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Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

October 12, 2017

Pollack Announces Task Force Leaders, Goals After Racially-Charged Incidents

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Cornell President Martha Pollack on Wednesday announced the leaders, goals and timeframe of the presidential task force she formed last month after a series of incidents in which students felt attacked because of their race or nationality that led to a rocky campus climate.

The Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate, whose members have not yet been determined, will include three committees, and, broadly, will be charged with promoting an inclusive campus experience, exploring and analyzing the University’s current position on instances of harmful speech and expression and proposing ways for the campus to respond to future instances of bias.

The Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations will propose a composition of the task force that ensures that the “voices and perspectives of our diverse campus constituencies are represented,” Pollack said. In an interview with The Sun last week, she said the question of who is chosen for the task force is “nuanced and tricky and we want to make sure we get it right.”

After the institute’s recommendation, Pollack will appoint individual members and the task force is expected to release an intermediate report around spring break, which begins on March 31. A final report is expected by May 1, Pollack said, and recommendations from the task force will be sorted into three categories of immediate proposals, ideas that will take 6 to 12 months to implement and “aspirational recommendations.”

Pollack announced the task force in September, among other initiatives, after a cluster of incidents that brought national attention to Cornell’s climate and led Black Students United to briefly occupy a campus building. In 28 days, there have been at least four incidents perceived by students as racist, xenophobic or anti-semitic.

A student posted an anti-semitic joke on a shared document during class on Oct. 3, leading a professor to end her lecture. Someone submitted the N-word in response to an electronic poll at a residence hall dinner on Sept. 27. A fraternity member was overheard proposing that a wall be built around the Latino Living Center on Sept. 6. And, in the highest-profile incident, a black student said he was punched in the face and called racist slurs by a group of white men on Sept. 15, leading to the arrest of one student who might be charged with a hate crime.

Leading the task force’s three committees will be the University’s top lawyer, Madelyn Wessel; Prof. Lisa Nishii, human resources studies, who is chair of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations’ international programs; and Prof. David Wooten, marketing, who is associate dean and chief diversity officer of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

Pollack announced the task force heads at 5 p.m., and none of the three co-chairs responded to emails sent shortly thereafter requesting comment on Wednesday evening. Harry Katz, director of the Scheinman Institute, did not respond to a request for comment. University spokesmen John McKain and John Carberry did not respond to emailed questions.

At a forum hosted by BSU and Alpha Phi Alpha last week, Pollack said she and others were “repulsed by the behavior that’s been going on on campus” and “deeply disappointed by members of our community.”

“I don’t recall a time in my life when there’s been so much divisiveness in our nation,” she said at the forum on Thursday.

Pollack said Cornell has increased the number of staff members at Counseling and Psychological Services by five people, four of whom she said are people of color.