May 10, 2012

Letter to the Editor: Striving for Accountable Participation

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To the Editor:

Re: “Citing Trayvon, People Allegedly Threw Bottles at Black Students From Fraternity Roof” News, May 6

In a message to the Cornell community this past February on the University’s diversity goals, I stated that “Cornell is a community of diverse people, respectful and appreciative of difference.” I want to believe that is true and not just an aspiration or a slogan. But the recent outrageous behavior early this past Sunday morning that has so upset our community throws that belief into question, and that is very disturbing to me. I wholeheartedly agree with our Vice President for Student and Academic Services, Susan Murphy ’73, when she wrote to the community shortly after the incident that, “there is no place for this kind of behavior at Cornell University.”

While complete information on what occurred that night and who was involved is still under police investigation, many in our community have asserted that the reports are in line with other troubling patterns that they have felt and observed in our community. Since the campus climate comprises the perceptions of its people, these concerns must be a challenge to all of us — to be vigilant about exposing and rooting out, in our own hearts and actions and among our friends and colleagues, intolerance, bias and disrespectful and violent behavior. We can never be comfortable as bystanders; we must be active and accountable participants, valuing diversity and inclusion and rejecting both active and passive discrimination.

I am heartened by the tremendous outpouring of concern for those most affected by this past weekend’s events from all parts of our campus community, and by the universal condemnation — in community conversations, forums, letters and postings, including messages from our student leaders  — of what occurred. And, I am hopeful that this coming together to bridge boundaries and address these issues forthrightly, with honest dialogue and appropriate action, is part of a more hopeful and continuing pattern in our community for the future. This, I believe, is the Cornell we all value.

We will continue to do what we must as administrators, to advance our University’s values and meet its deepest expectations. And I ask that all of you strive to do what you can, as well, to advance our future, and your own, as “members of a community of diverse people, respectful and appreciative of difference.”

David Skorton,