The Student Assembly (S.A.) meeting followed a new format yesterday designed to create a more involved and productive dialogue on specific issues among its members.
The S.A. divided into five task forces, which addressed diversity issues, off-campus housing, revitalizing Willard Straight Hall, the Greek system and the University’s lobbying efforts in Albany. There will be three more meetings this semester devoted to these issues.
The diversity task force focused on increasing tolerance and diversity education throughout campus. In particular, they tackled the problem of bias-related incidents. Last year there were 85 incidents and there have been eight already this semester, according to Sonja Baylor, program specialist for the Office of Workforce Diversity.
Since most of these incidents occur in residence halls, particularly freshman dormitories, the task force concentrated on this population of students.
Some suggestions included requiring resident advisors to have regular meetings with students about diversity, having admissions processes specifically address diversity, and integrating diversity issues into the freshman/transfer reading assignment. Jermaine Gause ’04, minority liaison, also recommended requiring applicants to write an essay on diversity as part of the application process.
The task force also suggested forming a group of students who would travel throughout residence halls to discuss diversity issues.
“If we get a wide range of people presenting this as a problem, we get more credibility,” said Kandis Gibson ’02, co-chair of Black Students United.
The diversity group also discussed integrating issues of diversity into the curriculum across all colleges.
The off-campus housing task force also confronted problems closely affecting students. Among other issues, they addressed the recent rash of problems with housing conditions in Collegetown. In particular, they suggested increasing the visibility of the Office of Off-Campus Housing, which is currently located in Robert Purcell Community Center, by moving it to Collegetown.
Other significant goals of that task force include reinstating the dean of off-campus housing, strengthening the Tenant’s Forum, and possibly persuading the University to buy another building in Collegetown.
A primary objective of the group is to create a Collegetown Bill of Rights. After its creation, they plan to pass it as an S.A. resolution before mailing it to students. Eventually, the task force would like to have the Common Council pass this Bill of Rights into law and require that all landlords give it to tenants before signing a lease.
Another task force, “Re-Inventing the Straight,” focused on brainstorming ideas for new programs and facilities in Willard Straight Hall.
The group developed from an initiative by Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’69 to reinvent the Straight as the center of student life.
“Some people like to study here, some people hardly come here at all,” said Lisa VanEyndhoven ’04, international liaison, who spent a day interviewing Cornell students about their perceptions of the student union.
This task force proposed several ideas to enhance the atmosphere of the Straight, including increasing the lighting to brighten up certain areas that students feel are “dark and gloomy,” creating a 24-hour reading room and making changes to Cascadelli or creating another type of dining facility.
“One of the things that I hope we can work on is to establish an advisory committee. Another thing I would love to work on is thinking about what would be great to have here, and then have a short list of actual changes we can make,” said Kim Yeoh, associate dean of students.
Another problem, concluded the task force, is students’ confusion as to what facilities are in the building and how to get to them. They suggested posting new maps and signs and relabeling the floors to make navigating easier.
One proposal already in motion includes the addition of a television to the Music Room with cable and a stereo system that will be installed over fall break, according to Yeoh.
“What I think this place needs is just a general P.R. [public relations] campaign,” said Steve Blake ’05, undesignated representative.
The group talked about holding new events that would bring attention to the proposals once they were implemented, especially targeting students that tend to congregate in their living areas.
“It’s pretty hard to get people back to central campus after they go home,” Yeoh said.
Later, when presenting the task force’s proposal with the entire S.A., Blake outlined a general plan of action.
“The first step is a kind of cosmetic make-over and then the second step would be to publicize this place, and the third step would be the kind of long-term renovations,” he said.
The task force that met to discuss the Greek system on campus was especially concerned with dealing with the preconceived notions Cornell students have about problems in the Greek system.
“For the Greek system, we have really bad stereotypes associated with us,” said Lindsay Williams ’03, president of the Panhellenic Association. “The freshmen come in and they’re basically a clean slate. This is so they don’t see the Greek system as this faceless entity that is responsible for all of these social and cultural problems.”
The group proposed creating programs with freshman students to introduce them to different members of fraternities and sororities. One idea was to host a philanthropic event, such as a clean-up on North campus, to get freshmen to meet actual members of the Greek system in a volunteer setting in order to counter such stereotypes.
One difficulty, said Josh Bronstein ’05, vice president of internal operations, was to convince students that, “the face of Greek life is not just drinking.”
The group concurred that upperclassmen already have formed their opinions about Greek life and focusing on freshman would be the most effective move.
Another suggestion was to create more representation for the Greek system on the S.A. though an amendment to create a seat that was proposed last year was defeated.
“A lot of other universities actually have a Greek seat,” said Paul El-Meouchy ’03, Greek liaison.
The group also talked about creating a representative position from the S.A. to serve in Greek organizations, like the Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Association.
“This would encourage people in the Greek system to run for S.A.” Bronstein said.
Finally, a task force dealing with the University’s lobbying efforts in Albany also met.
Cornell has lobbyists in Washington D.C., Albany, and Ithaca to “ensure funding” for the University, according to Molly Darnieder, director of campus information and visitor relations. The lobbyists work through the State University of New York (SUNY) in Albany to receive funding. Last year, Cornell received $145 million as a result of these lobbying efforts.
“The University receives the same amount of money from SUNY that it gets from students paying tuition,” said Ari Epstein ’04, agriculture and life sciences representative.
The group talked about promoting awareness of the lobbying efforts in the student community, especially because the University is currently confronting budget problems. The task force also discussed introducing a publicity campaign, possibly in coordination with get-out-the-vote efforts to get students more involved. The
re will also be a bus trip to Albany sponsored later in the year.
Archived article by Shannon Brescher