February 28, 2006

20 student groups issue joint 'statement of demands' to Interim Pres. Hunter Rawlings

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Yesterday on Ho Plaza at a rally protesting “violence and institutional racism at Cornell,” Interim President Hunter Rawlings III stepped through the crowd of over 200 to receive a “statement of demands” signed by 20 student organizations.

The demands were made in the wake of the alleged recent stabbing of a visiting African-American Union College student by a white Cornell student on West Campus. They include the incorporation of Student Assembly resolution number 11 – which calls for a zero-tolerance policy towards bias-related violent crimes and sexual assault – into the Campus Code of Conduct, an improvement in the University’s communications and emergency response procedure following violent crimes and the addition of a new required course on issues of race, power and gender.

Organizers expect a response by Friday.

A series of student leaders and activists, Cornell and Ithaca College faculty and staff and two members of the Ithaca Common Council spoke at the rally. One of the organizers, Stacy King ’06, kicked off the rally by addressing the audience. “Thank you for seeing the absolute necessity of being here today,” she said. “What happened to [stabbing victim] Charles Holiday is merely a microcosm of the problems that exist here on our campus.”

Multiple speakers challenged or directly denied the notion that the West Campus stabbing was an isolated event. Prof. James Turner, one of the founders of the Africana Studies department, was among several who addressed the shock and disbelief on campus.

“I am here to share your concerns,” he said. “What took place was horrible. It took place here at Cornell, here in Ithaca, where it is ‘not supposed to happen.’ Although this was a terrible incident, it was not incidental. It causes us to ask whether [alleged attacker] Nathan Poffenbarger ’08 is an anomaly.” Turner proceeded to give examples of bias-related incidents that have occurred at Cornell in the past few years.

Prof. Ken Reardon, director of City and Regional Planning, spoke early in the rally.

“So many have expressed shock,” he said. “The question is, ‘Should we be surprised?'”

Reardon, a self-proclaimed “white guy from the Bronx,” tried to illustrate modern racism by impersonating comedian Chris Rock saying, “Ain’t no white man in this room who’d trade places with me. And I’m rich