May 2, 2008

BSU Wins Perkins Prize for ‘Questions Out of a Hat’ Forum

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Each year, a group is recognized for it efforts to increase diversity and social acceptance with the Perkins Prize. Announced last week, the 2008 prize has been awarded to Black Students United for their sponsorship of the “Questions Out of a Hat” event.
According to Christine Forester of the Office of the Dean of Students — which administers the award — there were 11 groups considered this year. Each member of the selection committee rated all of the applications on a scale of 1 to 5 in the categories of participation, sustainability of effort, promotion of values and enhancement of abilities.
The BSU and Questions Out of a Hat received high marks in all areas. The event took place on March 25, bringing together members from nine student organizations, including the Intefraternity Council, Cornell Hillel, Cornell Democrats, the Gay-Straight Alliance and Student Advocates of Palestine, to discuss questions regarding social and racial identity and issues of diversity.
At the BSU event, students discussed anonymously submitted questions that addressed a myriad of topics. Among the issues discussed were friends’ opinions of inter-racial dating, negative stereotypes associated with the Greek system, responses to the Jewish American Prince/Princess stereotypes, affirmative action and the depiction of minorities in the media.
“Diversity discussions tend to be comprised of the same constituencies. Discussion tends to lean a certain way,” Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo’08, president of BSU, said.
According to Lumumba-Kasongo, by “specifically targeting” groups and not publicizing outside of these groups, the event was particularly successful in achieving equal representation in discussing the topics covered.
[img_assist|nid=30411|title=Communal gathering|desc=Jason Beekman ’08, vice president of CUGSA, speaks with Dovie Watson ’08, president of CUGSA, at BSU’s Questions Out of a Hat program.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]Lumumba-Kasongo said that BSU first decided to apply for the Perkins Prize at the recommendation of the organization’s advisor who felt that the group and its programming was well aligned with the organization.
The Perkins Prize grants a $5,000 monetary award to the recipient to continue to promote diversity and social efforts. Lumumba-Kasongo said that although concrete plans for the use of the money have not been finalized, the BSU hopes to expand on the Questions Out of a Hat event.
In light of an overwhelmingly positive response, Lumumba-Kasongo said that she hopes that the program will be extended into residence halls. She noted that she received multiple e-mails from individuals interested in pursuing the program that did not participate this year.
Robert Harris, vice provost for diversity and faculty development, presented the award to members of BSU at a ceremony on April 23 in the Carol Tatkon Center.
The Perkins Prize was established in 1994 by Thomas Jones ’69 in honor of President Emeritus James Perkins, who served Cornell from 1963-1969. During the 1960s Perkins made significant strides in increasing the enrollment of minority students.
Additionally, the “Celebrating the Lunar New Year” events and the Asian and Asian American Forum received honorable motions.
The Lunar New Year series included educational, social and entertainment events aiming to disseminate information about the Chinese culture to all Cornell students. Developed by Prof. Frances Yufen Lee Mehta, Asian studies, the events were held from Jan. 29 through Feb. 19.
The Asian and Asian American Forum is a student-run programming board for advocacy and outreach programs that supports the Asian and Asian American Cornell community. The organization has made strides in moving towards the establishment of an Asian and Asian American community center at Cornell and has sponsored events, such as a panel discussion for first-year students and a number of stress relief and stress management events.
“In honoring those who have helped to promote interracial harmony and understanding, the Perkins Prize establishes those goals as worthy ones for the university as a whole,” said President Hunter Rawlings, speaking at the second award ceremony for the Perkins award which was established in 1996.
Previous recipients of the prize include Ordinary People, a student theater group, which won last year for its commitment to challenging bias, and “Around the World in 8 Days … Goes to Africa,” a film discussion series, which took the prize two years ago for its promotion of shared values and standards within Cornell’s diverse student body.