An uncharacteristic silence swept over Ho Plaza at 12:20 p.m. yesterday as approximately 15 students dressed in all black marched to a podium in front of Willard Straight Hall carrying a casket and a sign that said “RIP Safe Spaces at Cornell.” As a “coalition of concerned students,” these students marched through the Arts Quad to Ho Plaza in a mock funeral procession for Ujamaa, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center, the Asian and Asian American Center, Akwe:kon and the Latino Living Center. The procession stopped in Ho Plaza for students to read eulogies for the program houses and resource centers, where it was joined by more students, faculty, staff and onlookers, before processing to Day Hall.
The funeral symbolized the “impending consequences of inaction” if the University continues its “policies and attitudes” that lead to the “… marginalization of these spaces” and the “conditions for them to be degraded and disregarded,” according to a program titled “A Funeral for Safe Spaces,” which was handed out during the procession and the eulogies.[img_assist|nid=36529|title=Underrepresented|desc=Students march from Ho Plaza to Day Hall yesterday to protest the potential closing of the minority housing on campus.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“The whole funeral was to serve as a catalyst. We just wanted to spark the conversation because no one has taken the decline of program houses seriously,” said Olivia Tai ’10, president of Mosaic, which is “a social support group that caters to the issues of queer and same-gender-loving people of color and allies,” according to the Student Activities website.
Cornell students have brought multiculturalism to the attention of Cornell administrators throughout its history, from the Straight Takeover in 1969, which spurred the creation of the Africana Center and Ujamaa, followed by a second major student uprising in 1993 that created the LLC, Kevin Cheng ’10 said in introduction to the eulogies. The ringing of a gong in between each speech punctuated the speakers’ eulogies.
“Program houses and safe spaces are the pillars of support for oppressed groups. If you remove the pillars, then the foundation will fall,” Cheng said.
In her eulogy for Ujamaa, Gabrielle Boley ’09 stated, “Ujamaa operated under the concept that we bring together all of our unique strengths to build up the community, charging us to a higher standard of operation, professionalism and awareness. But, the University neglected Ujamaa in the face of constant attacks …”
The LGBT RC, which began this year with three permanent positions that have now been reduced to one, was eulogized by Jen Inloes ’09.
“… Under the guise of financial difficulties, the Office of the Dean of Students in 2009 decimated [the LGBT RC’s] services by placing the burden of supporting Cornell’s entire LGBT community on one individual,” Inloes said.
“Although the movement to establish the Center has been at least a decade long, the A3C was only established just recently in 2009. But, the A3C was under attack even before its creation,” Jonathan Pomboza ’10 said in reference to the Asian and Asian American Center, which was recently assigned an interim location and dean.
“… Akew:kon suffered from the same racist attitudes that plagued the other program houses, which even led to bias-related attacks,” Pomboza added.
The eulogies were rounded out by Tia Hicks ’11, who read a eulogy for the LLC.
“… The University failed to really provide solid support in the face of constant attacks and budget cuts, and in 2009, the Latino Living Center became no more. Rest in peace, Latino Living Center, 1994-2009,” Hicks said.
The purpose of the funeral was to draw attention to the vulnerability of these resources.
“Diversity is pointless if minorities are not equally represented at institutions that claim to be ‘forward thinking.’ How can equality be achieved if these oppressed groups are not proportionately represented according to their population in broader society? Furthermore, we reject a university that refuses to acknowledge the root of the problem — institutionalized oppression,” Zachary Murray ’11 read in closing, before students walked to Day Hall.
“I felt like it was successful, Hicks said. “We got a lot of attention. I think [the administration] need[s] to listen to us and hear our concerns.”
At Day Hall, students passed out a petition to gain administrative support and attention, where they were joined by Catherine Holmes, associate dean of students for student activities, and Susan Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services.
“I understand that they’re saying this is symbolic and I certainly respect that … None of these programs are in jeopardy. Are they right that we need to be vigilant? I agree with them whole heartedly,” Murphy said.
Last Friday, in a meeting with The Sun, President David J. Skorton announced an upcoming review of the program houses.
“I think we should let things play out and see and act in terms of [students] preferences. In addition to that I think everything here should be periodically reviewed … I’m big on periodic review … There is a review coming up on the program houses,” Skorton said.
Like Murphy, Skorton affirmed his support for the program houses.
“I’ve been vocally supportive of program houses both here and at other institutions. But largely under the claim that students choose them and are not opposed … And there is absolutely no plan on my part to savage the program houses or do anything like that,” Skorton said.
However, when the procession ended, students expressed that the administration still needs to step up.
“The administration is using the financial crisis as a guise … It is our opinion that the administration still treats these places as a concession. You can’t say there is diversity at Cornell when there aren’t places like the [resource centers],” Cheng said.
Similarly, Inloes expressed a desire to see more action.
“President Skorton keeps paying lip service to the importance of financial aid, but has not made any public statement about the University’s commitment to diversity and diversity support services during the economic crisis,” Inloes said. “I’m hoping to push the University for some kind of statement.”
A plain-clothed member of the Cornell Police followed the procession and refused questions.