April 16, 2002

National Leaders Influence C.U. Diversity

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Nearly a hundred members of the Cornell community packed the Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium yesterday for student presentations that promoted diversity programs on campus.


The program, hosted by the Office of Minority Educational Affairs, featured three presentations in which Cornell students addressed diversity issues on campus inspired by the Carroll F.S. Hardy National Black Student Leadership Development Conference.

Nineteen Cornell students, accompanied by several faculty members and a handful of Ithaca College students and advisors, attended the national conference in Richmond, Va, on Jan. 3. The conference featured several prominent African-American leaders, including Alexis Herman, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, and Zenobia Hikes, vice president for student affairs at Spelman College.

While the national conference geared its presentations and workshops to African-American leaders, the students that went to the conference used the knowledge and encouragement gained at the conference and related it to diversity issues at Cornell.

All Welcome

“I think what I saw here was an interpretation on the part of students for inclusion of students of all minority groups,” said Raymond Dalton Ph.D., executive director for the Office of Minority Educational Affairs.

Claude Mayo ’02, a presenter who attended the national conference, said he was impressed with the presentations given by all three groups.

“In terms of life experience, we have a lot less life experience to put into [our program],” Mayo said, comparing the national conference with the Cornell program. “Presenters at the conference were people of some stature who have achieved a lot. We were adapting it to the time and place. We made up for experience with ingenuity and effort.”

The three teams of students — all of whom attended the conference — discussed several topics that they considered pertinent at Cornell. The first group, Team C, discussed the creation of a more inclusive environment on campus as promoted in Cornell’s official diversity statement and the second group, Team B, advocated the establishment of adequate resources and upperclass mentors for first year and transfer students. The third group, Team A, promoted the effort to develop coalitions among under-represented minority student organizations.

Team C used field data — surveys of the student body and video-taped interviews — to examine the problems that stereotypes pose on campus in addition to the student response to Cornell’s “Open Hearts, Open Minds” policy.

To gain insight into the student body’s views, the team asked interviewees if this policy was “idealistic or realistic,” said Hope Jamison ’03.

The second group, Team B, promoted interaction and communication between upperclassmen and lowerclassmen.

“We can definitely learn from one another and get 2 steps up together,” said Sophia C. Edukere ’02.

The final group to present, Team A, analyzed the concept of a coalition, the purpose it would serve among minority groups, subsequent benefits and the steps needed to create such a collaborative effort.

Rossmery Barzey ’03 praised the proposal to form a coalition of organizations which she said she believed would be especially practical for minority groups.

“The whole collaboration [proposal] definitely affects minority groups especially because we’re so small,” Barzey said. “We’re splitting up potential people that could come to programs. If we collaborated maybe we could have more people attend events.”

“I think it went very well despite the technical difficulties in the beginning. A lot of good information was dispelled between the three groups,” Mayo said.

According to Malinda Smith, associate director for the Office of Minority Educational Affairs, several faculty members and administrators have expressed an interest in the diversity-related presentations, indicating the interest for such discussion on campus.

Cornellians have attended the Carroll F.S. Hardy National Black Student Leadership Development Conference for at least ten years. Smith expressed her pleasure that of the 19 students who attended the leadership conference and presented yesterday, only three will graduate in May and the remaining 16 students will be able to continue the role as diversity advocates on campus in the coming years.

To conclude the student presentation, Team A asked the audience to repeat the mantra advocated by Hikes and students, staff and faculty repeated in unison, “I have a brilliant mind. I can affect change. And I will assume the mantle of leadership.”

Archived article by Laura Rowntree