April 27, 2005

Students Hold Redbud Vigil

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Two students locked themselves around a tree, arms intertwined in reinforced steel pipes yesterday while about 50 other students took part in a vigil held with the purpose of saving the Redbud Woods. The Redbud Working Group organized the Vigil outside of Day Hall, continuing a series of protests against the demolition of the Redbud Woods for the creation of a University Avenue parking lot on West Campus.

Last Friday was President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77’s deadline for abandoning the decision to tear down the Redbud Woods.

“This week we are escalating action to show Lehman we won’t be waited out,” said Alex Rakow ’06.

The University acknowledged student efforts.

“We … respect the energy that the students are putting into the advocacy for something they believe in, even if we do not agree with them,” said Tommy Bruce, vice president for communications and media relations.

Protesters expressed frustration.

“We’re here today to make Lehman listen to us because, for the last few months, he hasn’t been listening to the community, to the students,” said Christina Hilo ’07, another Redbud Working Group member. “The Redbud Woods is not supposed to be a parking lot.”

The woods are located on University Avenue and the Working Group claims the area is a historic landmark, containing admired landscape and vegetation.

For several years, both Cornell and the City of Ithaca have been debating the construction.

In 2003, the Ithaca Planning Board and the Landmarks Commission denied Cornell’s certificate of appropriateness which would allow Cornell to create the lot. In June 2004, however, the State Supreme Court voted in favor of the lot, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court Appellate Division in a decision last month.

Many Cornell students do not agree with the courts. In the past year, the Student Assembly has passed two resolutions in favor of preserving the woods and searching for other parking solutions. Hundreds of others have signed petitions against the creation of the West Campus parking lot, including a coalition of student organizations, fraternities, sororities and other Ithaca-based organizations.

Yesterday, students handed out red arm bands and held up signs. Some of the posters said, “Save it, Don’t Pave it,” and “Lehman be a tree.” Protesters also helped feed the girls locked to the tree while other students provoked passing cars to honk their horns in honor of the vigil with a sign reading, “Honk for Red Buds.”

The goal of this vigil was to get as much support from the community as possible. Through the arm bands, the honking, and the vigil itself, “we are demonstrating to Lehman the popular support,” Rakow said.

The Redbud Working Group feels that the administration’s decision to go ahead with the construction goes against Cornell’s policies. Members cited Lehman’s promise of an “institutional commitment to sustainability” and his designation of April as “Campus Sustainability Month.”

“It is hypocritical on Lehman’s part to talk about sustainability and go against it,” Felipe Castillo ’07 said.

“His actions are not backing up that promise,” Jason Mandell ’07 said. The University administration disagrees with student interpretation of their actions.

“This is not an issue that has been portrayed correctly. The administration has not been glib on this issue and has spent many hours in meetings with groups. The views of the president are well known and are obvious to anyone attending the meetings,” Bruce said.

There is a rally planned for this Thursday in front of Ho Plaza as a next step in Redbud Working Group’s protest.

President Lehman has scheduled a meeting with some of members of the Redbud Working Group on Thursday, as well.

“This is a last resort to preserve democracy and community relations at Cornell,” Rakow said.

Archived article by Nessia Sloane
Sun Staff Writer