September 27, 2000

Cornellians React to Recent Sexual Assault

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Following news of a racially motivated sexual assault on a female Asian student early on the morning of Sept. 16, outraged members of the Cornell community have begun speaking out.

The assault, which occurred on East Avenue near Goldwin Smith Hall, took place after the victim was verbally harassed with a racial epithet directed at her from a passing vehicle. According to Randall H. Hausner, Captain of Cornell Police (CUPD), the victim was not physically injured but was traumatized by the attack.

Melissa Hu ’02, co-president of the Asian Pacific Americans for Action (APAA), said when she heard about the assault, she “initially felt fear. [An incident like this] makes you paranoid. An Asian woman tried to fight back, and look what happened.”

Hu said the APAA, in conjunction with several other Asian student organizations, will hold a rally on Ho Plaza this Friday to “express the concerns of the Asian-American community.”

“We’re trying to take this case as an example of a chain of events that have been happening on campus,” Hu said. She cited incidents of Asian friends being verbally harassed with racial slurs on campus and in Collegetown as evidence of a larger problem.

Other members of the Asian community contacted by The Sun said they were concerned by what they saw as apathy and a general lack of concern about the sexual assault incident.

Jung-Chae Park ’01 said he was surprised by “how indifferent this community is. Most of the political organizations, ethnic organizations an religious organizations seem to be quiet about this issue.”

“Racism is out there. Racism is here on this campus. And the only way for us to overcome the racism is to actively fight against it,” Park added. “All the students must actively claim justice, and the school must efficiently react to [this incident].”

Swaroop Kommera grad, a Cornell Indian Association member, said he was “shocked to know that this happened” and wished he “had been given knowledge [of the incident] because it does concern some of us here.”

In contrast to Hu, Kommera said he considered the assault to be an isolated incident rather than indicative of a racist atmosphere at Cornell, but planned to discuss it at the association’s next meeting.

However, Debi Lee ’95 warned that the assault “makes me feel that Cornell’s campus is turning into an unsafe environment for students.”

Lee remembered bias-related attacks on homosexual students during her time at Cornell and said that the incident makes her wonder “[that] after gays and Asian women, who’s next?”

Hu stressed the importance of concentrating on campus racial problems as a whole, rather than focusing attention on the victim of the assault, and said that the incident was of concern for all female students at Cornell, not just Asian women.

Student Assembly President Uzo Asonye ’02 said that the S.A. will discuss a resolution “condemning this bias-related incident and asking the University for more openness and swiftness of responses” during its meeting tomorrow afternoon.

“At first I was really shocked, disappointed and saddened,” Asonye said. “Last year we spent a lot of time on the Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors Policy … I thought this would go a long way to eliminating these types of incidents. It’s really disturbing to see that someone still had the attitude and the brashness to do this right on central campus.”

The S.A. resolution states: “The Assembly expresses profound regret at the unsatisfactory efforts put forth by the responsible officers of the University in the dissemination of crucial and pertinent information regarding the alleged crime.”

Futhermore, the S.A. “strongly recommends that for bias-related incidents the nature of the bias be widely distributed and publicized to the University community to the best of the University’s ability.”

The S.A. also recommends that “the University shall make timely reports to the campus community on crimes considered to be a threat to the University community and that will aid in the prevention of similar occurrences.”

“[This incident] is appalling,” said Undesignated At-Large Student Assembly member James Lamb Jr. ’03. “When something as tragic and disgusting as this incident happens, people need to know about it.”

“My girlfriend is a Chinese-Canadian female … I walk her around campus at night as much as I can, but there are times when I can’t be around,” he said. “I was incensed when I heard about the incident, that someone could do this to this woman because of the color of her skin.”

In response to the sexual assault, University officials sent an email to all students living in residence halls last Friday encourging them “not to walk alone during the hours of darkness, stay in lighted, well-travelled areas, report immediately all suspcious and criminal activity to the Cornell Police and also to use the University’s blue light phones and blue light escort service.” CUPD also posted Campus Watch fliers mainly around residential areas of campus describing some aspects of the attack.

Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president for academic and student services, told The Sun last night that the University is “not planning on holding an open town hall meeting about the issue” as of now.

Archived article by Katherine Davis