Renee Alexander ’74 and Amber Aspinall ’17 discuss demands set by Black Students United at the Cornell Center for Intercultural Dialogue.

Omar Abdul-Rahim / Sun Contributor

Renee Alexander ’74 and Amber Aspinall ’17 discuss demands set by Black Students United at the Cornell Center for Intercultural Dialogue.

February 19, 2016

Black Students United Promises Further Protests, Urges Day Hall to Address Demands

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Correction appended

Members of Black Students United expressed disappointment with their progress in implementing a list of demands delivered to the Cornell administration and promised future action on campus at a meeting on Thursday.

Amber Aspinall ’17,  political action chair of BSU, spoke of the past, present and future of student activism, saying that many of the demands are the same demands that students have been making for the last 50 years.

“This is a history that we’ve inherited, and I take that history and that legacy very seriously,” Aspinall said. “A lot of the demands unfortunately have been things that people have been talking about for decades. The big question is if we’re having these conversations over and over again, what conversations aren’t we having?”

The administration has been receptive to several of their demands, including changing the name of the Cornell Plantations, setting up weekly support groups at Gannett for students of color and dedicating career services staff members to minority recruiting, according to Aspinall.

While she believes these demands can be met quickly, Aspinall said some of the demands will take more time and effort, specifically instituting a diversity curriculum.

One student spoke in favor of a diversity curriculum by highlighting her experience in an intergroup dialogue class facilitated by students.

“I think it is a lot easier for students to tear down those walls and face the challenges or the issues that oftentimes would be ignored in the presence of staff members when they’re discussing it amongst peers,” the student said. “I took the class and it was a process. You could feel yourself changing before you even knew that you were actually actively making a difference.”

Attendees also discussed how they hope to achieve change on campus using protests — like the takeover of Trillium that occurred earlier this year.

“The idea is to disrupt business as usual,” Aspinall said. “That is the point of a protest, to disrupt. It is often interesting when we get backlash saying ‘you guys were a distraction.’”

Speaking directly to the administrators, Aspinall promised future protests.

“I know there are some administrators in the room, and I’ll tell you this right now, we are going to continue to shut things down,” Aspinall said. “Meetings will not replace the direct disruption of your offices. It is a process.”

Some of BSU’s demands are related to divestment from the private prison system, and the administration’s response to these issues has been less promising, according to Aspinall.

“When we talk about changing campus climate, we can talk to Vice President Lombardi and we can talk to President Garrett because they have control over here, but supreme control, a phrase listed in Cornell documents, rests with the board of trustees,” Aspinall said. “When we talk about money, old white men’s money, that is another whole conversation that is a lot more difficult to get success in.”

Throughout the meeting, members of the audience expressed their appreciation for the Black Students United and the work that continues to advance the group.

“You are very thoughtful, very aware of what is happening here on this campus as well as what is happening around the country and around the world,” a Gannett staff member present at the meeting said.  “You really help to educate people on this campus although I know that at times is exhausting.”

Correction: A previous headline of this story misidentified Black Students United as “Black Students Union.” 

21 thoughts on “Black Students United Promises Further Protests, Urges Day Hall to Address Demands

  1. This group can advocate for a change in the name of the Cornell Plantations, and it sounds like a name change might happen from this article. Respectfully, it would also serve BSU and other Cornellians well to learn a bit about the history of the Plantations founding and expansion. It was not named as a racial slur or a reminder of the horrors of the US Southern States. Nor, was its most noteworthy growth and expansion financed primarily by “Old White Men.” It was, in fact, expanded and nurtured by people with substantial interest in racial equality at the University, many of whom had faced prejudice themselves as students of color. The builders of the Plantations were interested in creating sustainable and diverse flora at Cornell that mirrors the diverse world that many of the most substantial donors and supporters hoped for in the future . You are likely to find more allies than enemies amongst those who changed the area from a few open fields and an old elementary school into a vibrant, diverse and world class public garden.

  2. I would like to know what the reaction of black students would be if a group of non-black students promised to actively protest and “shut things down” with respect to activities undertaken by the University that are solely oriented to black students, such as affirmative action in admissions or appointment of recruiters that work only with minority students.

    • Hopefully the reaction would be to remind the students that Affirmative Action and recruiters assist a variety of students from different ethnic backgrounds and women. That is of course that a group actually got together to hold the protest and didn’t just plan it but back out like the Beyonce protest in NYC. They may also point them to the Supreme Court, which helps talk about some of those concerns since they sort of get the last say in what is “fair.” And they have.

      • I would ask Cornell to take away all of my credits earned here if one of their admitting influences was the fact that I am a woman. That should have absolutely nothing to do with my ability to go here. I hope that I earned my way here through vigorous academics just like every one else did. I don’t need your assistance in proving that I can outperform males. What would be fair is a gender blind, race blind, financial blind admissions process.

