Yesterday, the Student Assembly passed a resolution encouraging the University to deal more actively with the physical and mental health issues facing the Asian and Asian-American student communities.
The resolution was based on a report commissioned by Vice President Susan Murphy ’73 and Provost Biddy Martin in 2002. The report looked at various aspects of the health of Asian and Asian-American Cornell students and recommended solutions to various problems that community faces.
Among other things, the report found that Asian and Asian-American students at Cornell were less likely to utilize mental health resources, such as Gannett or Cornell Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). In addition, the resolution states that many Asian and Asian American students that graduated in 2000 were unhappy with the accessibility of advising and counseling services.
According to Linda Yu ’08, co-founder of the Asian and Asian-American Forum and one of the architects of the resolution, this is often because this community is less likely to seek out these kinds of services in a setting like Gannett.
“Asian students don’t really use conventional types of services like CAPS,” she said. “The main reason is that there’s a cultural stigma. You’re either crazy or you’re not, and so to walk into Gannett is a major, major deal.”
However, according to some student leaders, it is becoming increasingly apparent that many Asians and Asian-Americans could benefit greatly from some sort of counseling or support.
“About 20 percent of the undergraduate students here are Asian and Asian-American,” said Andrew Wang ’08, a member of the Student Assembly and another drafter of the resolution, “but more than half the suicides at Cornell have been Asian students. The Asian community has not bee nconsidered as a community that really needs as much help as it does.”
The 2004 report gave two priority recommendations in order to improve the health and well-being of Cornell’s Asian community. Firstly, it called for the establishment of an Asian and Asian-American cultural center on campus, and secondly it recommended that a staff position be established to support Asian students and promote different cultural and counseling programs. While the administration has already created an assistant dean position for Asian and Asian-American support, it has yet to create a centralized community center. The establishment of such a center is one of the major goals in the resolution that went before the S.A. yesterday.
“We’re hoping to have some form of a community center … a site or location that has connection with the Asian and Asian-American community,” said Wang. “[It would be] a bridge to the various Asian and Asian-American student groups that are around campus.”
However, although the cultural center will be geared towards Asian students, it will also be open to the entire Cornell community.
“A big thing that we really hope for is that … [when] a community center is established … students that are non-Asian will have a place [where] they can come if they want to speak to people of Asian-American descent and understand … their culture,” said Wang. “It will be open to the Cornell community to encourage and develop an understanding of what it means to be Asian-American.”
According to Rebecca Lee ’08, the other co-founder of the Asian and Asian-American Forum and another author of the resolution, the center would be based on already existing Asian community centers at schools such as Yale and Stanford. Proposed programs at the center would include advocacy and cultural, academic, peer and staff support.
The resolution did eventually pass, but only after a lengthy debate, in which several concerns were raised. One of the recurring concerns was that the center would further remove Asians and Asian-Americans from the greater Cornell community.
“I’m not sure how this would benefit our campus,” Representative Mark Coombs ’08 said during the debate. “I think that despite the ideal of it in serving as a two-way gateway I question based on the history of other endeavors … whether it would truly be a two-way gateway or whether if would further segregate the campus.”
Representative Ahmed Salem ’08 also raised similar concerns.
“We at Cornell are moving towards a culture of redefining ourselves based on our race,” he said. “I have nothing against the particular space [of the cultural center], but I have a problem with the culture that calls for this particular space … It doesn’t foster the community of interaction that solves these problems.”
However, despite these concerns, the majority of the Representatives maintained that pursuing the idea of an Asian and Asian-American cultural center was a good idea.
“I don’t think that [the center] would be closed to members that weren’t part of the community … [and] I think it would be very beneficial for this community,” said Representative CJ Slicklen ’09. “I think this is a great resolution and support it wholeheartedly.”
The S.A. meeting was packed full of supporters for the resolution, and after it passed, the room erupted in applause.
“The passage of [the resolution] is only the first stop of many, but it is a huge step we have taken as a community,” said Lee. “It has mobilized us and united us under a common cause of improving the quality of student life for generations of Cornellians to come.”