April 10, 2002

C.U. Interracial Group Wins Perkins Prize

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The eighth annual James A. Perkins Prize for Interracial Understanding and Harmony was awarded last night to Bi-/Multiracial Lineages, Ethnicities and Nationalities Discussion (BLEND) in the Memorial Room of the Willard Straight Hall, where the early history of the prize originates.

The prize provides $5,000 for BLEND and $1,000 for two honorable mentions given to Prof. Salah Hassan, africana studies and history of art and Prof. Quinetta Roberson, college of industrial and labor relations.

President Hunter R. Rawlings III presented plaques to each of the winners and spoke of the importance of promoting diversity.

“While those of us in the administration write on paper; it is the members of the community who foster initiatives that expand diversity,” Rawlings said.

Tamika Lewis ’02, president and founder of BLEND, accepted the award for the group which focuses on interracial relationships.

“Stereotypes and myths about interracial relationships must be discussed and dismissed,” Lewis said.

Founded only in Fall 2001, BLEND launched a film series about interracial relationships, co-hosted a lecture titled “The ‘Real’ Story on Ethnic Identity” by Melissa Howard of MTV’s “The Real World” and presented during an anti-racism teach-in. Outside of Cornell’s campus, they coordinated a program to build reading skills in local schools with works that discussed multicultural issues.

BLEND is spending part of the award money to host a conference this weekend titled, “The Pan-Collegiate Conference on the Mixed Race Experience.” Organizers say it is open to the Cornell community and estimate that it will include 40 other schools.

Seventeen other organizations were nominated for the award, the winner of which was chosen by a panel selected by Kent Hubbel ’69, dean of students.

“We were up against a lot of other deserving groups on campus,” said Stephanie Harris ’03, secretary of BLEND. “We are very honored especially because this all started very fast.”

The two projects winning honorable mentions were Hassan’s “Blackness of Color” exhibition of African-American artwork and Roberson’s human resources course titled “Diversity and Inclusion in Organizations” and a seminar she co-founded that brought corporate diversity officers to campus.

“Blackness in Color” assembled visual art work from the 1960s and 1970s by black artists at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. Museum director Franklin Robinson hailed the exhibit as “the largest and most important show the museum has presented in a decade or more,” according to the program organizers.

“[This exhibition] reached thousands of students from all backgrounds,” Rawlings said in awarding Hassan the prize.

Hassan thanked the Johnson Museum of Art for hosting five exhibitions he has organized in the past, including one while he was only a research scholar at Cornell.

“The real winner in this case is the Johnson Museum,” Hassan said. He announced that he would give the $1,000 award to the museum for the purchase of art that “brings African-American art [to Cornell] and presents great diverse experiences.”

Roberson’s undergraduate course and the seminar she co-designed with Prof. Ralph Christy, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, aim at increasing diversity and sensitivity among students and future human resource professionals.

Rawlings commended her work for the prominence it had brought Cornell.

“Through her teaching, research and outreach she has positioned Cornell at the forefront of diversity management,” Rawlings said.

The seminar Roberson co-organized, titled “Leadership, Management and Diversity in Corporate America,” brought the executives for diversity from companies such as Corning, Denny’s, Philip Morris and Texaco.

“I am both honored and humbled,” Roberson said. “It’s great to see that I’m making a difference beyond teaching and researching.”

The Perkins Prize is named after Cornell’s seventh president, President Emeritus James A. Perkins who presided over Cornell from 1963 to 1969 and resigned amid the controversy surrounding the Willard Straight Hall take-over.

During his tenure the number of black students rose from under ten to over 250.

When Willard Straight Hall was taken over in 1969 by armed black students, one student emerged as a spokesperson, trustee emeritus Thomas Jones ’69 MS ’72.

Jones has since gone on to high executive positions with Citigroup, Inc. and TIAA-CREF but has never lost his dedication to Cornell, becoming a trustee in 1991.

In 1994, Jones established the prize to personally honor Perkins and to recognize students, faculty or programs that continue to work to further diversity.

“He became a friend of Tom Jones,” said David Perkins, son of President Emeritus Perkins. “The story really made a wonderful circle.”

Though Perkins since passed away in 1998 his son and daughter, Tracy Perkins and several friends were present to honor him.

“He was very pleased and touched by the prize,” said Robert Miller, former dean of faculty and a colleague of Perkins.

Jones could not attend the ceremony, although Susan Murphy ’73, vice president of student and academic services, presented remarks on his behalf.

The event attracted approximately 100 people who were also entertained by the salsa dancing of the Sabor Latino Dance Ensemble.

Archived article by Peter Norlander