February 8, 2002

University Responds to Campus Diversity Issues

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President Hunter R. Rawlings III and Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin released a statement on Tuesday reiterating the University’s attachment to diversity in response to recent events on campus.

“We ask the entire Cornell community to join us in reaffirming our commitment to diversity and inclusiveness,” Rawlings and Martin said in the joint statement.

Factions of the student body questioned that commitment on Jan. 30 in a rally on Ho Plaza.

“People have been engaged in dialogue over the past weekend,” said Linda Grace-Kobas, director of Cornell News Service. “The [University] wanted to reiterate their support of [these programs].”

The statement responded directly to rally speakers such as Kandis Gibson ’04 who asked a crowd of over a hundred, “If the Cornell administration will not respect Asians, Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans, why would the rest of the community?”

According to the statement, “promoting respect for racial and ethnic diversity is one of the University’s highest priorities.

“As an educational institution, we have a unique opportunity to foster an appreciation of the historical, social and cultural differences that shape this country. We have a responsibility to educate ourselves, not only about our own society, but about the histories and cultures of other societies as well,” it continued.

For Grace-Kobas, “The [University] was concerned about the rally when people were questioning the University’s [stance on diversity],” she said. “The University wanted to respond to that. They are really concerned about issues of diversity and this [statement] is a way of reiterating that,” she added.

According to the statement, the administration does respect minority students. “Our common goal should be an environment in which no student feels vulnerable to attack, harassment or exclusion because of his or her race or ethnicity.”

Some students worry that the administration’s responses are insincere.

“It’s very hard to see their statement as genuine. It seems almost ‘tokenistic,'” said Marc Rivera ’02.

Others wonder if the administrators were acting out of strong feelings of pressure.

“I think [the demonstrators] called for a statement,” said Funa Maduka ’04, the Student Assembly minority representative.

“After reading the statement, I can’t say they said anything I haven’t heard before. It was all very nice but … they believe statements such as these will stand in place of funding. They’re putting statements where their money needs to be,” she added.

The administrators’ statement, however, did mention a few projects that will obviously require funding.

“The Africana Studies and Research Center is in serious need of renovation and some expansion. Renovation plans are under active discussions with the new director of the center, Prof. Don Ohadike, and we are looking for the most effective design,” administrators said.

According to Ohadike, such discussions have in fact been quite successful.

“Something is coming out of this but the University is worried about its financial position. If they have the will to do it, they can come up with the money,” Ohadike said.

“They only need to convince themselves that what we’re asking for is reasonable,” he added.

Ohadike added that the Africana Studies and Research Center is asking for funding to make the center into a place that looks and feels “less like a living center and more like a learning center.”

Rivera, however, questioned the reality of the University’s financial problems.

“I see in The Sun that they’re putting $14.5 million into the Statler. They’re spending money like water in other places, but they’re saying they’re hard up when it comes to ethnic studies,” he said.

Archived article by Freda Ready