Dr. Renee Alexander, new senior advisor to the dean, described her vision for Cornell's diversity initiatives.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Dr. Renee Alexander, new senior advisor to the dean, described her vision for Cornell's diversity initiatives.

September 26, 2017

Cornell Professors to ‘Take a Knee’ in Solidarity with Athletes, Students

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Scores of Cornell faculty members plan to take a knee on the Arts Quad on Wednesday in solidarity with football players who have been kneeling during the national anthem to bring awareness to issues including police violence against black Americans.

The professors’ protest at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, which organizers hope will be joined by students and members of the Ithaca community, is also in response to an altercation in Collegetown in which a black Cornell student said he was called the N-word and punched in the face by a group of four or five white men.

Ithaca Police have arrested John Greenwood ’20 and charged him with two misdemeanors in the Collegetown assault case, and a grand jury will decide in early October if the student will face hate crime charges.

Dozens of NFL players have kneeled during the national anthem in the last year, including Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, using their platform as NFL players to speak out on issues black Americans face, particularly in interactions with law enforcement.

This weekend, President Donald Trump added fire to the issue in a series of tweets declaring the protests “not acceptable.” Trump said players should stop “disrespecting our Flag & Country.”

“Fire or suspend!” he wrote in one tweet.

In a letter announcing Wednesday’s silent protest, Prof. Tracy McNulty, French and comparative literature, and 71 other faculty members who are members of The Cornell Coalition for Inclusive Democracy said they are acting to support both black athletes and students of color at Cornell.

The group is kneeling to show solidarity with “the black students and other people of color here on campus whose civil rights and human dignity have been demeaned and violated in recent weeks by the actions of racists, nationalists, and white supremacists within our own community,” the statement said.

McNulty said that while students have been on the forefront of Cornell’s response to several recent incidents, faculty members are often not aware of things happening on or around campus.

“It’s not enough to not be racist ourselves,” she said. “We have to work on the ways in which even non-racist people … end up promoting inequality in different ways and allowing it to continue.”

“I think it’s important that faculty step up and not just passively support these demands,” McNulty said, referring to demands delivered by Black Students United to President Pollack, “but actively start thinking about them.”

In addition to taking a knee and a moment of silence, there will also be several members of the faculty coalition speaking on Wednesday, McNulty said.

Prof. Ella Maria Diaz, English and Latina/o studies, said faculty members need to begin having “meaningful conversations” and go “beyond just initiatives and trainings.”

“I’m encouraged that the students who began the conversation, and now the faculty who’s joining it, want to clarify the significant differences between open expression, freedom of speech, hate speech and speech that triggers violence against people’s very bodies,” Diaz said.

“There is a difference, and it’s called humanity and/or morality.”

Diaz said she was inspired by a letter in The Sun from student-athletes who she said took leadership in addressing issues of bigotry in the athletic and Cornell communities.

“It’s not just about working towards a blanket equality where everyone is treated equally without regard for their underrepresented identity,” she said, “but that there’s a concerted effort” when people are targeted.

Prof. John Weiss, history, said faculty members must begin recognizing that their actions or inactions can perpetuate a “racist and discriminating system.”

“It’s that second level of indirect and subtle kind of stuff that keeps the structure there,” he said. “That needs to be discussed and it needs to be discussed by faculty and not just students.”