December 2, 2015

Letter to the Editor: A Response to Lee Bender ’84

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Re: “Letter to the Editor: A Change for the Worse,” Opinion, Dec. 2.

With all due respect, no one asked for your opinion and, to be frank, we’re pretty ashamed of it. Although we don’t expect every Cornell alumnus to understand today’s campus climate or the experience of students of color at Cornell, we do expect someone who graduated from this prestigious university to approach complex problems like this one with a shred of intellectual curiosity and with an empathy that attempts to accurately understand the real conversation happening on our campus. When you accuse students of fighting for “safe spaces,” you fail to try to see what students of color are actually interested in combatting.

When students of color are fighting for better graduation rates, the same resources that white students are granted, a faculty composition that represents our diverse university and for a campus free of slurs and derogatory remarks, they are not asking for too much. Instead, they are responding to the insidious reality that white privilege dominates this campus. As a white, double legacy student, you weren’t at a statistical risk to not graduate, no one ever called you the n-word and you were likely connected with alumni, students and faculty when you stepped on to campus in the early 1980s. When you spoke with armed campus police, you could be certain that they represented your best interests — that they were there to keep you safe.

You call our generation “coddled, narcissistic, self-absorbed, thin-skinned young people, permanent ‘victims,’ who will be ill-equipped to function effectively in the real world.” This narrative is tired. I encourage you to come back to The Hill to see students double and triple majoring at higher rates than your generation, getting involved in more campus activities than ever before and launching their careers in varying, impressive ways. This is all happening while we steadily increase the racial and socioeconomic diversity of our student population and the number of first generation students that attend. Not to mention that we also face astronomically higher tuition, rent and food costs than you did, are often asked to work two or three jobs to pay the bills and still graduate with burdensome amounts of student debt.

You may notice that every signatory on this letter is white. This is deliberate. It’s important that you understand that students of color are not the only students who believe that change needs to happen. We hear — with far too much frequency — that protesters should stop whining and appreciate the opportunity to even attend a university like Cornell. Those messages falsely presume that students of color protesting are the only ones who believe that Cornell is broken.

We’re not writing today to speak for or to take the microphone away from our peers who are fighting for the same equality that you erroneously assume was secured forty years ago. Rather, we’re here to say shame on you for daring to take that microphone away, all the while knowing that those students of color who have bravely grabbed it will keep fighting, talking and holding it no matter what. We write in support of their work. We are sorry your article will continue to spread misinformation with minimal context. We don’t say that in pity as they certainly don’t need it. We say it because during moments like this one, we don’t know what else to say.

What we do know is that those students have, and will continue to make, this university a more productive place and will leave as the “respectable leaders” that you ask them to be. Whether or not they become those leaders in a way that you, or others who share your perspective, find respectable is of no concern to us.

Jordan Berger ’17

Blake Brown ’17

Emily Decicco ’16

Michael Ferrer ’16

Elizabeth Gorman ’18

Kendall Grant ’16

Matt Indimine ’18

Emma Johnston ’16

Adam Shelepak ’17

Matthew Stefanko ’16

  • Colonel, Highest Rank in the Ivy League

    “Labeling of others as haters, bigots and racists for daring to have opposite view opinions, shutting down discussions of ideas.” – Disregarding and lambasting Mr. Bender’s viewpoint because you do not agree with it validates the commentary placed in his letter to the editor.

    It should also be pointed out that in attacking Mr. Bender for having the audacity to challenge your beliefs, you point out that he has no connection to what the “reality” of campus life now is because he is not here.. While simultaneously making brash assumptions about what his life on campus was like, without having a first-hand account of those experiences that he went through as a student.

    Having back and forth discussion on subjects such as this are healthy and necessary for ALL of us to become better in the long run, but by openly attacking someone for having views that do not line up with your own perpetuates the message that the only “free speech” wanted is “speech that freely agrees with your viewpoint.”

    • Cornell: the highest rank in the military

      I think you bring up 3 good points. It’s important to understand and emphasize with the deep hurt in the black community, but it’s also important to show the sufficient respect that is asked for in this editorial to those with dissenting opinions

      • Nick ’13

        It does not seem to me that the writers were in any way disrespecting Mr.Bender, in fact their response was much more civil than the original argument which resorted to petty name calling.

