November 22, 2010

Students Gather, Recount Latino Day Hall Takeover

Print More

They missed a Thanksgiving at home.

Staying over break to demand support and funding, Latino activists occupied Day Hall in 1993 after a Latino art exhibit on the Arts Quad was vandalized earlier in the week. The students said they would not leave until their demands were met — demands that included a meeting with then President Frank Rhodes, the creation of a Latino Living Center and the establishment of the Latino Studies program.

The occupation lasted four days, until the University agreed to the majority of the students’ demands.

On Friday, students gathered to commemorate the takeover and discuss the current status of the Latino community at Cornell.

The University is one of the few schools in the Ivy League that does not offer a Latino Studies major, in spite of the fact that it offers a minor. At least one college lacks any tenured Latino professors, and the Latino Living Center has been hit with sweeping budget cuts.

Several Latino students said that they experience a sense of disenfranchisement and marginalization.

Cornell is below its peer institutions in the overall proportion of students who are minorities, as well.

The University has the lowest percentage of minority undergraduate enrollment out of the “Ivy Plus Schools” — which includes the Ivy League universities and four others —  and is ranked 12th in the group, according to an online report from the Office of Equity and Inclusion.

“This demonstrates that by a variety of metrics — school size, location, status, and focus — we must do better,” the report says.

Demographics and Lack of Tenured Faculty

Cornell has made some progress in the overall enrollment of Latino students. In 1990 there were 732 undergraduates of Latino descent, totaling 5.7 percent of the student body. In 2009, the most recent year of comparative data, there were 1,062 students, or 7.6 percent ––  but that represents less than half the 15.8 percent of Latinos that make up the U.S. population.

Lack of Latino faculty members also remains a problem. In 2009, there were 41 Latino faculty members out of 1,605 total faculty, or two percent, according to Cornell’s Academic Personnel Data Base.

One member of the Latino Studies program speculated as to the lack of Latino faculty.

“It is difficult to draw Latino scholars to Cornell and Ithaca because … most Latino scholars live and work in large urban areas,” Prof. Hector Velez, Latino studies, said. “What Cornell departments have to do is work a little bit harder to attract and retain faculty.”

On campus, at least one college lacks a single tenured Latino faculty member.

“Despite our strong recruitment efforts, the School of Hotel Administrations does not currently have any tenured Latino faculty,” Kandace Van Gorder, executive assistant to the Hotel School dean, said.

At the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, “the information on faculty ethnicity is self-reported and confidential,” Laura Lewis, director of ILR student services, said.

The other Cornell colleges were unavailable for comment.

The University’s central administrator, however, defended the number of Latino faculty members.

“Cornell’s Latino faculty is comparable to the representation at other Ivy League institutions,” Lynette Chappell-Williams, associate vice president for workforce diversity and inclusion, said.

Without a Latino Studies Major

Cornell and Princeton are the only Ivy League schools that lack a major in Latino Studies, according to a 2007 Princeton Latino Coalition report.

At Princeton, “it’s only a certificate program. Students concentrate in other departments, but we’re like a minor,” Rosalia Rivera, program manager of Princeton’s Latino studies, said.

Velez offered an explanation as to why Cornell does not offer a Latino major.

“A lot of that depends on how large the Latino population is … At Cornell, most of the ethnic programs don’t have their own department or major. They’re all programs as opposed to departments,” he said.

Currently, students can minor in Latino Studies by enrolling in at least five program courses. In the 2010 graduating class, 26 seniors minored in Latino Studies.

Velez said that with all the recent cuts to University programs and departments, he doubted that Cornell would add a Latino major any time soon.

Nevertheless, students expressed a strong desire for a Latino major.

“Minors generally do not provide as much in-depth information as a major. I think that a major in Latino Studies … could potentially even attract prospective students to Cornell,” Melanie Berdecia ’12, president of La Associación Latina, said.

“I hear a number of students wanting to have a major … A lot of students pursue the Latino Studies minor,” Assistant Dean for Latino and Latina Student Support Juliette Corazon said.

Budget Cuts

During the financial downturn, the administration significantly cut the budgets of the Latino Studies Program and the Latino Living Center.

“The Latino Living Center’s funding was reduced by about 60 percent when Latino Studies Program had to pull their funding,” said Ben Meoz, the residence hall director of the Latino Living Center.

Fifty-seven students reside at the Latino Living Center.

“This has led us to downsize the level of programming that we were doing,” Meoz said. “To my knowledge, the Latino Living Center was the only program house affected in this particular way and to this extent.”

The University Responds

When comparing Cornell to other peer institutions, several faculty and administrators said there has been sufficient outreach and support for the Latino community on campus.

“Cornell, through the leadership of President Skorton … has remained committed to diversity and has worked to develop recruitment and outreach programs,” in spite of the financial squeeze, Chappell-Williams said.

In terms of hiring, Vice Provost Barbara Knuth said that the University’s new assistant vice provost position “will enhance the support provided toward academic development and success for students of color, including underrepresented minorities, for first-generation college students and for others.”

At Cornell, the Office for Minority Educational Affairs provides key support for Latino students in need.

“OMEA is one of the few visible and accessible hubs for students of color to seek support. You don’t have to have a particular reason to go — OMEA is a welcoming space,” said Patricia Nguyen, assistant dean of students, who directs the Asian and Asian-American Center.

The Executive Director of OMEA position has been vacant since last year. Due to University-wide restructuring, the job will be replaced by the assistant vice provost for academic diversity initiatives.

An Unwelcoming Atmosphere and Inadequate Support

Many Latino students at the Day Hall Takeover commemoration Friday expressed a sense of alienation and distance from the University.

“I think a number of students here feel marginalized. Some have had experiences in the classroom and it’s not the first time I’ve heard them. I hear it every year,” Corazon said.

“Sometimes I don’t feel comfortable in speaking out because I feel like I’m being judged,” Melissa Berdecia ’12 said.

Others participants at the commemoration focused on progress.

“We need to become leaders in our community — we need to graduate and go back and become leaders … and get people of Latino backgrounds in higher education administration to recruit the right people,” Angel Vasquez ’11, said.

Original Author: Max Schindler