November 12, 2001

Students Develop Racism Teach-in

Print More

Nineteen student groups came together to organize the events of the weekend, generating ideas for programs and organizing individual panels and workshops.

Most of the 95 registered attendees were Cornell students; the conference coordinators geared the programs towards activists and organizers. The various events, from interactive workshops to panel discussions, were aimed at determining, “how we as organizers can include an anti-racist perspective in organizing our events,” said Anton Asare ’02, the spokesperson for Student Coalition Against Racism (SCAR).

The conference addressed racism as a global and national issue in addition to its presence on Cornell’s campus. The programs specifically dealt with white supremacy, patriarchy, colonialism, oppression and the mixed race experience.

In a panel entitled “Student and Faculty Perspectives on Race and Racism,” Prof. Don Barr, policy analysis and management, focused on how the Cornell community is affected by and deals with diversity. Barr lamented that the University is weary of change that would benefit the social growth of students.

“Cornell as an institution is committed to reproducing itself because it’s successful,” Barr said. For instance, the lack of a non-western studies distribution requirement in the College of Human Ecology is, “a disservice to students,” according to Barr.

In analyzing racism and diversity on campus, many panelists focused on the role played by the administration. Lisa Wang ’02, representing Asian Pacific Americans for Action, said she believed that campus representatives have ignored the prevalence of race issues on campus.

“Aspects of racism are often minimized by administration and [consequently] by the student body,” Wang said. The “refusal of C.U. Police and administration to acknowledge certain incidents as hate crimes,” or the constant trend to minimize bias related incidents — by considering them singular occurrences not part of a cycle — leads to an ignorance of racism on campus, Wang said.

Prof. Barr, however, praised students for taking an aggressive and active role in prevalent social issues, including issues that do not directly affect the Cornell campus. As an example, he recalled a 1985 incident when students protested the apartheid in South Africa; while several faculty members convened in McGraw Hall to discuss ways to bring the apartheid to an end, students took over Day Hall.

“Lack of historical legacy is the main problem with institutional racism on Cornell’s campus [because] students are transient,” Wang said.

Many panelists suggested that current student activists would be benefited if the work of past student groups was compiled in a central location. Such a conglomeration of resources would give student groups access to information that could eliminate much of the preliminary investigation that groups currently have to do to organize progress.

Though the initial discussion of the teach-in began in early September, the conference assumed an added significance with the racism spawned by terrorist attacks.

“In response to the attacks of Sept. 11, we need to be working even more vigilantly against racism and racist backlash in our communities and on campuses,” said Grace Ritter, a sophomore at Ithaca College.

“Sept. 11 caused us to further our analysis of who racism affects,” Asare said. However, “Sept. 11 or not, these issues would have come up.”

Archived article by Laura Rowntree