November 14, 2000

Students, Administrators Continue Talks on Race Relations

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Eight students met with administrators yesterday in Day Hall to continue discussions about race relations and present their goals for how the administration should approach this issue.

The meeting took place one week after President Hunter R. Rawlings III and Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services, issued a response to recent bias-related incidents on campus. Murphy’s report, “To Transform the Climate of the Larger Campus Community,” focused on improving safety as well as diversity programs during Orientation Week and through course work.

The students’ proposal cited three points: written letters of apology from the perpetrators of bias-related incidents if they are Cornell students, a performance by Ordinary People Drama Troupe during Cornell Night and workshops for resident advisors.

The students also addressed other points of the original report, such as appropriate diversity course work and selection of members to serve on Orientation Week planning committees.

Responding to the first point, Murphy explained that the Judicial Administrator formulates the punishment for hate crime offenders based on the Campus Code of Conduct.

Lisa Wang ’02, co-president of Asian Pacific Americans for Action, then pointed to a model from Ithaca College as one way of revising the consequences, noting that looking toward other campuses is key in trying to prevent bias-related incidents.

In following with Murphy’s report, Shirleen Robinson grad sent letters to the minority groups at 11 universities around the country and received many suggestions on “what works, what doesn’t work” in mandatory diversity classes.

“Schools that are sort of rural, isolated, they’re more likely to be invested in this sort of thing,” Robinson said. “This is another argument that it’s needed [at Cornell].”

Other students added that even though individual colleges determine the distribution requirements for graduation, many schools already expect course work on other cultures, such as the geographical and historical breadth requirement in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The final aspect of the students’ goals would be to start diversity training from the first week that freshmen arrive on campus. According to the proposal, Ordinary People, a performance group that uses skits to teach tolerance, would perform at Cornell Night, one of the best-attended events of Orientation Week.

“We’re hard-hitting, we’re poignant, we’re in your face enough — we’ll definitely get people to pay attention,” said James Lamb Jr. ’03, a member of Ordinary People. “Facilitation is one of the strongest points of Ordinary People.”

“I’m trying to be sensitive to 2,000 students, some of them being confronted with something this in-your-face for the first time,” Murphy said, regarding the Ordinary People aspect of the proposal. “I don’t want them in a situation they can’t handle.”

“We are studying this very carefully to see what we can do,” said LeNorman J. Strong, assistant vice president for student and academic services. “We have the world’s best intentions to try to get students [to an Ordinary People performance at Cornell Night].”

Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin will set up a committee to formulate discussions on increasing diversity in Orientation Week activities. Although members haven’t been chosen yet, nominations were requested from the Student Assembly and the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA).

The students at the meeting, however, brought up concerns regarding this method.

“Generally speaking, the S. A. is antagonistic about diversity,” Lamb said, an undesignated-at-large representative on the assembly.

“The likelihood of students who would be interested in this would be found in minority student organizations,” Nicole Guidotti-Hernandez grad said. “I don’t even think there’s a minority liaison on the GPSA.”

Dean of Students John L. Ford emphasized the importance of having minority representatives on the Orientation Steering Committee.

“I think that all the energy that has gone into this will continue if we build this tradition of having students of color on the Orientation Steering Committee,” he said.

“I don’t think we’ll rework what we did,” Murphy said. “I consider this an open dialogue … in the spirit of keeping this a conversation.”

Archived article by Beth Herskovits