        • Cornell Alum 1983

          So this statement implying Mr. Bender lacks all these qualities is not disrespectful?

          “we do expect someone who graduated from this prestigious university to approach complex problems like this one with a shred of intellectual curiosity and with an empathy that attempts to accurately understand the real conversation happening on our campus”

          And this statement seems to imply that given Mr. Bender’s background, including his race, he is not entitled to have an opinion. While maybe not disrespectful it is certainly insidious and runs completely counter to the “movement’s” objectives of not judging people or silencing their opinions based upon race.

          “As a white, double legacy student, you weren’t at a statistical risk to not graduate, no one ever called you the n-word and you were likely connected with alumni, students and faculty when you stepped on to campus in the early 1980s.”

  • I don’t care that everyone who wrote this letter is white. I don’t care about the race of people in general. I want the best students. I want the best professors. I want the best co-workers. I want the best bosses. I want to hear the best opinions. I don’t care when I walk into a room whether it’s 50/50 black and white or 80/20 or 10/90.

    I’ll tell all of you what is being told to these inane protestors: appreciate that you have the opportunity to attend this university. Obviously something went right for you.

    I’d still like to hear about specific instances of “armed campus police” at Cornell doing anything discriminatory with respect to black students.

    This “white privilege” nonsense is insane. How many white students are on financial aid? How many white students have divorced parents or poor parents or deadbeat parents? To group an entire race together like this is outrageous, and it’s racist unto itself. Newsflash: you are all in the exact same position right now — students at Cornell. You get to take the same classes, join the same clubs, run for the same leadership positions. Black students have done exceptionally well over the years.

    I feel bad that whenever all of you walk into a room, all you see is race and not the person.

    But I guess I should just shut up, because no one asked me.

    • Alumnus

      Wow. Crying reverse racism, claiming you don’t see race, and stating that because you don’t have a firsthand experience of how people of color are at a systemic disadvantage when compared to their white counterparts, it must not be happening.

      I really hope everyone sees your post. In your attempt to argue its fictionality, you’ve done a pretty thorough job demonstrating white privilege to a T.

      • Yes – white privilege. That’s what this is. Forget the fact that I’m black.

        • George

          Based on Abe’s response, you look pretty damn stupid.

          • Cornell Alum 1983

            Alumunus is clearly guilty of inacurrately stereotyping Gat ’14 as a “priviliged white” person based upoon Abe 14’s view which diverge from Alumunus. Alumunus apparently sees no hypocrisy is glibly practicing the racial stereotyping he claims to condemn.

          • nick palomar

            That was a conversation stopper.

        • Mom of senior

          Boom! Abe if you are indeed black and not just trolling, my mind is blown!

    • Liz ’16

      Abe, first of all, I notice that you believe that securing equal opportunities for people of color and having the best students, employees, and citizens are at odds. From that, I must draw the conclusion you believe that, if more people of color were represented in Cornell’s faculty, this would be a threat to the quality of the faculty.

      Secondly, you also seem to be saying that being a student at Cornell is so wonderful that everyone should be 100% grateful to attend and never complain. However, here you are complaining because something at Cornell isn’t perfect. Are you unaware of your own actions, or do you believe only you have a right to complain?

      White privileged doesn’t mean that white people don’t have problems. It means we live within a system that promotes the success of white people and discourages the success of others. For example, if a white teenager is caught smoking a joint, no matter his family or financial situation, he is statistically much more likely to have a lenient punishment that a black teenager.

      And clearly, non-white students are NOT in the same position as white students right now. You don’t see dozens of people spending their time to protest when they’re fine. They’ve got a million other things they’d prefer to be doing, but this is what they feel like they need to do. If you go up to them and say “your feelings are worthless and mine are valuable,” that is, well, kind of racist.

      Everyone sees race. That doesn’t mean you don’t see “a person.” We live in a country where racial injustice occurs–therefore, we must address the reality of the racial barriers that white people have made in order to protect themselves. My ancestors took land from Native Americans when they came to this country. That was how my family established itself; stealing something from another family and justifying theft through racism. We said “Race Matters” when we wanted to take stuff from PoC–and if we say “Race Doesn’t Matter” when addressing racial injustices, we’re really staying “Stay in your place. We’ve knocked you down enough and we want to keep you there.”

