September 9, 2008

Student Groups Unite, Tackle Issues of Campus Diversity

Print More

For K.C. Martin ’10, all it takes is some San Diego sunshine. “I get a different reaction when I’ve been in Ithaca than when I first return to school from San Diego,” he said. “Maybe [people] can’t tell what I am, or they think I’m white, but I definitely get looks from people because of [my skin color].”
Martin, who is half African-American and half Italian, is one of Cornell’s 1,066 minority students who matriculated in Fall 2006. Formerly a resident of the Latino Living Center, and currently a member of Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity, Inc., Martin regularly experiences what he considers to be a racial bias prevalent throughout campus.
“I do feel that students have a bias, even though they might not necessarily show it to me. It is on individuals’ minds around Cornell. Some of the things that I have seen like jungle parties and hip hop parties I have found extremely racist. The fact that people don’t really see a problem with it — that really offends me. If you come from a background that I come from, [such events] seem ridiculous. It is hurtful that no one is understanding of who I am.”
Hot topics like campus tolerance, racism and diversity have been brought into the spotlight since the Aug. 31 Clubfest protest where more than 50 activists from various groups, including a contingent from Ithaca College, picketed around The Cornell Review’s table in Barton Hall to demonstrate against the content of The Review’s August issue.
Chanting in unison, waving signs and marching with voracity, the Clubfest protestors displayed their frustrations with Eric Shive’s ’07 “Taste the Rainbow” article, which includes a section on “The Angry Minority” that accuses minority students of being “nasty, ignorant and bitter” and classifies Cornell’s program houses as “ghettos.” He claims minorities “constantly whine about the brutal oppression they suffer at the hands of whitey” and asserts that their admission to Cornell is likely a result of “affirmative action and scholarships.”
Raza Hoda’s ’11 “Threat of Two-Headed Terrorists? Muslim inbreeding in Europe may belinked to transatlantic flight clampdown” is also filled with loaded language targeting Muslims.
“If you look at the top left of any of The Cornell Review’s issues you will see our motto ‘We Do Not Apologize.’ I will stand by that motto and say that The Cornell Review does not regret re-publishing Eric Shive’s and Raza Hoda’s articles. With that said, I am very disappointed that there was a protest. It seems that people at Cornell accept everyone’s beliefs, life styles and choices … as long as they aren’t conservative beliefs, life styles and choices,” Eddie Herron ’09, editor in chief of The Review, previously told The Sun.
Brian Grambow ’11, campus news editor of The Review — which was founded by conservative columnist and writer Ann Coulter ’84 — said that the publication has not taken the strong response to the August issue lightly. “It’s an opportunity to reach across the gap,” he said.
“I view the students on The Review as students who want to have a free exchange of ideas. It’s a forum for students who feel strongly enough to do that. I feel that we are trying to be a counterweight to some of the other publications and ideas and trying to facilitate actual debate on campus,” Grambow continued.
Sparked by The Review’s controversial articles, organizations including La Asociación Latina, Black Students United, Mosaic, Watermargin Cooperative and East Asian Pacific Americans for Action mobilized in an effort to confront the underlying issues of racism on campus.
“People have a right to speak up,” said Jonathan Pomboza ’10, co-chair of LAL. “But where do we draw the line? When a student gets stabbed? Do we have to wait for that?”
On Saturday afternoon, six days after the protest, about 25 students gathered in Ujamma to discuss a plan of action. With the goals of enlightening the student body about bigotry and racism on campus and pressuring the administration to take a firm stance against acts of intolerance, the eclectic mix of students brainstormed the next steps.
“We want the University to take a stand instead of not saying anything,” said Vatsav Raman, grad, of Mosaic, an organization for queer people of color at Cornell. “Instead, it is complacent and therefore spreading oppression and spreading bias.”
Among the many topics discussed, meeting attendees debated the use of Cornell’s name in the title of The Cornell Review. “There’s a big issue with the University endorsing [The Cornell Review] with its own name,” said Sasha Lopez ’10, co-chair of LAL.
“We need to make the University see that we deserve to be on this campus just as much as anyone else. Everyone should feel like they belong here,” said Sherina Giler ’10, treasurer of LAL.
Michelle Moody-Adams, vice provost for undergraduate education, addressed the use of Cornell’s name in The Review’s title: “While Cornell’s administration does not sanction derogatory, offensive or verbally abusive and hate-filled speech … we must protect the free expression rights of those who articulate some message we condemn.”
She further stated, “having the Cornell name in the title of one’s journal does not always mean that one’s journal is University-sanctioned.”
Dean of Students Kent Hubble ’67 took a firmer stance on The Review’s articles. “The Review’s journalism, if one dignifies it with that term, creates a climate of intimidation and alienation among the groups that it targets. Must we tolerate this behavior in order to uphold our commitment to free speech and freedom of expression? I would hope not,” he stated.
Zachary Murray ’11, a member of Black Students United, said he strongly supports an individual’s right to free speech, but also feels the University’s alleged inaction regarding acts of racism on campus is more like endorsing the problem rather than combating it.
“The University takes a light stance in its treatment of bias-related incidents,” he said. He recalled an incident during his freshman year when his dorm room door was defaced with the phrase “Fuck You, Nigger.” In response to his complaint, he said the University offered him counseling.
“The University puts the responsibility of solving problems of minority students back on their backs. The administration should send out e-mails with incidents of bias, but instead it takes no action.”
Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion Elizabeth “Beta” Mannix ensured that such issues of campus racism and topics covered in The Review are not being neglected. “We are not unaware of The Cornell Review or the concern over its content. Several University groups have been working together to discuss this, including the president, the Provost’s Office, the vice provosts, WDELQ and others to ensure that any response is in keeping with our values as a community,” she stated.
But according to the students personally attacked by The Review’s article, just any University response is not enough. Many at the meeting were disturbed that in recent memory, the University has not outwardly made a statement in support of program houses.
“There’s a sense of ‘this happens every year, get over it’ amongst the administration,” said Lamboza. “It’s time to build a response network so we know how to confront similar situations as they happen in the future.”
The University has, however, put in place an infrastructure to address issues of bias and racism on campus. It introduced a bias response program in 2001 when a record number of incidences of bias were reported to University authorities.
According to Lynette Chappell-Williams, director of Workforce, Diversity, Equity & Life Quality, there were 81 cases in 2001 — the largest number of reports filed in a given year. Since 2001, there have been 60 reports filed per year on average, and according to Chappell-Williams, the majority of reported incidents are in the residence halls rather than other locations on campus.
“This is undoubtedly a reflection of the success in spreading the word about the program throughout the residence hall community,” she said.
Additionally, Cornell has instituted a slew of programs including diversity workshops for incoming students, the Faculty Diversity Initiative, a University Diversity Council Working Group and recent initiatives like Breaking Bread and the Feedback Program to encourage discussion and debate about race, tolerance and bias on campus and in society.
But is programming enough to address issues of campus diversity that are apparent not only at Cornell, but at colleges throughout the country?
According to a study completed by the FDR Research Group last April for the Campus Tolerance Foundation, about 25 percent of the students surveyed at Michigan State University, Columbia College and U.C. Berkley said that they had given “a lot of thought to how comfortable the campus would be for them given their background and identity.”
Diversity is becoming a buzzword throughout our country’s education system, and campuses across the U.S. are stepping up to the challenge.
“We are committed to creating an environment where all students, no exceptions, feel truly at home and have every opportunity to avail themselves of a Cornell education,” said Hubbell.