July 13, 2008

So Much Diversity in One University

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BSU’s Questions Out of a Hat Program Wins Prize

With the shield of anonymity restraining any inhibitions, nine student organizations posed a number of racial and social identity questions during March’s “Questions Out of a Hat,” a conversation sponsored by Black Students United. Designed to absolve ignorance, the program facilitated group discussion in response to the questions read aloud.
BSU invited nine different umbrella organizations, including Cornell University Gay-Straight Alliance, Interfraternity Council, Cornell Asian Pacific-Islander Students Union, La Associación Latina and International Student Program Board and United for Peace and Justice in Palestine.
After splitting up into discussion groups, each group’s pre-assigned moderator facilitated the forum. The groups engaged in 30 minutes of discussion before rotating and facing a new set of pre-selected questions.
Questions included friends’ opinions of inter-racial dating, negative stereotypes associated with the Greek system and reactions to the Jewish-American Prince/Princess stereotypes.
In May, the BSU received the Perkins Prize for the program. The prize is given to recognize a group for it efforts to increase diversity and social acceptance by the Office of the Dean of Students.

Muslims and Jews Hunger for Diversity

In September, Jewish and Muslim Cornell students gathered at 104West!, the multi-cultural kosher dining hall, to break the fasts of Yom Kippur and Ramadan. The event was organized by the Center for Jewish Living, Muslim Educational and Cultural Association and the Iranian Students Organization.
Judaism and Islam each have their own calendars; the two holidays rarely coincide.
Judd Robert Rothstein grad, one of the organizers of the event, said that 104West! is a natural center of Jewish-Muslim dialogue since the food is both kosher and halal.
Many attendees believed that the dinner gave hope that Jews and Muslims can get along. Majed Almarshad, Cornell’s first Saudi law student, said the dinner showed that Jews and Muslims “can live, work, eat and study together. What we did here, hopefully we can do in the Middle East.”

Charges of Racism in Ithaca

Last fall, Amelia Kearney took the Ithaca City School District to court at the New York State Division of Human Rights for allegedly failing to protect her daughter at DeWitt Middle School against racial harassment that occurred during the 2005-2006 school year.
In April, the judge who heard the claims made the recommendation that the ICSD pay Kearney $1 million in damages. The Sun previously reported that Kearney was seeking monetary compensation for the mental anguish the harassment caused her daughter.
She said the damages will go towards therapy to help her cope, as well as tuition at a school where her daughter will not feel threatened.
Judge Christine Marbach Kellett also recommended that the school district institute diversity training and revise its disciplinary code.
The case has stirred up controversy in the Ithaca community regarding racism and discrimination. This led to protests at ICSD Board of Education meetings in the fall, as well as calls for the resignation of Superintendent Judith Pastel.

Cornell Plans for Asian Center

In April, 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.
Siv Somchanhmacong grad 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.
According to Linda Yu ’08, 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. Yet Yu made it clear that this was only one factor and that mental health is not a community-wide issue.
Rebecca Lee ’08, a student working on the project, 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.
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,” he said.

Gender-Neutral Housing

In October, Cornell followed the trend of nearly 30 other universities when the Student Assembly passed a resolution by a nine – two vote allowing the implementation of gender-neutral housing on campus.
The resolution, proposed by Arts and Sciences Representative Vince Hartman ’08, states: “A student should have the privilege to preference any other student they feel the most comfortable living with, regardless of gender.”
The resolution will allow certain suites and dorm rooms on West Campus to be gender neutral to residents who choose them. 10 students will begin using gender-neutral housing in Fall 2009. They will make up one suite each in two of the West Campus houses.
The lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and questioning community may also particularly benefit from the new housing option.
Although programs are available for these students, Gwendolyn Dean, director of the LGBT resource center said, “It can particularly benefit transgender students who may not be able to live in the housing provided for their target gender.”