Fresh off the heels of Cornell football’s first win of the season, offensive coordinator and line coach Roy Istvan received backlash after tweeting a picture of players in sombreros, with the caption “Eman and Fosta! THE BIG SOMBRERO!”
The tweet was criticized by Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán de Cornell, or MEChA, a student organization that “promotes higher education, cultura and historia,” according to their national website.
“I think this is indicative of the problem that a decent portion of Cornellians kind of don’t have sympathy for one another,” said Barbara Cruz ’19, the secretary of MEChA de Cornell. “Cornell prides itself on ‘any student, any study,’ but it kind of feels as if a lot of people don’t want us here.”
Cruz added that she feels the tweet is another example of Cornell trying to be “funny” and “wacky,” but said she does not understand why their enjoyment comes at the expense of the latino community.
The picture of linemen John Foster and Alex Emanuels Istvan’s caused a firestorm on social media, especially because the tweet — which has since been deleted — was retweeted by the University’s official twitter page.
Even if the University did not add any language to Istvan’s tweet, the fact that they retweeted the message was upsetting to many Cornell students.
“[I am] absolutely embarrassed to attend a university that publicly, or not publicly, supports this [tweet], and hope to work collaboratively to ensure that university communications, and all staff and faculty, receive much needed diversity and cultural sensitivity training,” Matthew Indimine ’18, the executive vice president of the Student Assembly wrote in a comment on MEChA’s post.
Responding to criticism, Istvan took to twitter to explain his tweet, saying, “I award the big hat to team members who represent the best teamwork and winning spirit on and off the field. I am truly sorry for the cultural insensitivity and understand how our expression of pride came at the expense of others in the Cornell community.”
Head football coach David Archer ’05 also expressed his regret about the incident, issuing a statement apologizing to the Cornell community for the tweet’s implications.
“Along with the coaches and players in my program, I regret that an image of our players, that was intended to share our pride and accomplishments, offended anybody in our community,” he said. “I apologize for any disrespect it caused.”
The University, too, has reached out to MEChA and apologized for the “misuse of important cultural symbols.”
“Choosing a sombrero to celebrate accomplishments by Cornell University Athletics sent the wrong message to the community,” athletic director Andy Noel wrote in an email to leaders of MEChA de Cornell. “Even when in celebration, misappropriating these symbols can devalue cultures, extend negative stereotypes and needlessly offend others.”
Hoping to mend the wounds caused by this incident, Noel added that he and the athletic department aim to address the cultural insensitivity problem across campus.
“On behalf of our coach and football program, I apologize for this oversight and any sense of disrespect it caused,” he continued. “I look forward to working with our campus partner to reinforce our awareness of these issues.”
Noel also added that leaders of the football team plan to meet with MEChA’s leaders in order to “facilitate understanding.”
Despite the outcry, Gustavo Dorsett, a sophomore safety on the football team of Mexican descent, does not believe the tweet is offensive, and instead said he believes it celebrates his heritage.
“I am having trouble seeing how this in any way is so offensive,” he wrote on MEChA’s post. “If I showed this picture to my family in Mexico they would certainly laugh and be excited that our team incorporates a part of the Mexican heritage in celebrating our player awards. This is being blown up by sensitive people on social media who aren’t even of relevance to the Mexican culture.”
Other players on the football team, too, commented on the post in defense of their coach.
“You guys are so sensitive over social media,” sophomore running back Chris Walker wrote. “This is not a negative stereotype whatsoever. I see two guys being notified for their performance on the field REPRESENTING CORNELL UNIVERSITY. So you all need to resort to more significant issues than what this sombrero symbolizes.”
“Where in this photo and caption are they being racially insensitive?” sophomore running back Steven Rodriguez added. “There are no racially insensitive descriptions. If I took a photo wearing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots would you have the same reaction? Don’t think so. They are only being recognized for their outstanding performance in a game.”
Istvan’s tweet is not the first of its kind in alleged cultural appropriation on college campuses. In March, members of student government at Bowdoin College faced impeachment proceedings after throwing a tequila-themed party, with sombreros included.
In light of this, Cruz added that she feels the sombrero tweet plays into a continuous desensitization across college campus to different cultures and their perception to actions that may be culturally insensitive.
“I think it kind of shows how little students care about one another,” she said. “It kind of makes me worry for the safety of some students. If something were to happen to one of the MEChA members, I don’t know if people would care.”
Going forward, Cruz hopes that the response to Istvan’s tweet incites a change and gets the University to rethink and reexamine its social media policy.
“There were a lot of Cornell students that were straight up harassing their fellow students [online],” she said. “For me, it’s kind of sad. Do people not realize that these are your fellow students? I’d like to think people in charge of the PR for Cornell would take more caution in accurately representing the University.”