      • Yes, adding more black faculty for the sake of adding more black faculty would be a threat to the quality of the faculty. Cornell should recruit the BEST faculty, no matter what. That means interviewing people and selecting those that will do the best research and excel as a teacher in the classroom. I don’t care who those people are. But if they happen to be all white (or all black), then so be it. There’s some selection bias at play, too.

        I’ve never said people shouldn’t complain about Cornell or be 100% grateful to be here. I complained about Cornell plenty. But to demonize it as “unsafe” or as racist or as a bastion of white privilege is crazy, shortsighted, and completely inaccurate. I still don’t understand why students come to a school that is unsafe. There are black colleges. There are colleges with more black faculty members and more black students. (Though Cornell has been increasing its diversity numbers for the last decade – consistently)

        “Discouraging the success of others.” Black president. Black Supreme Court justice. Black members of Congress. Is our society perfect? Hell no. It might never be. There are, of course, problems to be fixed. But when I hear “white privilege,” it’s such a joke.

        Non-white students ARE in the same position as white students. Non-white students are leaders all over campus. There are amazing non-white alumni all over the glove. Non-white students have their own clubs and their own housing. I’ve never said their feelings are worthless. But most of the non-white students are NOT protesting. It’s a select few who have chosen to do it.

        I don’t literally mean that I don’t “see race.” Yes, I have vision. But when demands call for “more black faculty,” then that’s an issue of not valuing the credentials of a professor. Instead, we’re making race the issue. And I never paid attention to the race of my professors or TAs.

        I won’t address the Native American stuff, but Happy Thanksgiving!

        • Cornellian16

          I really don’t understand how the concept of “white privilege” is a joke to you. Because it seems that you don’t understand the concept at all. While it may be true that non-white people have in face been successful, at the end of the day white people never have to worry about people being racially profiled, white people don’t have to worry about not getting jobs because of their race or their names sounding too “ethnic.” I can go on and on. THAT is white privilege. So no, it is NOT a joke.

          “I don’t understand why students would come to a school that’s unsafe.” Seriously? How are students supposed to know that they would feel unsafe before stepping on campus? And your argument that “there are black colleges”, doesn’t make sense. Not everyone wants to attend a historically black college. Some people want a diverse college experience. But on the other hand there is nothing wrong with wanting more black faculty. Just because you don’t mind having an all white faculty doesn’t mean others don’t. There have been studies that show that minority students tend to do better when being taught by someone who looks like them. It’s provides a sense of inspiration and motivation.

          • White people have OTHER concerns and problems and worries. No, maybe not racial profiling. But white people tend to come from all different backgrounds that have faced stereotypes and persecution and hate (Irish, Jews, etc.) People of all colors suffer from afflictions and from fears and from prejudice.

            I legitimately don’t believe students actually feel unsafe. Call me whatever you want, but If I felt unsafe on a college campus, I would transfer colleges. I think students are starved for attention and want to feel like they are “apart of something.”

            Again – never said there was anything wrong with wanting more black faculty. But demanding that we hire more just for the sake of increasing the number is akin to intentional discrimination.

            “A sense of inspiration and motivation.”

            If non-white students can’t get out of bed or become inspired/motivated given the number of black leaders that we have in this country, then sorry, it’s never going to happen.

    • Sue

      THANK YOU! I agree with every single word you said. I really wish the world could be more like this. And honestly, I think that the majority of Americans are. I don’t think racism is the ‘norm’ or that there are more racists than non racists (in America at least). I honestly never even thought about racism until I came to Cornell and people started protesting over things that I don’t believe actually exist in the mainstream.

      • Kat

        If you are not a person of color Sue (Idk if you are) then how would ou know whether or not these things exist in the mainstream? These are people’s real experiences. Don’t assume they are invalid just because you don’t hear about them everyday.

        • Because we have friends who are black. Or because we actually talk to people who are different races.

          Or because I know the difference between racism and a student claiming they feel “unsafe” because someone said something insensitive.

  • Tyler L C, a&s 09

    This Self-righteous, Holier than thou, and the “check your privileges” generation of campus activism/ debate is depressing. As a part of Cornell Democrats a mere 7 years ago, I recall using (or at least attempting to use) facts, and logic to persuade others’ opinion. Those lively discussions often added to my knowledge of the world, and my understanding of different viewpoint. Many times, I left those debates affirmed or my beliefs; but more often then not, I left the debate realizing how little I know of the world… 3 or 4 years in college did not make me anything but still a “kid”, ignorant of many many things.

