Flood waters surround a yellow building in Puerto Rico after the hurricane.

U.S. Department of Defense

Flood waters surround a yellow building in Puerto Rico after the hurricane.

October 31, 2017

Cornell to Welcome Puerto Rican Students Tuition-Free

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This post has been updated. 

Cornell is offering a free semester to up to 58 Universidad de Puerto Rico students who have been impacted by the recent hurricanes that tore through the U.S. territory, causing the local university system to operate at limited capacity.

Up to 50 full-time undergraduate, law and graduate business students and eight graduate research students from the university could study at Cornell during the spring semester.

Prospective students must apply by Dec. 1, and, if accepted, will take Cornell courses, earn credits and receive an official Cornell transcript upon completing the semester, the University said. Accepted students will have to pay for their own health insurance, travel expenses, books, laundry, and off-campus meals, but will have access to the libraries, computing facilities, laboratories, support services and activities.

It has been more than 40 days since Hurricane Maria, and only 30 percent of Puerto Rican utility customers have had their power restored, Reuters reported on Monday. Damages are estimated at more than $90 billion.

Cornell joins Brown University, which committed to enrolling up to 50 students in the spring, as well as Wesleyan and Tulane in offering Puerto Rican students an option to study Cornell.

“We aim to offer them a warm welcome to one of the great universities in the world and do our dead-level best to accommodate them,” said Prof. Glenn Altschuler, American history, dean of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions. “I want the students from Puerto Rico to know that there will be an awful lot of people reaching out to them to be helpful.”

Cornell made a similar offer in 2005, enrolling 204 students from Tulane University, Xavier University of Louisiana and the University of New Orleans after Louisiana was hit by Hurricane Katrina, the University said in the release.

“This is a campuswide effort,” Altschuler said. “Students are going to be giving up some room in their residences; faculty are going to be teaching some extra students; deans are doing the work to make it happen; and our president and provost are leading the way in how we should be responding.”

The idea was first brought to the University by Kent Kleinman, dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, when the Department of Architecture said it was willing to enroll students from the island.

The dean of each college has since designated an associate dean or a faculty member to work directly with accepted students to make their transition as smooth as possible, Altschuler said.

Prof. Debra Ann Castillo, Hispanic studies, fears that “one of the big challenges right now is getting the word out, since the power grid is iffy still.” She expects the UPR students will need to overcome significant logistical issues to travel from Puerto Rico to Cornell.

“We know our Puerto Rican students will most likely arrive in NYC, and we are looking into ways of receiving them, including driving them to Ithaca, and making sure that they have winter coats right away when they arrive,” she said in an email.

Chris Arce ’19, Puerto Rican Student Association co-president, said he is glad Cornell is taking this step, but is skeptical about how welcome the students will feel on campus.

“Overall, people are great,” he said. “My concern is, as we have seen on campus, despite what we may think, there are clearly issues that need to be addressed rooted in issues of racism, of white supremacy.”

“Perhaps having an influx of about 60 Puerto Rican students receiving free tuition, I fear that might cause a backlash,” he said. “Obviously, I am not going to say don’t do it because there may be backlash. We are just trying to account for any sort of — what could be a racist response.”

Castillo told The Sun that students from Puerto Rico are likely to “come up against immense culture and climate challenges, and will need to integrate immediately to take best advantage of the semester.”

“Thus, student organizations like the Puerto Rican Student Association, and the Latinx greek organizations are already in conversations to brainstorm ways to welcome them, and extend a hand,” she added.