October 19, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Cornell Refuses to Light Clock Tower Green, Citing “Tradition”

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To the editor:

America’s Veterans are some of our nation’s bravest, hardest-working ladies and gentlemen. However, it can be difficult to show them the appreciation they deserve after they hang up their uniform. Greenlight A Vet is a campaign established to create a visible national support for our Veterans by changing one light to green. Green is the color of hope, renewal and well-being. “Greenlight” is also a term commonly used to activate forward movement. The simple action of changing one light to green will spark a national conversation regarding the treatment and recognition of Veterans and “green light” them forward as valued members of our communities.

Recently, as president and co-founder of the Cornell Undergraduate Veterans Association, I requested to have the clock tower lit green for Veterans Day. The Cornell Chimes refused this request. Marisa LaFalce, the program coordinator for the Cornell Chimes, responded to Outlaw stating, “McGraw Tower is not lit for different occasions throughout the year, save for a handful of very long-standing university traditions.” This is the second year in a row that LaFalce has refused to support Veterans by participating in the “Greenlight a Vet program.”

Since LaFalce broached the topic of tradition, I would like to discuss it further. As New York State’s Land Grant University, Cornell has a “long-standing tradition” of supporting our Armed Forces that dates back to our founding in 1865. During WWI, Cornell commissioned almost 5,000 officers, more than any other institution in the United States, including the military academies. An additional 4,000 Cornellians, including faculty, alumni, students and staff, also served. During World War II, Cornellians had more than 20,000 serving in the armed forces and in every theater of war. As the only Ivy League University to host Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine ROTC programs, Cornell is one of three that offered continuous ROTC studies throughout the Vietnam era to today.

While serving their country, Veterans wear camouflaged uniforms, but ironically, once they return home from service, these men and women are even more camouflaged. Of the 14,000 undergraduate students at Cornell, only 22 are undergraduate Veterans. Nationally, Veterans make up five percent of students on college campuses; and Cornell has less than one percent. Because of our small percentage, Cornell Veterans arguably need a light of support, now more than ever.

As an institution that encourages research and innovation, I am shocked and disappointed that the Cornell Chimes would use “tradition” as a blanket to cover up their discrimination. Tradition has long been used as reasoning for not changing human behavior. If we maintained “tradition,” my mother and sister wouldn’t be able to vote, my uncle and his partner would not be able to get married, and Barack Obama would not be our president. Change can be difficult, but change is necessary.  Without change, we breed stagnation and complacency.  In this case, change is easy; it’s a light bulb. But this is so more than a light bulb; it’s a symbolic measure that Cornell cares about our Veterans, honors their service and is committed to their future.

David Outlaw ’17, president and co-founder of the Cornell Undergraduate Veterans Association

12 thoughts on “LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Cornell Refuses to Light Clock Tower Green, Citing “Tradition”

  1. Disclaimer: I am a chimesmaster, but I do not represent or speak on behalf of the Cornell Chimes.

    First off, I have no ill intent nor do I wish to instigate conflict. I’d just like to make some comments and clarifications.

    Our program coordinator, who is mentioned in this piece, is a very considerate person who is passionate about the Chimes, and the chimesmasters immensely appreciate her. I feel that the rhetoric used in this piece falsely portrays her. I understand that the author feels strongly about the subject, but it seems that she’s being unfairly criticized.

    Regarding the issue brought up in the piece, requests to change the colors of the McGraw Tower clock faces are not given preferential treatment over others, and are all rejected without discrimination. This wasn’t an intolerance directed against veterans, as the piece seems to make it out to be. I don’t believe that the examples about women’s suffrage, LGBT rights, and slavery given in the last paragraph are analogous to the situation, as these are issues actually involving inequality and discrimination. The Cornell Chimes certainly does not have a long-standing bias against veterans, which would be a ridiculous suggestion. I personally appreciate and have respect for veterans and the sacrifices they’ve made, and I have no doubt that our program coordinator does as well.

    Again, I’m not looking for conflict, I just wanted to voice my thoughts and clear up some details.

    • I am sure your program coordinator cares deeply about the Chimes, but if you all can light the tower for St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween, you open the door for others as well. How are those holidays “long-standing traditions,” but not military service?