    I also recall being able to part ways after a discussion / debate not “disgusted” by the moral compass of my debater, but truly delighted to have exercised the skills of rhetoric and persuasion, and also to have gained a new perspective… I never felt the urge to “shame” others for believing or thinking differently, but eager to gain more facts and logic to “win them over” the next time.

    Unfortunately, observing the exhange here on the Cornell Sun, now we have settled for pontificating by committee… The Politburo of 10 white kids says so.

    • Tyler L C, a&s 09

      On second thought, there were probably more than a few occasions where I thought the other person was an idiot … And ended a debate by name calling them bigoted racist pigs…

    • Agreement

      This is perfect.

  • Bender Is Delusional

    If only we could all grow up to be angry old men who write poorly written letters to colleges we attended 33 years ago. I hope I can grow up to be such a well-adjusted and clearly not insane person just like Mr.Bender.

    • JustHappenedToBeHere

      Just a question, what part of it was poorly written? Do you mean his style of writting or the content?

    • Latesha

      Attacking the person, not the idea, is the mark of a bigot. Stick to the idea.

  • Steve ’08

    I confess ignorance: what resources are white students granted at Cornell that are, as the letter suggests, denied to students of color? I do not ask this rhetorically or with any agenda; this language truly disturbed me.

    • I, too, would like an answer to this. I will promise to stop donating to Cornell (and work to get my friends to stop donating, too), if Cornell is engaging in some sort of vast conspiracy to keep non-white students down. But I seriously doubt it, and I’ve noticed that no one has stepped up to provide a concrete example of resources denied to students of color.

      But until someone comes forward and presents something to me, I will focus my attention on getting Jesse Watters back on campus.

      • Sue

        If anything, I think people of color are given more privileges at Cornell. There is a program house dedicated to understanding African heritage, there is an office of diversity devoted to providing resources and scholarships for minority students. There are a multitude of events aimed at promoting diversity and inclusion.

        I would love to hear one thing that Cornell does for students of non-color that they do not also do for students of color. I am pretty sure no such thing exists.

        • Ashley

          First of all, that residence promoting African and African American heritage was built in response because white people placed a burning cross in front of the black women’s residence (which was built because they did not feel entirely welcome in campus, it was the 60s after all). Please do some research.

          • 1. Not sure how anyone would know that, but Ujamaa was created in 1972

            2. I don’t see anyone burning crosses now. Why not shut down Ujamaa and encourage everyone to actually live together and exchange ideas with people that might disagree/need some education?

          • nick palomar

            I don’t believe that is answering her question.

          • Cornell grad

            In fact, it was built at the same time as the numbered dorms and student union on North Campus, in what was then a wooded area between Mary Donlon Hall and Jessup road. One of the new dorms (#9?) was later designated Ujamaa in the early 70s by the administration for students interested in African and African-American heritage.

          • Sue

            How does that affect my argument? The program house today is not 100% the same as it was when it was built. But either way, I am not talking about why the program house was built. I am talking about what the program house represents today and what it does for students today– it promotes African/ African American heritage, which I view as a something positive for the community.

            My point is that there are organizations, programs, community houses, etc. that are specifically set in place for the benefit of minority students at Cornell, and that there is nothing set in place for the benefit of only white students as the author claims.

  • George

    Perhaps the signatories to this “rebuttal” should read Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s by Tom Wolfe. They might learn something.

    • Cornell Alum

      Observers and activists will not be happy until parity of outcome has been achieved. This is not the same as parity of opportunity, of course.

      The university should first focus on parity of opportunity. That requires empirical evidence of where inequality has occurred and how it can be addressed. This is what is so often – if not always – missing from rebuttals as the letter above and protesters’ lists of demands.

      The pattern seems to be: a list of vague, yet authoritarian demands emerges after some tangentially related racially charge event. Observers comment that the list is laughable, and that the demands are ridiculous. Then the rebuttals appear, calling those asking for facts, proof, common sense, and logic “bigots,” “racist,” “out of touch,” and so on. Ad hominems trumps intellectual engagement.

