October 19, 2000

Forum Explores Diversity Issues

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Maia M’Fume is not being taken seriously.

A black engineering student, she feels marginalized by her male professor who makes racist and sexist comments during lecture. When she approaches her advisor, she gets little help solving the matter.

The Cornell Interactive Theatre Ensemble (CITE) presented this scene at the University Faculty Forum — titled “Diversity in the Classroom: Faculty-Student Interaction” — yesterday in the Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium. The forum drew about 40 faculty members and students.

“This forum has grown out of efforts for faculty in particular to improve the campus climate in the classroom,” said Robert Harris Jr., vice provost for diversity and faculty development, who introduced the forum. “I think in many ways we’re still trying to do things that we used to, and we have to change.”

After acting out their scene, M’Fume and Bindoff — played by CITE actor Lisha McKoy and Interim CITE Director Dane Cruz — fielded questions from the audience.

“I kind of feel that it’s a woman thing, and more than that, a black woman thing,” said McKoy of M’Fume’s situation.

Cruz — as M’Fume’s advisor, Hal Bindoff — said, “I don’t feel comfortable going up to my colleague and saying, ‘You have a racial problem. You better get your act together.'”

Vivian Relta ’79, associate director of CITE, facilitated discussion with the audience, encouraging those in attendance to talk about stereotypes, faculty-student relations, and relations between colleagues dealing with misconduct.

Relta acknowledged at the beginning of the program that the forum did not aim to find a solution for these complicated issues playing themselves out in an academic environment.

“Our goal at this point is to observe the complexity of this interaction so that we can begin a dialogue about issues surrounding this situation,” she said.

She did encourage faculty members, though, to consider what they could do to promote diversity.

“It’s not about students waiting for the administration to make the Campus Diversity Initiative come alive,” Relta said. Rather, “there’s a lot at stake here.”

CITE was formed in 1992 to encourage employee education through theatre and audience participation.

“[The performance] was good, [but] it didn’t really get to the heart of the issues,” said Gabrielle Finley grad, who helped arrange a diversity forum for students last semester. “There were a lot of issues they didn’t touch on, [such as] who’s responsible for the climate.”

Others, however, responded more positively to the forum. “It was informative, it was positive, it seemed accurate,” said Prof. Bill Goldsmith, city and regional planning.

The forum was co-sponsored by the Dean of Faculty, the Vice Provost for Diversity and Faculty Development, the Office of Human Resources and the Office of Workforce Diversity, Equity and Life Quality.

Archived article by Beth Herskovits