March 3, 2003

Candidates Speak at Ujamaa

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Student trustee and minority liaison Student Assembly candidates participated in a forum in Ujaama Residential College’s main lounge yesterday afternoon, discussing their platforms on campus diversity issues.

In the forum, which was sponsored by Black Students United, candidates received questions on a variety of topics including affirmative action, race-related incidents and ethnic studies funding. Candidates were able to give opening and closing speeches outlining their proposed initiatives.

The main purpose of the forum was to introduce major diversity concerns around campus, according to Funa Maduka ’04, an organizer of the event. Maduka said that it was important that students came because most people do not know enough about government and politics around campus. Approximately 25 people attended the forum.

“[The forum] was really informative,” said Jermaine Gause ’04, another organizer of the event and a Student Assembly (S.A.) minority liaison-at-large. “I wish more people would come out, though. These people make the decisions in our community.”

After two-minute introductions, the discussion opened with three of the student trustee candidates: Jennifer Lee ’05, Gayraud Townsend ’05 and Jackie Koppell ’05. The fourth candidate, Diego Jiminez ’05, was not at the event.

Mediators Maduka and fellow organizer and Black Student United President Kandis Gibson ’04 asked questions concerning several issues. All three candidates endorsed increased spending on ethnic studies and renovations on the Africana Studies and Research Center.

Consequently, all three candidates had similar positions on the University’s land grant mission, saying that maintaining affordable education should be a campus priority.

“The main issue with this is working with political leaders,” Lee said.

In response to many of the University’s diversity issues, including bias-related incidents, candidates emphasized the importance of informing the public about these problems.

“We need to get better educated as Cornellians and not as a color or face,” Townsend said.

On the other hand, candidates had mixed feelings toward the North Campus Initiative and its effect on diversity. Although Townsend said that one main disadvantage was that students are not able to get a better sense of the school, Koppell called it a “positive step.”

Other issues discussed included minority alumni participation, the prospect of working with administrators and student groups and, importantly, the effects of affirmative action. All three candidates are outspoken supporters of President-elect Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 and his position on the issue.

After questioning the student trustee candidates, the forum switched gears and focused on four of the five minority liaison hopefuls: Melissa K. Ariate ’04, Toby Lewis ’05, Nate Shinagawa ’05 and Edward Wilson ’04. The fifth candidate, Brandon Ashley ’05, missed the discussion for personal reasons, but released a statement promising to constantly report to students.

Most of the candidates’ positions revolved around their support for affirmative action and the strengthening of ethnic studies. All of the prospective liaisons were also wary of the incoming dissolution of pre-freshman minority student programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton University, and reinforced their goals of strengthening the Committee on Special Educational Projects (COSEP).

Some of the issues previously discussed, such as bias-related incidents, were again raised by the mediators; other topics were also included, such as budget cuts, the role of the minority liaison and the lack of recognition for Native American programs.

To solve these problems, candidates proposed increasing funding to minority programs and stressed the need to provide a voice for these communities.

Afterwards, candidates addressed questions submitted by the audience, ranging from Koppell’s and Townsend’s ideas to use emergency endowment for funding to the candidates’ involvement with minority communities.

To the audience’s amusement, the campus issue most widely discussed over the past few weeks, Slope Day, was also raised. All of the candidates emphasized that safety was the most important consideration, but denounced President Hunter R. Rawlings III’s recent plans to overhaul Slope Day. Many noted, however, that there were other, much more important issues.

Although the event’s turnout was relatively small, Gause was impressed that there were a few students who took the initiative to learn about the issues.

“The forum was very effective,” Colista Turner ’05 said. “The candidates were very thorough and they made their concerns known.”

A similar minority liaison forum was also held last Friday in Auditorium D of Goldwin Smith Hall, sponsored by the Asian Pacific Americans for Action (APAA) and La Asociacion Latina (LAL). Voting for candidates begins today.

Archived article by Brian Tsao