April 16, 2003

Students to Host Labor Conference

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Members of the Cornell community interested in learning more about the southern United States will have the opportunity to attend the Southern Labor Conference today in the School of Industrial Labor Relations (ILR) at Cornell.

The conference will take place in the Ives PepsiCo Auditorium from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The event is open to the entire Cornell community.

The conference is being sponsored by the Southern Organization at Cornell.

According to Gage Stille ’05, president and founder, “the Southern Organization was formed because at Cornell there are a number of issues that are very important to people from the south — students from the south, and even faculty from the south.”

He added that such issues “aren’t often addressed just because there are such a few number of us here.”

Stille said that the Southern Organization sponsors a number of events throughout the year.

“It gives a few of us here a chance to kind of rejoice thinking about home. When we do events like this conference, that’s kind of what it’s all about,” Stille said. “Even within the ILR school, I think that there are a lot of issues about Southern labor that are brought up … those issues are never really focused on.”

Stille said that the organization was important because of the differences between northern and southern culture.

“Southern culture is a specific one. We do things a certain way, we can identify with certain things that aren’t really present in the north,” he said.

According to a statement released by the Southern Organization, “the organization will serve the Cornell community as the crux from which all students may strengthen their understanding of unique southern ideas. Discussion panels, headed by historians and specialists who are the foremost leaders in their respective fields will present unique perspectives, which will hopefully diversify the historical understanding of the audience.”

The keynote speaker at the conference is Michael Thurmond, Georgia department of labor commissioner.

According to the Southern Organization’s biography of Commissioner Thurmond, “Commissioner Thurmond is one of the foremost African-American politicians in the South. He is the first African-American elected commissioner of the Georgia Department of Labor. He is the first non-incumbent African-American to be elevated to a statewide office in Georgia.”

Recently, Thurmond wrote a book entitled, Freedom: An African-American History of Georgia 1733-1865.

Stille grew up in the same area as Thurmond, and said that he became familiar with Thurmond’s career.

“He’s a guy with a lot of personality, and he’s also very caring … he has a lot to offer,” Stille said.

Stille said that Thurmond’s trip to Cornell, which is being sponsored by the state of Georgia, shows “a respect for Cornell and a respect for the ILR school.”

In addition to Thurmond’s speech, participants in the conference will also be able to attend a panel discussion on the “facets of the Southern Labor Picture.” Slated to speak are Dr. Vernon Briggs, Dr. Jefferson Cowie, Lance Compa, Dr. Nick Salvatore and Dr. Rita Lieberwitz.

After a dinner of southern cooking, participants will be able to attend a labor debate chaired by Philip Lewis, the Harold Tanner dean of the college of arts and sciences featuring Michael Akavan ’05, president of the Cornell Democrats and Ryan Horn grad, president of the Cornell Republicans.

The conference will end with a number of student organizations who will present information on a variety of related topics. Steele said that “one of the most interesting things about the conference is the student organizations are legitimately involved in an academic sense.” He added, “they’re presenting serious topics in an academic environment and it shows what I think the universal vision for a great academic university is, and that’s an environment where students and faculty can collaborate and grow together. I think that’s what this conference does.”

One organization that will be participating in the conference is the ILR Student Government Association (ILR SGA). Representative Jack Cognetta ’06 and representative Jason Jandrewski ’05 will be presenting on behalf of the organization.

According to Cognetta, “we will be doing a 20 minute presentation on the Memphis Sanitation Workers and the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties.”

Cognetta said that the presentation will “show that the labor and civil rights movements can coexist together to achieve economic and social justice and the sanitation workers are a microcosm of the struggle to one day proclaim: I am man.” He added, “we will also be talking to people about SGA’s role at ILR and take any questions and suggestions people may have to make SGA a more effective organization.”

Other organizations presenting during the breakout sessions include the Minority Industrial Labor Relations Student Organization (MILRSO), the Black Southern Students Alliance (BSSA), La Asociacion Latina (LAL), Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MECHA) and the Cornell Organization for Labor Action (COLA).

Stille said that he expects the event to draw a large number of students.

“I think people are really excited about it,” he said.

Archived article by Kate Cooper