In the wake of an incident early Sunday morning in which several black students were allegedly harassed by unknown individuals, minority leaders on campus expressed fear and anger toward what they said is the dangerous prevalence of racism on campus.
On Sunday morning, individuals on the roof of the Sigma Pi fraternity house reportedly threw bottles and other objects at the students. Additionally, the students said that they were jeered at with references to Trayvon Martin, a Florida teenager who was shot dead apparently without provocation in February, galvanizing black activists across the country.
In an email sent Monday to the Cornell community, student group Black Students United demanded that the administration take action.
“Those involved in this incident should not go without punishment … As students at Cornell, we deserve the right to feel safe and comfortable. We demand nothing more than the same amount of respect that is given to all students pursuing an education on this campus,” the statement said. “Such acts of injustice are not acceptable.”
The group also said the incident is indicative of a larger trend of racial bias on the Cornell campus.
“Time and time again, we have had to defend our program houses, academic departments and ourselves from the racism that remains prevalent each and every day,” the email said. “Cornell prides itself on its diverse environment, yet as students of color, we are not always safe –– not even on our own campus.”
Selam Gebre ’14, incoming co-chair of BSU, said the incident is pertinent not only to black students on campus, but is also relevant to all minority groups.
“It’s not just a black issue,” Gebre said. “Being a minority student on this campus kind of feels threatening at times. [This incident] makes us feel unsafe and unwanted.”
Oscar Correia ’14, incoming president of La Asociación Latina, said he has found this feeling is especially prevalent in Greek houses on campus.
“The IFC and Panhellenic aren’t diverse. They don’t represent the rest of the campus on important issues,” Correia said. “I have several friends who’ve been to these frats and have felt uncomfortable being black or minority students. They’ve had people point out that … they don’t belong.”
Correia said that the Greek system should undergo some changes in order to prevent similar issues from occurring in the future. The brothers of Sigma Pi, the fraternity at which the event allegedly occurred, have said their house is one of the most diverse on campus.
“I think [the administration] needs to have a push to make the Greek system more diverse. There’s obvious hate crimes going on,” he said. “They need to reconsider revoking the charters of violating chapters. Students shouldn’t be afraid to walk around campus.”
Narda Terrones ’14, publicity co-chair of the Cornell University Women of Color Coalition –– which sent an email to the community Monday decrying the individuals’ actions based on their discrimination against women –– said the Greek system also propagates gender bias.
“I definitely believe that the Greek system does encourage sexism,” Terrones said. “I don’t think this applies to every single frat … but there is definitely some sort of influence from the [Greek] community.”
An anonymous group called “Scorpions X” –– which in the past, has reacted to racial issues on campus, such as the use of the font “Chop Suey” in promotional posters for an April 6 Margaret Cho event –– also condemned the Greek system’s role in the incident.
In an email sent Monday morning to members of the Cornell community, the group included a link to a YouTube video it created in response to Sunday’s incident. The video expounded upon the “top five reasons why Sigma Pi’s racist street harassment is not an isolated incident” –– including the Greek system’s purported history of racial discrimination, gender-based violence and exclusion on the basis of social status.
Sasha Mack ’13, co-chair of BSU, echoed this sentiment.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve heard about racism from the Greek system, and I’m so proud of the people involved that they spoke up, so something can be done,” Mack said.
Vice President of Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73 also condemned the actions of those involved in the incident.
“There is no place for this kind of behavior at Cornell University; we celebrate our diversity and expect all our members to respect one another,” Murphy said. “My colleagues and I regret that this happened at all, and call on every Cornellian to support each other and most especially the members of our community most affected by this incident.”
However, Gebre said both the University and Sigma Pi should both pursue further steps to address Sunday’s episode.
“I want administration to publicly address this issue,” she said. “I know Susan Murphy has put out a statement, but more action needs to be taken. We want to hear something from Cornell’s Sigma Pi chapter and from the national organization.”
According to both Gebre and Correia, a number of minority organizations on campus are hoping to hold a forum, tentatively scheduled for Wednesday evening, to discuss race and gender issues surrounding the incident.
Terrones expressed optimism about the “solidarity” the community has shown in responding to Sunday’s events.
“It’s a very big deal, and I am so happy that the community has responded so strongly,” she said. “Everyone is on top of it.”