February 10, 2011

Proposed Move to American Indian Program Enrages Students and Faculty

Print More

To the dismay of students and faculty, administrators of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are proposing to move the American Indian Program from the fourth floor of Caldwell Hall — where it has been housed since the 1980s — to several separate offices in Kennedy Hall.

Students and faculty first received notification of the proposal Feb. 1 and will meet with CALS administrators Friday.

“The [proposal for the move] has been made by Cornell, without consulting with the people most directly affected,” Scott Perez, grad, said. “The University is basically saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do, and now we can discuss tweaking it.’”

CALS administrators proposed relocating to minimize space limitations they fear will arise during the renovation projects in Stocking Hall, Fernow Hall, Rice Hall and Warren Hall, according to Senior Associate Dean of CALS Max Pfeffer.

“[The notification] came down in e-mail — we had no prior word — as an order to move, and AIP reacted quickly to that,” said Prof. Eric Cheyfitz, director of the American Indian Program.

“The reason we have to explore this [move] is that we’re still lacking enough space to accommodate programs that will be displaced by construction,” Pfeffer said, defending the college’s proposed plan.

Pfeffer said that the plan to move AIP was nothing more than a “concrete proposal.”  He added that CALS administrators will assess the space needs of AIP and the programs that will be displaced by the construction plans before a final decision is made.

The potential alternatives, which will be discussed at Friday’s meeting, include moving AIP to another facility or keeping AIP in its current location but requesting that the program share the space, according to Pfeffer.

“There’s been a lot of sensitivity on campus about the administration not consulting with programs, and I think people may have assumed that we weren’t in a process of consultation,” Pfeffer said. “People may have thought that because we were bringing forth these concrete proposals, the final solution was a foregone conclusion.”

But Perez and others disagreed, arguing that drawing up detailed proposals without consultation was inappropriate.

AIP undergraduate and graduate students from the Indigenous Graduate Student Association and Native Americans Students At Cornell wrote a joint statement comparing AIP’s proposed relocation to the transfer of Africana into the College of Arts and Sciences.

“People from Africana and AIP should have been brought into the conversation at the very, very beginning,” Perez said. “It’s a matter of the democratic process. To come into communities that have inherently been powerless and to just tell [them] that [they are] going to move again is unacceptable.”

Caldwell Hall has housed AIP since the mid-1980s, not long after its formal inception in 1983, according to Prof. Jane Mt. Pleasant, horticulture, who has served two terms as director of AIP. AIP’s current location includes a conference room, rooms for undergraduate and graduate student use and offices for the program’s staff and faculty.

“It’s more than just a series of rooms. Because [the program] encompasses an entire floor, it has become a community,” Perez said. “[The proposed move] would destroy the sense of community that currently exists in Caldwell.”

Co-chair of NASAC Jake Swamp ’11 said the proximity of the Kennedy Hall offices to Call Auditorium and the Trillium dining facility would jeopardize the quiet and relaxed atmosphere of the AIP center in Caldwell.

“This [move] would serve to both split up the students, faculty and staff who constantly run into each other and form a cohesive community,” Swamp said.

The Caldwell center serves as an academic and community hub for students involved in AIP, Cheyfitz said.

“Given the University’s commitment — or at least its rhetorical commitment — to the well-being of students, the plans that we’ve seen so far would seriously disrupt that well-being,” Cheyfitz said. “And that’s what we’re protecting — a community that has a lot to do with maintaining the well-being of students.”

Alumni and current students echo Cheyfitz’s description of a strong Native American community in AIP.

“We often had soup days where AIP’s staff would cook soup, chili or sandwiches for everyone to eat,” Alia Jones ’10 said. “Sharing food and being in a comfortable space is very important in native cultures. Having my friends there, working there, eating there and sometimes sleeping there made AIP my home outside of Akwe:kon. Moving AIP will fracture the sense of comfort and community that current and past students have treasured.”

Speaking on the issue of safe spaces for marginalized communities on campus, Cheyfitz discussed the importance of the Africana Center, the Asian American Studies Program and the Latino Studies Program. The latter two share a space on the fourth floor of Rockefeller Hall.

“It’s important for all the ethnic studies programs to have contained space where students can get away from stresses of the day,” Cheyfitz said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said students and faculty first received notification of the proposed move on Tuesday. In fact, members of the AIP community were notified of the proposal on Feb. 1. The Sun regrets this error.

Original Author: Lawrence Lan