January 31, 2002

Students Rally After Recent Incidents

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A group of about 100 students gathered in front of the Ezra Cornell statue on the Arts Quad yesterday afternoon to demand respect for minority students.

Through sleet and snow the protesters marched from the Arts Quad to Ho Plaza where a series of speakers addressed the recent attacks on minority students as well as the University’s treatment of minorities in general.

Rally organizers distributed a flier with the heading: “Bolted Doors, Broken Hearts, Closed Minds.” An excerpt of the literature read as follows: “Cornell fosters an environment where students of color feel unwelcome and disrespected. An enlightened academic community, which fosters progress for students of color does not exist. Cornell stands for malign[ant] neglect of its students of color.”

However, some students at the rally pointed to a context of neglect that goes beyond Cornell.

“I think that in a country with a history as racially scarred and tortured as this one is, there’s not very much the University can do to necessarily completely change the minds of people who have grown up in this society already,” said Kyessa Moore ’03.

But the rally organizers expressed a growing discontent with the University’s commitment to programs such as Latino studies, American Indian studies, Africana studies and Asian-American studies. A coalition of students and faculty members confronted the administration last spring to seek better funding for these programs.

The rally’s participants argued that until the University pays more attention to the ethnic studies programs, violence and disrespect towards minorities will continue at Cornell.

Their actions come at a time when the campus is reeling from incidents that are possibly bias related. Last Saturday, two Hispanic students were chased by seven white males across part of North Campus. In an unrelated incident the same night another Hispanic student, Herbert Cortez ’02, was sprayed with pepper spray. He was arrested and charged with two counts of harassment after allegedly denying the Cornell Police access to his fraternity.

According to some members of the Hispanic community, the police response was racially motivated.

“When something bad happens, it is easy to dismiss it as an isolated incident,” said Lisa Wang ’02, “but that is what the administration and the CUPD want you to believe. Only last year an Asian American girl was sexually assaulted right here.”

One of the rally’s organizers, Funa Maduka ’04, said that the rally “has been in the works since last semester when we decided we needed to have a rally for ethnic studies. After these events occurred, we decided we needed to have a rally about demanding respect.”

“If the Cornell administration will not respect Asians, Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans, why would the rest of the community?” Kandis Gibson ’04 asked the crowd.

“The same lack of funding that threatens the LSP [Latino Studies Program] and the Africana Center also threatens the African American Studies Program,” Wang said. “We want more than words. We’re sick of empty promises.”

Last spring, a coalition of students confronted Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin, seeking more funding for ethnic studies programs.

“I met with students last year, and I agreed that the Africana Studies [and Research] Center needs to be expanded, and right now we’re in the midst of that,” Martin said.

While most of the speakers seemed proud of the number of students and staff members who showed up for the rally, Alyssa Mt. Pleasant grad asked, “Where are our white allies? This is not just about us, this is about our community.”

“This is not about one man, one woman, or one incident. It’s about one community, and this community needs to stand together,” added Maduka, quoting what she said has become a frequent rally slogan for the minority students on campus.

The rally’s speakers worry that the University is doing too little too late. “Ask the provost,” demanded Ken Glover, director of Ujamaa.

“How many Blacks had to die in order to get here.? Ask how many Native Americans had to walk the trail of tears in order to get here. Ask how many Asian Americans had to go into concentration camps in order to get that Asian Studies program. Ask how many Latinos had to work in the fields in order to get here,” Glover said.

“I respect the ethnic studies programs,” Martin responded. “I think they’re vital to the academic and social well-being of the University.”

Despite the verbal support from Martin, students and faculty members promise that their rallying cry will not die until their own vision for ethnic studies and campus diversity at Cornell are met.

“People say we’re good at the sprint, not the long run,” said Malik Dixon ’02, “but if that were true we wouldn’t be here.”

“We’ve been here since 1969,” Dixon said, referring to the historic Willard Straight Takeover that happened that year. “We are not about the sprint. Not only are we here, we’re here to stay.”

Archived article by Freda Ready