October 25, 2000

Panelists Offer Suggestions for Diversity

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In light of the recent bias-related assaults on campus, a discussion was held yesterday in Robert Purcell Community Center concerning racial diversity and how it affects Cornell students.

The discussion was part of a two-week-long program intended to increase awareness and empower minority groups. Ekawee Kriengkraipetch ’02, organized the event to pose the question, “To Fear or Not to Fear: Why are We Afraid of Things We Don’t Understand and How Can We Overcome that Fear?”

Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services, blamed external influences such as alcohol for increasing the bias-related incidents; she also blamed the fact that diversity is not a mandated part of the Cornell curriculum.

“Diversity is a life skill,” she said. “Like the swim test, it should be a University regulation.”

Some wondered if only a few individuals could be blamed or if the fundamental structure of our community is at fault.

Change, lack of control, a desire to maintain the status quo, ignorance and apathy were listed as reasons for fear of what is not understood. The panelists all agreed that something must be done to increase acceptance at Cornell.

“Bias, hatred and separation have grown over time,” said panelist Angela Griffin, a staff member in the office of Admissions and Financial Aid. “It takes education to help us behave in a new way.”

The group felt diversity was something that can already be found at Cornell. The question is where to go from there.

“There is power in the number of people who stand up against these acts, groups need to educate themselves and come together to act and change,” said John Ford, dean of students.

Program houses and a lack of invitation to meet people from other races were mentioned as leading reasons as to why Cornell students do not reach out to people who are different from themselves. In order to break cultural barriers, many audience members felt that residence halls should become more culturally integrated and classes promoting diversity should be included in graduation requirements.

“Cornell was one of the first universities to admit women and minority students,” said Uzo Asonye ’02, Student Assembly (S.A.) president. “We should also be among the first to have a strong aspect of diversity.”

Mike Brown ’02, an S.A. representative, agreed with Asonye. “We should have a class that everyone takes, global or cultural thinking that deals with social theory and awareness,” he said.

In addition to a class, Asoyne suggested that a book or video about diversity should be viewed by freshmen before they arrive at Cornell and then discussed once they get here.

However, some audience members felt that this would be an infringement on a student’s right to choose his classes. Others wondered how a person uninterested in learning about diversity would gain insight from such a class.

Many did agree that in order to increase diversity, students and faculty would have to continue to come together and discuss their opinions.

“We should walk out that door and reflect on how we can make a difference tomorrow,” said Donald King, associate director of Campus Life.

“Issues were put on the table realistically, but something needs to happen. It can’t be all talk,” said Duane Wardly ’02.

Archived article by Rachel Einschlag