September 23, 2012

Cornell Protesters Express Grievances to President David Skorton in Day Hall Meeting

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Student protesters who voiced grievances about the administration’s handling of bias incidents on campus took their demands from the doorstep of Day Hall — where they staged a sit-in protest Thursday — into a conference room with President David Skorton on Friday.

Skorton, Susan Murphy ’73 Ph.D. ’94, vice president of student and academic services, and Mary Opperman, vice president of human resources, sat with 24 students in a 30-minute meeting to listen to what demands the protesters have for the administration.

Skorton stressed that the administration is, like the protesters, worried about the bias incidents.

“It’s really, really important that we’re clear about one thing,” Skorton said. “You need to believe from the get-go that we’re just as concerned about these things as you are … If we’re going to work together, we have to decide what we can do together and organize in some way.”

The University has implemented a wide range of responses to respond to the incidents, Skorton said.

“Some of them [are through] federal laws, some in response to campus Code of Conduct [and] some are done by initiatives begun by administrators,” he said.

Murphy agreed, saying that maintaining diversity and student well-being is among the administration’s top priorities.

For instance, Murphy said, Renee Alexander ’74, associate dean of students and director of intercultural programs, is spearheading a series of leadership roundtables in the fall. The administration also created “Cornell Responds” programs for the community to discuss incidents that trouble students and to make concrete suggestions.

Ashley Harrington ’13, an advisory board member for the Women’s Resource Center, said that the University’s reactions, however, have not been adequate. They have only been reactive, instead of proactive, Harrington said.

“I have been involved in a couple of forums and discussions and it seems as if after the forums and discussions, you don’t have concrete programming to [follow up on those issues],” Harrington said. “This is what we’re asking for: concrete, institutional programming that can help make proactive changes to the [University’s] culture.”

Omar Figueredo grad added that there is not enough acknowledgement of the different forms of oppression that he says exist at Cornell.

Addressing the protestors’ list of 11 demands initially presented to the University in the spring, Skorton said that he is willing to consider the call to implement mandatory anti-sexual violence training for incoming and current students.

However, Skorton said it is difficult to implement a course that would be mandatory for students because “there is a strong tradition against mandatory courses across the board.”

He also said that these programs must be cost-effective.

“I don’t mean to be pedantic, but we’re 10-percent down on staff,” he said. Since 2009, the University has cut more than 700 staff members since 2009.

He also said he is committed to developing viable long-term solutions to the issues.

“I think it’s in everybody’s interest to make sure that whatever we do is effective and cost-effective,” Skorton said.

Skorton also addressed the protesters’ demands for “a coordinated, seamless survivor-centered response” to sexual violence, saying that he would work with colleagues to pull together a summary of campus resources available to the community.

“It’s very, very important that we have this [kind of response]. We should pull together a summary of what we actually have right now so that you can see it,” Skorton said, adding, “there’s a lot of this going on already.”

Promising the group that there will be a follow-up meeting, Skorton said that it would be important to continue dialogue with the students who were present Friday.

“We’re having what, to me, is an extremely valuable exchange,” Skorton said. “I hope there will be some continuity to the dialogue.”

Original Author: Jinjoo Lee