        • Mega dittos.. just a freaking bulb color change or plastic cover.. halloween st patricks then you already have the greencovers.. and i recall many other days where colors were done too that wouldn’t be considered longstanding traditions
          And by the way veterans day is a national holiday!!
          semper fi!
          Do or die
          Hoorah
          Huaw
          Urah

        • I’m another chimes alum, just here to clear up some facts: the tower does not light up for St. Patrick’s Day. It lights up only for Dragon Day (a day unique to Cornell) and Halloween, with the latter being a tradition dating back to the 60’s.

  2. What is the data source that only 22 are undergraduate veterans on the Ithaca campus? Is this the number that self-identified on their applications or is this from the Foinancial Aid office regarding the number receiving GI Bill funding?

    Further, Cornell is much more than an undergraduate institution and has thousands of graduate and professional students on the Ithaca campus. Many of these students are veterans. The relevant figure is the total number of veteran students on the Ithaca campus.

  3. The letter writer only hints at this point, but does refer to it obliquely: Cornell almost certainly actively discriminates AGAINST veterans in admissions.
    How do we know this? Look at the minuscule number of veterans within the undergraduate population: 22. Out of a population of over 14,000?
    This despite the fact that it is in the interest of ANY university to admit veterans thanks to the generous funding they receive through the Post 9/11 GI Bill. In other words, Cornell is GUARANTEED tuition and housing money for each and every veteran they admit. Yet they admit only a handful each year. It’s an uncomfortable realization, but more likely than not this is evidence of an active hostility on the part of university admissions personnel towards veterans. Why? Because veterans tend to lean more conservative than liberal. Face it, Cornell community, you’re biased against conservatives, even those conservatives who have risked life and limb in the name of YOUR safety. So much for tolerance!

    • Just an FYI: GI bill funding has a cap. Cornell participates in the Yellow Ribbon Fund, where the university picks up some of the additional cost that isn’t covered by the GI bill, and the housing allowance only lasts for a few months. And actually admissions is generally blind to veteran status, although I was given extraordinary leeway when I returned to Cornell to finish my degree after my service. But that was mostly due to one individual counselor’s extra attention.

      Here’s how the financing works http://finaid.cornell.edu/types-aid/grants-and-scholarships/veterans-education-benefits

      Cornell is a little spotty in recruiting transitioning servicemen and women, but that’s also a difficult process through the various services’ transition programs. Each service has their own programs, and every base has a different level of support. There was a good article in the NYT about where are veterans at elite colleges, that might help you understand the situation a little better. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/07/opinion/elites-neglect-veterans.html

      • Indeed, there is a cap on Post 9/11 GI bill benefits, so it is true that Cornell is not guaranteed FULL tuition reimbursement for veteran students; but how many non-veteran Cornell students pay full tuition? Less than one third, according to this:
        http://www.alumni.cornell.edu/give/docs/UGradFinAidStats_32012cjk-v2.pdf
        The “but there’s a cap!” defense is no defense at all — Cornell has every financial incentive to accept veteran applicants, and none to bar them. Given this fact, is seems inconceivable that the university has deigned to admit a mere two dozen undergraduates out of the thousands of military personnel whose time in service expires every year — some of whom, such as crypo-linguists, have tested into 98%th percentile in terms of intelligence (they have to to be out into that job). Sadly, the likely conclusion is active collusion on the part of the university to keep out “undesirables,” despite the high number of qualified (and near-fully funded) applicants.

  4. The Greenlight a Vet campaign, based on their website, is as follows: “Change one light in a visible location in your home or office to green, and keep it glowing every day as a symbol of support and appreciation for our veterans.”

    To light the clock tower green on Veterans Day, one day, is different from the Greenlight a Vet campaign. The idea to light the clock tower green on Veterans Day is an idea advanced by the president and co-founder of the Cornell Undergraduate Veterans Association. His request was denied. I hope that he pursues other ideas and makes different requests to help the Cornell community understand and appreciate the important contributions of veterans to our country and university.

    About discrimination: it’s my right to speak my mind, and it’s my personal obligation to work on behalf of what I believe. And others have the right to reject my ideas. This rejection is not discrimination against me or what I represent. If I say that it is, I have stopped working with others.

    In the process of advancing a cause, I come up with many ideas and work to collaborate with others to achieve a way forward. I hope that the author reaches out to the community in a collaborative spirit. It is difficult for us all to listen when we feel we’re being judged or blamed.

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