The past several days have not been easy for many Cornellians, but Wednesday’s peaceful march to and sit-in at Willard Straight Hall show that our community is more than up to the challenge of defeating racism and hate. Both the administration and Black Students United have acted with grace and with gravity in the wake of last week’s Collegetown assault, and as Cornell begins to lumber toward substantive and meaningful change, we hope that the spirit of open dialogue and mutual respect persists.
The signs are positive. President Martha E. Pollack’s Sept. 17 message to the Cornell Community made clear that the University takes the situation seriously, and the presidential task force, if properly constituted, could be an incredibly important mechanism in the months to come. The swiftness with which Psi Upsilon fraternity has been sanctioned by both the administration and Tri-Council is refreshing and commendable, and the repurposing of the home at 2 Forest Lane is both a symbolic and practical step forward. The demands presented to President Pollack by Black Students United are clear, well-supported and merit a comprehensive examination and speedy response from the administration. The “Diversity & Inclusion Plan” presented by the Interfraternity Council, the Panhellenic Council and the Multicultural Greek Letter Council is a promising start that rightfully acknowledges the racist, oppressive and exclusionary facets of Greek life.
All this is just the beginning. Over the next several weeks, Cornell must commit to a conversation and a reckoning about race, about privilege, about responsibility. The issues at hand are not simple ones, and the grievances expressed this past week are profound, provocative and at times can be uncomfortable to discuss. However, we must still discuss them, especially if we are to fulfill Ezra Cornell’s dream; not just one of “any person, any study,” but of an institution that enhances and elevates the lives of every individual and community it touches, an institution that lives up to its potential and is deserving of the love of its students and alumni. Welcome the discomfort, and learn from it.
As we proceed, all involved parties should continue to recognize that their words actions have consequences for all those around them. One need look no further than the rushed and subsequently retracted statement issued by the Student Assembly on Saturday evening to see how a lack of both communication and perspective can undermine an otherwise well-intended expression. Communication and perspective will be valuable and necessary commodities in the days to come.
This is Cornell: we’re all here for a reason, and it’s not because we shy away from a challenge. Together, let’s turn today’s statements into tomorrow’s reality.