A group of concerned students met with Architecture, Art and Planning Dean Kent Kleinman and other University administrators on Wednesday to discuss diversity within the college.
Kleinman called the meeting in response to a letter signed by 75 AAP students, detailing their concerns about this year’s departure of former Associate Director of Advising and Diversity Trey Waller –– who has yet to be replaced –– and about the problem of support for minority students within the college. Additionally, the students questioned why the position was renamed to the lower-ranking “Assistant Director for Diversity and Inclusiveness,” and they criticized a lack of receptiveness among professors to discussions of race.
Kleinman stressed the need to cooperate to improve the situation and assured the students that he was devoted to helping. “I feel as passionately about this as you do. It’s not a you versus me situation. You’re going to need me and I’m going to need you,” he said at the meeting.
Deb Durnam, the new senior director of the recently-overhauled AAP “advising unit,” noted that the college actually the most diverse at Cornell, with 22 percent minority students.
However, Tia Hicks ’11, one of the writers of the letter addressed to Kleinman, was the first of several students to express concerns that the diversity of the student body is not reflected in the faculty.
“We’re not seeing people who look like us teaching classes,” she said.
Lena Afridi grad stressed the importance of recruiting and maintaining minority professors as mentors in order to retain minority students. She added that understanding diversity was crucial to studies within AAP, especially city planning.
“It’s particularly terrifying to know that classmates will be going out in communities without understanding the [racial] issues facing those communities,” she said.
At the meeting, Kleinman said he foresaw a better support system for minorities with the recent “restructuring” of AAP’s advising office into a single unit that encompasses advising, careers and diversity.
He also said that AAP will hire a temporary replacement for Waller by January. A national search for a permanent replacement will take place in March.
Several students at the meeting described their frustration with professors who were reluctant to discuss race in class.
“People who study race don’t really have a home on campus,” said Zach Murray ’11, who added that he had seen faculty “talk down” to students who broached the subject of race and recalled being rebuffed when he brought the topic up himself.
Discussion also included the myriad ways “diversity” can be defined and how best to serve all underrepresented students.
Ulysses Smith ’13 noted that diversity is not just about color and that LGBTQ students deserve support as well.
Smith said that the students were not expecting the one person chosen as the assistant director for diversity to cover all aspects of diversity. He joked that “we’re not going to find someone who’s a mix of all races, who’s open to every religion in the world and who also happens to be transgendered.”
Kleinman and his fellow administrators emphasized that the power to make changes did not reside solely in any one of them, and touted the new advising unit as a way to better support minority input.
“I’m pretty sure if we get it wrong, you’re going to let us know,” he told the students.
After the discussion, Hicks said she was glad to have had the opportunity to lay out student concerns before the administration but was unsure that the dialogue had made much impact on Kleinman and his colleagues.
“I don’t know how receptive the dean was to what we had to say,” she said. Hicks said she looked forward to continuing the discussion, which she saw as vital to the learning experience of AAP students.
“We need to make the college more viable to students who are here,” she said.
Original Author: Eliza LaJoie