In 1901, senior Willard Dickerman Straight organized the first ever Dragon Day at Cornell, a tradition in which a Chinese Dragon, built by first-year architecture students, is paraded across campus. A Far East scholar at Cornell, Straight was appointed as the American Consul-General in Manchuria shortly following his graduation and went on to dedicate much of his short life to improving relations between the U.S. and China.
Now, over a century later, Straight’s cause found an outlet in the building of his namesake yesterday. From 2 to 6 p.m. yesterday the Straight’s main lounge hosted the first ever consortium of Cornell’s eight student organizations devoted to promoting Chinese-American social and cultural exchanges. Brought together by the Global China Connection, the various associations aim to continue what GCC Vice President Audrey Keranen ’12 calls “Cornell’s historically exceptional exchange program with China.” The groups affirmed the importance of maintaining a Chinese-U.S. relationship because of the “increasing ascendancy” of China as “the 21st Century’s major superpower,” GCC President Randy Wan ’12 said.
Wan also said that student turnout for the event was encouraging, with “many people trickling in and out” throughout the day.
The event, billed broadly as “opportunities in China,” brought together organizations with a variety of sizes and functions. Operation DEEP offered students summer volunteer opportunities teaching in Tibetan villages, a program which they have sponsored since 2005.
DEEP Chairwoman Jenny Zhang ’11, one of eight administrative members in the group, said she hopes to expand their operation to three locations from their current state of one. DEEP’s primary mission, according to its website, is to help provide education to the “40 million students living in poverty … in rural China.”
While DEEP is an exclusively student-run organization at Cornell, the fair also hosted several Cornell chapters of large, international organizations.
For instance, the French-based Association Internationale des Étudiants en Sciences Économiques et Commerciales (AIESEC), which has over 35,000 student members worldwide, started sending students abroad in 1946 in an effort to prevent the global discrepancies which lead to World War II. Its mission is to “iron out the creases in the international shirt,” AIESEC volunteer Jeff Champeau ’10 said.
China and the U.S., Champeau said, have “incredibly interconnected economies;” acclimating students to “the real Chinese culture” is an essential task which will help both countries “get passed [their mutual] barriers.”
Other organizations hosting the event were: FALCON, Project Hope, C.U. Abroad, the China Education Initiative and the China and Asia-Pacific Studies program.
The consortium was just one part of a long tradition of Cornell-Chinese relations that predates even Willard Straight. Cornell became one of the first Ivies to offer Chinese language courses in 1879. Its first Chinese student, Shi Zhaoji 1901, served as the Chinese interpreter in the Hague Conferences. Cornell’s third president, Jacob Shurman, served as U.S. Ambassador to China from 1921-5. And in 1949, the Chinese Science Society, founded at Cornell some 30 years prior, became China’s national science academy.
Famous Chinese philosopher and Cornell graduate Hu Shih 1914 once wrote: “Only through contact can the relative value or worthlessness of cultural elements be critically understood.” The eight groups at yesterday’s consortium said they sought to foster this aim of multiculturalism.