Flies, sorry that is a “white book”. Then again some of us do not define everything by the skin color of the person behind it. Only racist define things by the skin color of the person behind it. BTW my ancestors entered the Country illegally and got kicked out and forced to go through the legal process. Those who break the rules should live in fear of getting caught. That is called the rule of law. Should an undocumented cheater on prelims be free from fear of getting caught and expelled?

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