      A feeling of “unsafety” is a comically insufficient complaint. Other students’ words of harassment may be unpleasant, but it is still constitutionally protected speech. It does not impact minority students’ chances at success.

      Tell the community what specific resources are needed, and where they are lacking.

      Tell the community why an accomplished white math or science teach can not adequately instruct students of a different ethnic background, if you can.

      Do not tell the community that Cornell makes you feel “unsafe” because a plot of land is called a “plantation.”

      Do not ask President Garrett to resign because she does not immediately capitulate to a list of poorly thought-out demands that would in no way address any issues of racism on campus.

      • nick palomar

        Or nick palomar u

  • Chopper

    Wow,times are tough on the Cornell campus these days. Sounds like Cornell and the Ku klux klan are now one and the same. (Except for these ten right thinking white heroes , and of course People of color ). Something drastic must be done. I still say the name Cornell sounds and more importantly feels kinda racist. Renaming the university would be a good start, Mike Brown U has a nice ring.

    • George

      I think these 10 limousine liberals should call themselves the Freedom Riders.

      • Mayor McCheese

        They might prefer The Freedom Writers.

  • Italia DeVeiga

    The first sentence of the response perfectly captures the liberal mantra and their idealogy: All of those who do not agree with us must be silenced and have no right to state their opinion at all, ever.

    • Grad

      This is spot on. “With all due respect” immediately followed by “no one asked for your opinion”

      How did these students get accepted here? Do they understand what a letter to the editor is? Or could Siri not explain it to them?

      Their reply is such that I can barely see up to their ivory tower where their word is the only right.

      Did these self-identifying white students fail to read the previous statement made by the protesters of color?

      Quoted from the article (

      “While we appreciate the solidarity and interest of our allies across campus, we would like to be able to address prejudice on this campus and campuses like it in our own way,”

  • Mom of senior

    Thank you, Jordan et al, (and some others commenting on both opinion pieces) for at least partially restoring my faith in the Cornell community. I went to college in the 70’s, and these dialogues in the Sun are sad reminders that fighting racism is a constant battle.

    • Sue

      Sorry, but that battle is nothing more than an illusion at Cornell, because everyone is treated equally there. All opportunities are equal (except for the fact that there are actually more opportunities given to minority students).

    • George

      Mom- Did you graduate from college?

  • MillerS

    “With all due respect, no one asked for your opinion and, to be frank, we’re pretty ashamed of it.”

    Who “asked” for their opinion? Are they never “frank” unless they alert us that they are? How much respect do they think is “due” him? Have they worked through their “shame?”

    How about, “Thank you for your opinion, with which we respectfully disagree.”

  • Cornell Alum 1983

    I must admit the the signatories to this letter at least have conviction in their opinions (no matter how ill conceived or poorly articulated) as the way they expressed their opinion in this letter probably renders them unemployable by many businesses (who with a quick internet search of an applicant would be aware of this letter).

  • Cal

    “we do expect someone who graduated from this prestigious university to approach complex problems like this one with a shred of intellectual curiosity and with an empathy that attempts to accurately understand the real conversation happening on our campus.”
    It’s bewildering that anyone would ever make a demand such as this, within an article that opens with the line “no one cares about your opinion.”

  • alum 15

    If these ten people can attack Lee Bender for being middle aged and white, I can attack those ten people for being upper middle class white people who are just trying to pad their resumes… They mention working two or three jobs to pay the bills – I guarantee that none of them are doing this. If they were, they wouldn’t have time for their DSP, IFC, SA, PanHel, etc elitist bureaucratic bullshit.

  • Man with the Axe

    What is the point of mentioning that, being white, Mr. Bender was not “at a statistical risk to not graduate?”

    Does being black make it difficult for an individual student to graduate from Cornell? Why would that be? If I am a member of a group that graduates at a low rate does that somehow make it hard for me to graduate, if I study, if I write my papers, if I’m smart, and was prepared for college when I arrived, won’t I graduate even if most others of my ethnicity don’t?

    I find it hard to believe that smart, prepared, hard working black students face obstacles to graduation that white students don’t. In fact, it’s probably the reverse. But if true, maybe black students should attend a university from which they can graduate.

  • Man with the Axe

    Cornell is broken?

    I wonder how it happened that pretty much every liberal campus in the country got broken all at the same time?