Members of the Latino community at Cornell commemorated the 1993 student-led Day Hall takeover this past weekend with a historical video and presentation, dinner discussion and an art exhibit. The takeover, sparked by the on-campus destruction of a controversial Latino art exhibit, eventually lead to the creation of the Latino Living Center and the Latino Studies program.
The weekend’s events kicked off Friday at the Becker House common room with a historical presentation and clips about the takeover from the video “Cornell on Trial: Inside Day Hall.”
On Saturday at the LLC, Eduardo Penalver ’94, one of the key figures in the takeover and now an associate professor at Fordham Law School, described his involvement.
Penlaver said that before the takeover many Latino students felt marginalized by the University. The takeover, he said, put pressure on administrators to address this problem.
“The Day Hall takeover was a conscious effort to keep [the administration] focused on Latino students,” he said. “We wanted the administration to see Latinos as a distinct group.”
Penlaver said the takeover was effective without resorting to radicalism.
“It wasn’t like the 1969 takeover [of Willard Straight Hall by African-American students], which was a national event,” he said. “There was no violence or destruction of private property. Still, it was effective at making a point at the administration without being overly aggressive.”
The establishment of the LLC after the takeover represented the type of cultural center Latino students felt was missing on campus, Penlaver said.
“We wanted a place like Ujamaa [residential college], where people could come together and feel at home,” he said.
But while Penlaver said the takeover helped to raise campus awareness about the marginalization felt by minority students, he describes the events of 1993 as “a burden we shouldn’t have to bear.”
“It’s hard to only view the takeover as a sign of success, because we shouldn’t have to protest for things that we should already have,” he said. “White students come here, identify with the school and love it. They have an uncomplicated educational experience … this is what we should have.”
Yesterday afternoon in the LLC courtyard, students used black plywood to fashion an asterisk, which they then covered with Daily Sun articles about the takeover, to replicate a small-scale version of Daniel J. Martinez’s controversial art exhibit “The Castle is Burning,” which ignited the events in Day Hall.
Laura Hernandez ’07, co-chair of La Asociación Latina, said that although relations between the University and minority students has improved since 1993, it is still important to commemorate the takeover.
“Students put their lives and their Cornell careers on the line to have a place where we could live,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez stressed that some of the demands agreed upon by administrators and students after the takeover have still not been met, such as increasing the number of Latino students and faculty.
“The struggle still isn’t over,” she said.
Hernandez’s co-chair, Elias Saba ’08, said that although he believes Cornell now takes into account the minority perspective much more than it once did, some issues still remain.
“The Latino Studies program, for example, needs to move forward,” Saba said.
The weekend’s events were co-sponsored by the LLC, the Student Assembly Finance Commission, the Minority Finance Commission, the Becker House and the Latino Studies Program.
Archived article by Olivia Oran
Sun Staff Writer