In a victory for veterans, Cornell announced today that it will light McGraw Tower green on Nov. 11, Veterans Day, to honor the military service of veteran students, alumni and faculty.
This announcement represents a reversal of the University’s position — almost two weeks ago, David Outlaw ’17, the president of the Cornell Undergraduate Veterans Association said he was rebuffed by administrators when he requested the lighting change.
In a Sun letter to the editor on Oct. 19, Outlaw wrote that the group’s petition for the “simple action of changing one light to green” was denied by a Cornell Chimes administrator, who explained that McGraw Tower is not lit for special occasions except a select number of “very long-standing university traditions.”
Tuesday’s decision changed that precedent. Lighting McGraw Tower green supports the “Greenlight A Vet” campaign and was announced by Outlaw and Joseph Burke, executive director for Campus and Community Engagement. The campaign asks all Americans to change one visible light in their home or workspace to show visible support for veterans.
McGraw Tower is one of the most visible lights on campus and in the community, with three raised windows and an illuminated clock face atop each of the tower’s four sides, the University pointed out in its announcement.
“Cornell will light McGraw Tower green, so even if we can’t always see our veterans, they can always see our support,” Outlaw said of the gesture.
David Cox, vice president of CUVA and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences representative to the Student Assembly, said the change was the result of reaching out to students, faculty and staff through the letter to the editor, working with the S.A. and encouraging conversations between members of the Cornell community.
“Often Cornell comes under a lot of fire for being tough to navigate,” he said. “But I think we have the correct institutional channels in place to reach the right people and our collective experience as veterans … helps us to drive change in the right direction.”
Cox added that after the initial rebuff, students inside and outside CUVA worked with administrators, including Burke, to change the policy.
While Cox said he worked with S.A. members to petition the administration, Outlaw worked with Burke to create a new policy that would allow CUVA and other organizations to potentially light up the tower in different colors.
“I am appreciative that the University and I were able to constructively collaborate toward a resolution that will foster inclusivity, increase awareness of Cornell’s diverse student body, and honor the service of Cornellians who have fought so hard to protect and preserve our everyday liberties,” Outlaw said.
Both Outlaw and Burke said they hope the move sparks productive conversations about the University’s ambition to connect and represent a diverse body of students. The University also indicated in the release that administrators are open to exploring lighting the tower for a myriad of different causes.
“While we engage in this important conversation, the Division of Student and Campus Life is committed to creating a diverse committee of students and administrators to draft a new McGraw Tower lighting policy that uses our important campus symbol as a beacon to raise awareness of important student populations, while also maintaining the respect and integrity of our most iconic building,” Burke said in the announcement.