        • This is a rather bold assumption, but lets not kid ourselves here. If Cornell was to implement gender blind, race blind, financial blind admissions process, what do you think would happen?

          Here are a few pointers: The school would be filled with students of asian descent and rich white kids (the numbers dont lie, they statistically have the highest SAT scores and GPA). The engineering college would be 75% male (the current acceptance rate for the engineering college is 10% for males and greater than 30% for females). There would essentially be no black students on campus due to a myriad of factors that you could infer yourself, but which I will not list here.

          Bottom line? Affirmative action should and does exist, and it does so to preserve the diversity of Cornell and other similar elite universities.

          • I have two questions for you and for others who support affirmative action.

            1. Can you explain why the “diversity” of Cornell depends on base things like gender and race? I mean, surely there can be plenty of diversity in and among Asian people? Personally I think real diversity has more to do with upbringing and culture. A middle class black guy whose family has been living in America for centuries is really no more “diverse” than a normal white American guy, except for skin color, but I don’t think that’s very important. After all, my discussions in class don’t become any more “diverse” just because of the participant’s skin color. They become more diverse when the participants have unique experiences and perspectives, not skin colors.

            2. In the first half of this century, elite universities in this country (including Cornell) had Jewish quotas. Basically, they would restrict Jewish admittance to 10% or something. They did this because if they didn’t, Jews would end up being 30%+ of the class. The quotas were phased out after WWII for obvious reasons.

            Do you support these quotas? You just said that having too many males or too many Asians would be bad. So is too many Jews similarly bad? What’s the difference? Why don’t you campaign for reintroducing the Jewish quotas? Jews are currently extremely over-represented at Cornell.

          • This thread has devolved into a debate over the merits of affirmative action. That is not the point. The point is that black students are DEMANDING special treatment- in the form of more robust affirmative action, mandatory diversity classes, placement advisers dedicated to minority students, facilities that are only open to minorities, etc. Those students who are disadvantaged by these programs might decide to stage extremely disruptive protests of their own and take other measures to voice their displeasure. If black students feel it is their right to disrupt the campus to bring attention to their demands then it would only seem appropriate for other students to do the same. Somehow I think the reaction would be quite different.

        • Cornell Senior, sadly your talents are undermined by an opaque system that advocates considering race and gender separately from academic aptitude. You may very well be the most intelligent and diligent student at Cornell, but sadly, nobody can be sure because the admission office had made talent secondary to diversity goals.

  3. What are the characteristics of “old white man’s money”? Should we refer to Opra’s fortune as old black woman’s money?

  4. The word plantations has a much broader definition than the one for which it was apparently changed. Changing it only reinforces the idea that millenials have to be coddled and it changes nothing. It simply is not synonymous with hateful words or flags.

    Old white man’s money refers not to white men who are of an advanced age and not to Cornell’s own money. It refers to the riches brutally obtained by white men in the colonial, revolutionary, and merging industrial eras off the backs of blacks. It is money that is often kept in the 1% club and not re-distributed into the economy so that everyone has a fairer chance. It is money that is used, intentionally or not, to keep those who were pushed to the very bottom of the Ponzi Scheme we call Capitalism by their enslavement at the bottom. If Oprah has investments in the private prison industrial complex system, then she should divest as well.

    Without affirmative action, fewer of those at the very bottom of that Ponzi Scheme make it out.

    • So an ambitious Cornell graduate who busts his or her ass to get a high GPA in a difficult major and then busts it again to get into a top graduate school and then busts it a third time working 16 hours days and is rewarded handsomely for that effort is making it off the backs of slaves from 1820. Got it.

    • So how are Obama’s daughters at the bottom of the ponzi scheme. They qualify under affirmative action quotas. Explain to me how they are disadvantaged.

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  6. “Amber Aspinall ’17, political action chair of BSU, spoke of the past, present and future of student activism, saying that many of the demands are the same demands that students have been making for the last 50 years.”

    So may we conclude that through 50 years nothing has been accomplished? I think not. It only seems that way if you think of the demands as substantive, but they are not now and never have been. They are and always have been pretexts for bashing white folks, and for involving white folks in bashing themselves. In that, they have succeeded admirably. What I cannot imagine is how anyone can believe that something positive, in any substantive sense, can come of this.

  7. Members of the BSU are making DEMANDS? to favor black students ( diversity) . Who will pay for the ” Diversity Counselors”? Find qualified people who will do this at little or no cost. Are black students ill prepared to function in a truly diverse institution made up of. Asians, Jews, Arabs, Africans, Muslims,etc.? How do you justify demanding an entire institution change to accommodate one of many minority groups? Cornell used to be and I hope is an institution of higher learning founded by Ezra Cornell where anyone can study unhindered by religious or cultural biases. In short, BSU, if you want an education worth something suck it up, or transfer to a second rate,weak institution that will cater to your DEMANDS. Cornell will quickly fill your spots with students who want to get a good education. Where is the “old black money ” to support Cornell?

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