Interim President Hunter Rawlings announced Cornell's position on graduate student unionization in a statement emailed to students in October.

Michael Li / Sun Staff Photographer

Interim President Hunter Rawlings announced Cornell's position on graduate student unionization in a statement emailed to students in October.

October 14, 2016

Rawlings Addresses Safety Concerns, Growth of Undergraduate Careerism

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Interim President Hunter Rawlings and Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi addressed student concerns about recent violence on campus, University trigger warning policy and campus careerism at Thursday’s Student Assembly meeting.

Responding to the Aug. 28 on-campus murder of Ithaca College student Anthony Nazaire, Student Trustee Yamini Bhandari ’17 and Zelia Gonzales ’20 asked the administrators how the University has reactively altered its safety protocols and procedures.

Lombardi said the Nazaire murder, in conjunction with the “shelter in place” order issued by police after the Stewart Ave. stabbing on Sept. 28, exposed the need for additional training on emergency situation protocol.

“[The second stabbing incident] illuminated for us that not as many people were aware of what [a shelter in place order] really means, what they should do under those circumstances,” he said.

While Lombardi encouraged students to sign up for the emergency alert text message system — another safety measure he said is underutilized — Rawlings emphasized the “huge role” Cornell students must play in their own safety.

“We have a ton of students, and there’s no way we can provide safety for each and every one of them all the time,” Rawlings said. “We do provide a lot of help, but I think it’s important for students to learn where that help is and when it’s available.”

Lombardi said the University has increased uniformed Cornell Police patrols, the number of Blue Light escort teams and video cameras across campus. He added that additional body cameras and police vehicle cameras will be installed early in the spring semester.

Despite the extra Blue Light teams, the escort service is seriously underutilized by students, according to Lombardi.

In addition to concerns about campus safety, the S.A. also addressed Rawlings’ recent calls for a more uniform undergraduate curriculum.

Students at all undergraduate levels in the College of Arts and Sciences reported a desire for fewer distribution requirements, according to Mitchell McBride ’17, vice president of internal operations for the S.A.

Julia Montejo ’17, vice president of diversity and inclusion, asked Rawlings to address the fact that, for “a lot of [students] who have faced discrimination and trauma,” material in academic courses can be triggering.

Rawlings emphasized that, because of the University’s commitment to free speech on campus, there are no University policies either requiring or abolishing any form of content warning. Rather, he said the decision to utilize trigger warnings is left to a professor’s discretion.

“Sometimes [trigger warnings are] helpful…but I do want to emphasize that we believe very strongly in freedom of speech and in academic freedom, which means the freedom of the faculty to teach as the faculty sees fit,” he said.

Several students raised concerns about potential disparities in grading across the University and the consequences these systems have for students seeking highly competitive jobs upon graduation.

Richard Wang ’17, a College of Arts and Sciences representative, cited the potential disadvantage students face when they graduate from the engineering school’s rigorous grading system, where students may find “their engineering median is below the minimum cutoff for a lot of jobs.”

Following discussion of grading systems, S.A. Parliamentarian Dale Barbaria ’19 referred to The Sun’s feature on the growth of Cornell’s careerism, asking Rawlings “what we should be asking ourselves in the student body” regarding curriculum.

Rawlings called himself “a strong proponent” of a liberal arts education. Citing The Sun’s report, the interim president voiced concern that students anxious to enter well-paying careers may be selecting what they consider “practical types of majors and courses” out of a fear of “[getting] the wrong education.”

“It turns out over a lifetime, a liberal arts major does really well, but it’s over a lifetime, as opposed to preparing your first three years’ salary,” he explained. “I think it’s great when students are broadly educated, and I think that’s what a lot of college is about.”

Rawlings added that he “would really like to hear from students” in follow-up conversations on campus careerism.