October 2, 2012

In Defense of Reality

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For six years, I’ve been involved in student governance at Cornell. Seniors, this means I’ve dedicated myself to improving the student experience since you entered junior year of high school. Freshmen, this means I was having conversations with Cornell administrators about how to make Cornell a more welcoming community when you were still in middle school. During all my tenure, I have never witnessed such disingenuous, ill-conceived and malicious attacks on the Cornell administration as “Scorpions X” waged two weeks ago.

(The group known as “Scorpions X” published a mock edition of The Sun called “The Cornell Nightly Moon” on Friday, September 21, which they intermingled with copies of The Sun in distribution stands. This anonymous group also has been credited with impersonating President David Skorton in an email sent to campus leaders that criticized the approach of Cornell’s administration to handling campus safety concerns.)

Perhaps I benefit from having studied at institutions other than Cornell that did not strive as hard as Cornell has to demonstrate genuine care for the needs and interests expressed by its students. I continue, year after year, to dedicate countless hours to serving as a student leader at Cornell because I KNOW that our administration cares deeply about our students. Yes, this academic year has seen several unfortunate instances that compromised the safety of our campus community. Yes, every decent human being should be appalled at these occurrences, should want the villainous perpetrators brought to justice and should want to ensure that similar events cannot and will not continue to occur. And yes, President David Skorton and his staff are working non-stop to address these concerns and to improve the campus climate.

President Skorton personally asked me, as an elected student leader tasked with representing all 20,000 students at Cornell, what I thought of the allegations raised about safety on campus. I responded that I thought people such as those involved with Scorpions X might simply be ignorant of all the good work happening at Cornell to address safety concerns. I then offered my belief that the best way to address concerns of campus climate is through grassroots efforts by students themselves. I asserted that the administration is not the entity that will change culture on campus; this is a task for students. Yet, President Skorton pushed back against my response. The same man who was viciously derided and tastelessly mocked in the email impersonating him, told me I was only partially right. He told me that students can improve culture on campus, but that the administration also must continue to do even more. Do these words signify someone who has given up on ensuring student well-being?

Let us examine some additional facts. When protesters showed up outside of Day Hall two weeks ago, advocating for the administration to do more to address safety concerns on campus, were they dismissed? No, they sat down with David Skorton and members of his senior staff to explain their concerns. Was the president’s and the senior staff’s approach then to refer this matter to a University committee so that it would be addressed through the normal channels at some future juncture? No, the president and his staff considered the issue of such paramount importance that they chose to continue dialogue directly with the concerned students and to work on solutions to the issue themselves. What about the members of Scorpions X; has the administration met with them? Well, maybe, but because this group chooses simply to complain under a veil of secrecy, the administration does not know who they are; therefore, the administration cannot constructively enter into dialogue with them.

The vitriolic rhetoric employed about campus safety concerns needs to end. Our administration has made enormous strides to ensure our safety and has committed to continuing dialogue with students until the remaining issues are resolved. I too, as a student leader and member of the leadership team at Cornell, am willing to speak with any concerned students.

Finally, to members of Scorpions X, perhaps we could discuss your concerns at two o’clock in the morning in a dark alley in Collegetown, clothed in trench coats, collars pulled up and sporting sunglasses. That way, we could remain anonymous. Wait, why does this scenario sound uncannily akin to the back-street drug deals I witnessed in Atlantic City, N.J., last week? It is because only criminals need to hide under “Nightly” cover. The truth speaks for itself; let it (and its speakers) reside in the light.

Original Author: Darrick Nighthawk Evensen