April 1, 2008

Asian Community Center Plan Discussed at Forum

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Last night the Asian and Asian-American communities met at a forum to discuss a resolution that the Student Assembly passed in November for an Asian community center on campus.
The forum began with a round of applause as Siv Somchanhmacong grad, opened the meeting.
“Tonight we have an opportunity to engage in a conversation about Asian-American needs and the issues ahead of them,” Somchanhmacong said.
Somchanhmacong presented information about the growing number of Asians enrolled at Cornell, stating that the Asian student population has risen from just 4.5 percent in 1980 to 17.7 percent in 2007. Because of this increase, he noted, there is no greater time to discuss these issues.
Linda Yu ’08 began the forum by immediately addressing various misconceptions that surround the creation of the community center. One misconception is that the center is being built to solely address issues of mental health. [img_assist|nid=29334|title=Open hearts|desc=President David Skorton speaks at last night’s Asian-American Forum.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
According to Yu, the center is partially driven by a task force report stating that between 1996 and 2004, over half of student suicides were committed by Asians. Yu made it clear that this was only one factor and that mental health is not a community-wide issue.
Later, Susan Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services, addressed the issue of suicide in the Asian community.
“Saving lives had to be addressed, even though this as a whole is not a mental health issue,” Murphy said.
Yu also made it clear that this center would be no different than the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Resource Center or the Women’s Resource Center. These programs, she said, have full time staffs, something that all agreed would be integral to the success of this new community center.
Another forum speaker, Bhavna Davani grad, spoke about how Yale, Penn and Brown all have paid staffs for their Asian community centers. According to Davani, these schools have a relatively similar percentage of Asian students as Cornell.
Prof. Derek Chang, Asian-American studies, said that group spaces foster community formation.
“The alienation that Asian-American students felt at Cornell was not a conscious choice, self alienation was a part of the institutional structures of this university,” Chang said.
Prof. James Turner, Africana studies, remarked on what the inception of the project would say about Cornell.
“It symbolizes the University signal that [Cornell] considers this community an integral part of campus life,” Turner said.
President David Skorton also spoke at the meeting in favor of the plan. He made sure to adamantly mention that this center should not be a residential center, so as not to promote any further isolation.
Rebecca Lee ’08, a student working on the project, explained the four goals of the community center in an interview. These include a central location, at least one full-time staff member, a working budget and a wide range of programming available to the whole Cornell community.
Lee also explained that the need for the center stems from the unique needs of the Asian community including the model minority bias, sexual harassment and the fact that many of these students are second generation Americans or are international students.
Yu hopes that the center will improve Asian students’ overall satisfaction.
“There would ideally be a large multipurpose space allocated for meetings, presentations, lectures and general education. And at the bare minimum, we’d like space that promotes awareness, the cultural richness of the Cornell Asian Community, and ultimately a safe haven for those who don’t know who to turn to, or where to go, when they face discrimination,” Yu explained.
Skorton said a timeline for the project depends on what the committee, which was only very recently created, chooses to do.
“The committee needs to think of the trade off when they decide what [the community center] is. When we know the scope of the project, then we will have a timeline.”
Kent Hubble, dean of students, who will be working closely with the small committee, addressed a desire to have this project take off sooner rather than later.
“I love the idea of working fast, and being an optimist I’m hopeful we can do it.”