This weekend, you may see more people than usual roaming central campus — but this time, most of them won’t be incoming freshmen and their parents visiting during Cornell Days. Starting tomorrow, several hundred Cornell alumni will converge here for a celebration of diversity in an unprecedented conference meant to advance racial inclusion, promote greater alumni involvement and encourage interaction between alumni and current students.
The conference comprises of three days of various events focusing on celebrating the achievements of minority students and alumni at Cornell as well as creating opportunities to discuss topics surrounding racial diversity. President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 will be delivering one of several keynote addresses over the conference weekend. Attendees will have opportunities to listen to Latin rhythms at a student showcase of entertainment, or listen to a panel of alumni speak about key legal concerns facing communities of color, or what it takes to make it in Hollywood, among many other topics. Workshops will be conducted by panels of alumni and faculty on issues such as racism, immigration, health and wellness, to name a few. Five meals during presentations will be provided to all attendees for a blanket fee.
“Diversity in alumni involvement is very important and it makes the university a better place and a stronger place. It certainly sends a message to current students that there’s a group of dedicated alumni who are there to be helpful,” said Elizabeth Moore ’75, trustee and chair of the Minority Alumni Initiatives Implementation Committee (MAIIC), a sub-committee of the Board of Trustees.
“This conference is intended to emphasize three things: providing interaction between alumni and students, continuing learning [about these topics], and giving opportunities to network between alumni, students, faculty and staff,” she added.
“We’re reconnecting alumni of color … it gives them opportunities to gauge issues of the time and ensure that they stay involved with the University, which is our goal,” said Deniqua D. Crichlow ’99, director of minority alumni programs.
The Board of Trustees established MAIIC, consisting of various trustees and representatives of alumni associations, which explored ways to get more alumni involved with the University. Several focus groups were conducted in major metropolitan areas across the country, and the committee discovered that “alumni of color were very dedicated and most of them welcomed more opportunities to become more involved, particularly with students, in activities conducted by the University,” Moore said.
“We’ve tried to find out why some [alumni] haven’t been as involved, and why the involvement of others fluctuates,” Crichlow said. “About one-third of the people who are currently registered to attend are actually not very involved, out of a total of 500 registered attendees. … [That number] is right where we wanted to be.”
Crichlow hoped the conference would reconnect alumni with the University and allow them to find out the opportunities that would keep them engaged in the alumni activities conducted by the alumni associations and Cornell.
Prof. James Turner, Africana studies, will be conducting one of the workshops at the conference that will focus on racism.
“We will be looking specifically at the course that we developed in the 1980s which was a pioneering course called Race, Power and Privilege in the US. … [At the time], we had initiated an undergraduate course that had no peer. There was nothing else like it in other parts of the university, and it not only addressed the changing demographics of Cornell, but also the broad racial demographic of the United States,” Turner said. “[The course addresses questions such as]: What does race mean in the history and culture of the U.S.? We’ll be recounting the development of that course and the intellectual route that it’s taken.”
Turner welcomed the idea of a conference of this magnitude and with this focus.
“I’ve stressed how important it is for [the alumni] to provide their particular voice and vision and perspectives on questions that are important to undergraduate education and campus life, but also in terms of leadership in the University,” he said. “There are more students now who bring different perspectives as they come from their backgrounds to campus life, and allows for a wider range of activities and creates a rich mosaic. This is the mosaic, this broad diversity of race, of ethnicity, and religion and gender and sexual orientation. … And we’ll be exploring how that [mosaic] offers real promise for the future of Cornell.”
The conference will officially begin tomorrow at 5 p.m. in the Ramin Room at Bartels Hall and will continue until late Sunday morning.
“I’m extremely excited about this weekend,” Moore said. “And I’m very, very grateful to President Lehman and the alumni office staff for putting together such a great conference.”
Each attendee will receive at registration a copy of Things Fall Apart by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, the first book selected for the New Student Reading Project that is written by a minority.
“Things Fall Apart was specifically chosen to compliment President Lehman’s vision for a transnational university where undergraduates expand their understanding and awareness of other cultures,” stated a letter to attendees from the Cornell Mosaic planning committee.
Registration to the conference is required. More details about the conference is available at www.alumni.cornell.edu/mosaic.