September 21, 2017

EDITORIAL: Toward a Better Cornell

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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.

  • Pingback: A black Cornell student said he was beaten and called the n-word, roiling the Ivy League campus – Rae Phillips()

  • Jay Wind

    I believe this is a worthwhile topic for the Cornell Sun’s editorial voice, so I am please to see it. However, I have take issue with three important points:

    1) The editorial states, “The swiftness with which Psi Upsilon fraternity has been sanctioned by
    both the administration and Tri-Council is refreshing and commendable.” People’s property rights, including a long-term lease on a house that was funded by Psi U alumni, should only be altered with full due process. It turns out, the person arrested was not even a Psi U member, which makes the hasty action very troubling. The matter of fraternity conduct is within the scope of the IFC, not the Tri-Council.

    2) The editorial states, “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.” I have read the Cornell Sun and other sources, including the BSU facebook page, but I still do not see any reporting of the 12 demands that were delivered on Wednesday. Perhaps the news staff can report on them.

    3) Much of the BSU’s demands to date have focused on a “speech code,” which would be a clear violation of the first amendment free speech rights of other Cornell students, faculty and staff. To date, the BSU has not made a specific proposal, but one gets the impression that they want to use sanctions to block people from expressing disagreement with their views. The Cornell Sun has historically been a champion of free speech and the editorial was disappointing for failure to restate the Sun’s position on this vital issue. Groups such as the American Association of University Professors; the American Civil Liberties Union; and Society of Professional Journalists.
    The SPJ Code of Ethics specifically says, “Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant” I would hope that the Sun would speak out in favor of protecting free speech.

  • Thomas Sowell

    I can tell why Cornell isn’t considered a real ivy just from reading this article. What are BSU’s demands? How are they clear? Does anyone seriously believe that the guy who assaulted the black man on campus would not have done what he did had there been diversity classes and an inclusion building? BSU has exploited this tragedy for political gain. What a travesty. And the Sun is too engrossed in their liberal echochamber to think for a second about what they write.

  • Man with Axe

    If every time one guy beat up another guy there had to be a march and some demands handed to the president, well, that would be better than studying.