November 7, 2002

Program Houses Spark Heated Discussion

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A diverse crowd of Cornell students packed the Robert Purcell Community Center (RPCC) Multipurpose Room yesterday to discuss whether Campus Life’s program houses encourage segregation among students.

Recently, the Cornell Freedom Project, The Cornell Review and others have criticized Cornell program houses for what they claim is voluntary self-segregation from the rest of the Cornell community. President Hunter R. Rawlings III even responded to the issue of segregation in an open letter addressed to the Cornell community on Oct. 1.

“I want to provide a venue where people could express their views in a civil format, ask questions and receive information. I felt that there needed to be an opportunity for … organizations to present their arguments so that students and administrators could make informed opinions and educated decisions,” said Algernon Cargill ’05, who coordinated the event.

The forum began with a brief introduction and welcome by the moderator Dr. Ednita Wright, assistant dean of students for diversity and outreach.

Wright introduced panelists who represented the Cornell Republicans, The Cornell Review and the Cornell Freedom Project and the views of these organizations. Each of the five panelists discussed why they oppose program houses.

They argued that program housing promotes racial and ethnic separatism, which does not parallel the goal of a college education. They claimed that program houses are based on radical left-wing ideology and that program house residents “live in a dream bubble of liberalism.” They also argued that there is a “silent majority” of students that disapproves of the existence of program houses.

Next, representatives from the six program houses — Ujamaa Residential College, Holland International Living Center, Latino Living Center, Akwe:kon, Risley Residential College and Multicultural Living Learning Unit — discussed the history and mission of each of their houses.

The representatives from the six programs argued that their houses are more of an educational experience than a racial one.

They said their homes are cohesive communities which acts as comfort zones and which have a commitment to community service. It helps students transition more smoothly into the Cornell environment. They said that even though some of the houses have an ethnic theme, they are nevertheless racially diverse.

After the presentations, a heated question and answer session took up the bulk of the remainder of the forum. The audience was allowed to discuss the issues raised in the presentations.

“I know one argument for program houses is that people feel uncomfortable walking around campus and they need a place to get away from it all. But I’m saying that these program houses make people of other races feel uncomfortable,” Russell Gorkin ’05 said.

The climax of the night was when one of the panelists on the anti-program houses side, Cornell Review staff-member Elliot Reed, used an derogatory term and caused half of the audience to become very upset, even causing some audience members to leave the discussion.

Reed was subsequently asked to leave for his use of offensive language.

“I feel that program houses are places that are open and warm and accepting and possibly more accepting than regular housing. In regular housing there is a majority of people who may not be sensitive minority issues,” Adam Becker ’06 said.

Wright concluded the night with closing remarks.

“There was a dialogue. And there was an ability for people to hear each other. And that’s a start,” Wright said.

Archived article by Jonathan Square