Forty-two years after the takeover of Willard Straight Hall, opponents of the proposed administrative restructuring of the Africana Studies and Research Center say Day Hall administrators have still not learned to listen to Cornell’s African-American community.
In a protest march from the Straight to the Center Tuesday, more than 40 students and faculty protesters stopped near Day Hall to chant “Two, four, six, eight, we remember Willard Straight!” and “Who’s got paternalism? Day Hall’s got paternalism!” Outside the building, speakers criticized the administration for its “autocratic” and “unilateral” decision-making process in moving the administrative home of the Center to the College of Arts and Sciences.
“We’re using [the march] as an opportunity to dramatize the importance of saving the Africana Studies and Research Center, because the way in which it was founded was an important outcome of the takeover,” said Alyssa Clutterbuck grad, member of the Save the Africana Center Committee.
Students expressed skepticism at Provost Fuchs’ remarks published in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. Provost Kent Fuchs told the publication, “If there is ample evidence that the Center would be stronger by continuing to report to me instead of being part of a college ... I’d be happy to change my mind.”
“We feel that we have provided him ample evidence of why this decision is not a good idea. The fact that there still has not been any paperwork documenting that everything he is saying is going to come into effect, the fact that he has admitted there is no plan ... [makes] us feel that he is choosing to not listen to that ample evidence,” Clutterbuck said.
The University has defended its decision by arguing that the relocation would increase both efficiency and resources for the Africana Center. In a statement released December, Fuchs said the move would not only allow Africana to develop a Ph.D. program but also strengthen Africana as a whole by attracting “superb faculty and students.” On March 31, the University promised to increase the Africana Center’s budget by more than 50 percent.
Courtney Knapp grad, a member of the Save the Africana Center Committee, said that while Fuchs remarks were likely a “P.R. move,” they presented additional leverage for the committee’s movement.
“It seems like the only thing that’s going to work is to hold the administration accountable for their rhetoric, and [Fuchs’ comment] is some more language that we can hold them to,” Knapp said.
Knapp added that the committee has been increasingly active this semester, gathering 2,000 signatures on one petition opposing the Africana Center move. Knapp said the committee would use the march to help build its campaign.
Prof. Robert Harris Jr., director of the Africana Center, said that until the University rescinds its decision to move the Center into the College of Arts and Sciences, Africana supporters will not engage in negotiations with the provost.
Harris added that there is growing support from the Africana community nationally.
“I can’t say that we’ve made progress with University administrators, but given the support that we’re receiving from around the country [and] given the support we have from prominent faculty who hold distinguished chairs at peer institutions, people are encouraging us to retain our current administrative structure,” Harris said.
As the march moved onto the site of the original Africana Center, its founding director, Prof. James Turner, warned that what is at stake is not only the structural autonomy of Africana, but also a sense of community.
“The spirit of Africana is not a sterile department but a robust, active and rich community,” Turner said. “We are an important bastion — a vestige of that vision students had ... four decades ago.”