October 30, 2000

Angela Oh Addresses University Race Relations

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In light of the bias-related incidents that have struck the University campus this month, last night’s lecture, “Be Proactive,” by Angela Oh, an expert on race relations, struck a chord with the Statler Auditorium audience.

Tim Huang ’01, president of the Chinese Student Association, co-sponsor of the event, called Oh a “constructive and fruitful” voice for America, as well as pertinent voice now as the University continues to try to improve race relations.

J. C. Park ’01, president of the Cornell Korean Student Association, co-sponsor of the event, hoped that Oh’s speech would help to achieve “the true sense of racial harmony.”

Dean of Students John L. Ford introduced Oh in the context of Cornell’s commitment to racial diversity.

“By establishing a diverse community, all are challenged intellectually and interpersonally,” Ford said. “Cornell’s campus climate must be committed to a statement of diversity. Angela Oh is one of the many steps on the path to accomplishing our mission.”

Oh began by addressing the role of race in her own community of Los Angeles.

“You have to think deeply about your community,” she said, describing her personal struggles with racial identity as a Korean woman. “I do not see through rose colored glasses. I know how tough it is.”

She discussed her role as the spokesperson for the Korean American community in the 1993 L.A. race riots, which she attributed to “double digit unemployment, shifting demographics, social services and the public’s lack of confidence in the police.”

Oh emphasized the importance of developing awareness of racial inequalities in a community.

“People need to speak up, they need to mobilize,” she said. “People need to pay attention to poverty in the community.”

Oh also described her role as a member of the race initiative advisory board to President Clinton.

“Race initiative was an attempt to try to say ‘Wake up,'” she said. “It took somebody in leadership and authority to move us.”

Oh specifically addressed racial equality in terms of economic equality.

“The challenge is about equality in the year 2000,” she said. “The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, bottom line. The more you have, the more you have to give.”

“Racism becomes dangerous when it becomes violent and it becomes dangerous when we shut up,” she concluded. “It takes little steps to move people to a different place.”

Following the lecture, Oh took questions from the audience.

Students in attendance were moved by the speech.

“Her message was one that Cornell needs to hear,” Angie Hunter ’01 said.

“We wanted someone who could use more than rhetoric — someone who could tell us something concrete,” said Jason Choy, vice political chair of the Korean Student Association. “Angela Oh was an expert on the subject.”

Archived article by Colin Ilgen