The University presented the Cornell DREAM Team with the 18th annual James A. Perkins Prize for Interracial Understanding and Harmony for the team’s work in raising awareness about the plight of undocumented students.
The DREAM Team “has served the Cornell community well in raising awareness and furthering the true meaning of ‘any person, any study,’” Provost Kent Fuchs said.
The Cornell DREAM Team is a student group created last semester to generate understanding about the issue of students’ undocumented status, according to David Angeles ’13, a member of the team who accepted the prize on its behalf.
In February, the group helped raise over $10,000 in donations for Eric Hyun Jae Cheon ’12, an undocumented student struggling to pay off his debts for his Cornell education.
“None of this would have been possible without the unwavering support of the Cornell community,” Angeles said. “Had all of you not stood by us, we would have failed. And so it is today, in my mind, that I think the Perkins Prize is not for the Cornell DREAM Team, but for Cornell.”
The Perkins Prize awards $5,000 each spring to students or organizations at Cornell who make “the most significant contribution to furthering the ideal of University community while respecting the values of racial diversity.” It was presented in a ceremony held Wednesday in the One World Room of Anabel Taylor Hall.
Past recipients of the prize include the Committee for the Advancement of Muslim Culture and the Cornell Farmworker Program.
Organizations are chosen based on the number and diversity of participating students, their promotion of shared values and how well they enhance cooperation among students of different backgrounds, according to Fuchs.
“These are issues that [recently] have been very important on campus, significantly because of [Cheon’s] situation as an undocumented student at Cornell,” said Cristina Lara ’14, a member of the Cornell DREAM Team. “So when we were awarded this, I think people were for the most part relieved that this is an issue that other people outside of our organization care about.”
Lara said the Cornell DREAM Team intends to use a portion of the prize money to establish a scholarship for undocumented students. She added that the organization also plans to set up safe spaces on campus for undocumented students in the future.
This year’s honorable mentions for the Perkins Prize went to the Women of Color Coalition for its Women of Color Conference in November and the Cornell Asian Pacific Islanders Student Union for hosting last month’s Asia Night and for securing byline funding. Each group received $500 for their contributions.
“Student of color issues are not limited to students of color, but rather it’s something that the Student Assembly should take an active role in and that the entire Cornell campus is really affected by,” said Sharon Lau ’12, the outgoing president of CAPSU. “Hopefully we’ll see administrators and student leaders collaborating together to create a more cohesive community.”
The Perkins Prize was established in 1995 by Thomas W. Jones ’69 in order to recognize exemplary Cornell students, faculty, staff and organizations. Jones was one of the students who led the 1969 Willard Straight Hall takeover, when 80 African American students locked down the building, protesting the lack of minority rights on campus. He then went on to serve on the University Board of Trustees.
The award is named in honor of Cornell’s seventh president, James Perkins, who worked to advance minority education in the 1960s and contributed to the establishment of the Africana Studies and Research Center. Perkins was president during the Straight takeover.
“I’m just very delighted and proud that the Perkins Prize has evolved into giving voice to the kind of groups that are recognized today,” Jones said. “The undocumented student problem is something I think is just invisible to so many of us.”
Reflecting on the recent death of former University President Dale Corson, Jones said the Perkins Prize awards ceremony was one of Corson’s “favorite events.”
“One of the ways that any one of us can continue to live beyond our own mortal limitations is through the vehicle of prizes such as this that give voice to our ideals and our aspirations,” Jones said.