March 8, 2011

Understanding the OMEA Move

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Cornell’s recent decision to replace the Office of Minority Educational Affairs with a new Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives is nothing for students to lament, if implemented correctly.The OMEA was rife with problems over the past few years, culminating in the departure of its director, Moji Olaniyan, last June. Students criticized the OMEA for being inaccessible and turning a deaf ear to student input. As the University moves forward with the restructuring process, we urge administrators to consider student opinions and make certain that the new office does not fall into the same pattern of disorganization and ineffectiveness that plagued the OMEA.   We are encouraged by the OADI’s shift to focusing on student life, which we believe will resolve many of the complaints expressed about the OMEA’s approachability.Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67 explained that a major impetus behind creating the new OADI is an academic achievement gap between minority students and their peers at Cornell. There are several reasons why such an achievement gap can exist, ranging form socioeconomic background to family history, and any step that can mitigate these effects is one in the right direction.  It is important to note that administrators have maintained that the new office will not lose any of the functions — specifically in recruiting prospective minority students — that made the old office so important. Regardless, some students have protested the replacement of the OMEA. We understand that unilateral University decisions strike a particularly sensitive nerve on the Hill of late — exemplified by reactions to the Africana Center’s relocation into the administration of the College of Arts and Sciences, cuts to academic programs and changes to the University’s Greek recognition policy.However, it is important for this move to be viewed in an objective light based on its merits and the logic behind the decision. Students need only recall their criticisms of the old office before disapproving of its closure.That being said, the University must do a better job communicating these decisions to students and framing them in a productive way. The dissolution of the OMEA and creation of the OADI is a prime example. While, in the long run, the new office will almost certainly benefit students, they are still not on board with the move.  In the future, productive communication with students will be paramount to maintaining campus morale and minimizing student dissent.