December 1, 2000

Students Continue Diversity Discussions

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A recent string of bias-related incidents against Asian Americans at Cornell has led to committed efforts to promote diversity among students, administrators, faculty and staff.

With the goal of transforming the cultural, intellectual and environmental climate of the larger campus community, reforms have keyed in on three areas: safety policy development, student life and academic curriculum.

To discuss implementing diversity requirements into the academic curriculum, Lisa Wang ’02, co-president of Asian Pacific Americans for Action (APAA), and other student activists plan to meet tomorrow with Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services; Philip E. Lewis, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; and University Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin.

Tomorrow’s meeting is the “continuation of the conversation” that has been ongoing between students and the administration throughout the semester, according to Murphy.

The biggest challenge, Murphy said, will be making changes to promote diversity “while maintaining respect for each college’s curriculum and degree requirements.” She added that any changes in the course structure will ultimately require approval from a variety of faculty and administrators.

First under consideration for course restructuring is the arts college, owing to its large size and inherent diversity of course offerings, according to Lewis.

Expanding diversity should always be an important focus of the college, as Cornell sometimes loses faculty to more diverse urban universities, Lewis suggested.

“We have had faculty leave Cornell for other jobs that seemed more diversity appealing,” Lewis said.

A student proposal drafted by over 40 activist groups on campus initiated efforts to promote diversity awareness. Administrators responded to this proposal by drafting their own statements and partnering up with students to work together to bring about University-wide changes.

Efforts so far include increased lighting, improvements to the Blue Light Escort Service and enhanced campus communication. The Orientation Steering Committee also is considering ways to restructure freshman orientation to better promote diversity.

These endeavors will be enhanced this spring when Irma Almirall-Padamsee Ph.D. ’84 begins her duties as the newly appointed director of student affairs and diversity in Campus Life.

Although Padamsee’s hiring was not intended to be a response to the bias incidents, according to LeNorman Strong, assistant vice president for student and academic services, he admitted that the timing was convenient.

“She came along at just the right time to help solve some of these problems,” said Strong, who will serve as Padamsee’s supervisor. “She possesses the collateral authority, the resources and the energy to get the job done,” he added.

Padamsee’s joining the staff at the height of the community’s concerted efforts to promote diversity will pave the way for her to play a key role in campus life and the larger University, according to Strong.

“She knows this campus and this atmosphere very well,” Murphy said, noting that Padamsee received both her undergraduate and doctorate degrees at Cornell.

As part of her duties, Padamsee will help identify what is happening across campus and work with students on the bias-related incidents. She will also help continue many programs that are already in place, such as Resident Adviser diversity work-shops.

“She is very enthusiastic, highly motivated, purposeful and has extensive experience in diversity affairs — I think that she’ll be great,” said Don King, director of community development in campus life and chair of the search committee.

With many opportunities for discussion, new ideas are continually being generated, according to Strong.

“And we are just getting started. I guarantee that you’ll see plenty more of this next semester,” he said.

Wang mentioned wanting to have a public forum with the Cornell community after winter break.

“There are still issues out there and people are still talking and that is good,” said Randall H. Hausner ’85, captain of the Cornell University Police Department, noting that many students still seem to feel tension and fear. “My sense is that there is still a lot of concern and the University is responding appropriately,” he added.

Archived article by Jennifer Roberts