January 30, 2013

First Town Hall Meeting Encourages Solidarity

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About 50 black and Latino male students gathered in the Physical Sciences Building Tuesday in the first of a series of town hall meetings that will discuss commonalities in the college experience for these groups, according to Renee Alexander ’74, associate dean of students and director of intercultural programs.

Alexander, who planned and moderated the meeting said the first town hall was dedicated to black and Latino men because compared to other minority groups, students of these demographics have experienced some of the lowest six-year graduation rates. Seventy-five percent of African American male students graduate within six years, while 87 percent of Latino American male students graduate within six years, according to the 2010 Undergraduate Graduation Rate Report.

Alexander said that the meeting was “a climate check” designed to create an environment of support and community focusing as much on the academic relm as on life outside the classroom.

“We have to look at students holistically,” she said.

“The untold story is that a lot of black guys graduate and do very, very well,” she said. “One of the problems with underrepresented minorities in general is we are often viewed through the lens of the deficit model. We need to take a look at … what is it about this 75 percent? What other factors are in play here? The University is just planning to do that.”

Alexander also said that it was important for her to hear the perspectives of black and Latino communities on their the similarities and differences.

“On the surface, black and Latino students get along, but there are some cultural differences in these communities and they’re not always as homogenous as you may think that they are,” Alexander said.

The discussion revealed several issues that resonated with many attendees. Several students said they felt that they had been perceived as products of affirmative action at Cornell, especially during their freshman year.

“I could walk down the hallway … in [the School of Industrial and Labor Relations], and think that people think I’m not as adequate because of affirmative action,” Iheatu Kanu ‘13 said. “During freshman year, I know that that was a big thing that affected me.”

When Alexander asked if anyone had ever been the only non-white person in a classroom, almost everyone raised their hands.

Still, many attendees agreed that it can be difficult to be the only minority student in certain academic settings, Kamaal Jones ’13 said he felt that he had to be a representative in his classes.

“I feel like I can’t be the guy slacking off in class,” Jones said. “If I’m slacking off, that means black people are slacking off. I’m representing a whole group, not just myself.”

Chavez Carter grad, president of the Black Graduate Professional and Student Association also said that many of his peers expect black or Latino students to comment on racial issues, or clarify facts relating to black or Latino culture.

“Why should underrepresented students have the burden of diversifying everyone else?” Carter said. “From a scientific perspective, that doesn’t make sense. It should be the other way around. It would be more effective that this message not only come from the people it’s afflicting, but that these programs would be initiated by the overall community from the central body.”

Attendees also discussed the benefits of becoming predomidantly white organizations on campus. Juan Carlos Toledo ’13, who is also a sports writer for The Sun, said that he feels Cornell offers many opportunities to explore different communities.

“How many of us, in reality, are from communities as diverse as Cornell?” Toledo said. “When we first get here as freshmen, we really have to find our niche, find our comfort zone. But then, be willing to take it to the next level and step out of our comfort student. To solve any problem, all parties have to do their share.”

Although black students comprise a small percentage of the student body, Kennedy Ogoye ’12 said that he does not see himself as the minority, but instead, “as 100 percent.”

“I represent the five percent, but I’m here. I can do anything that I want to do, and that adds up. When you start looking at it as five percent, you’re already belittling yourself. You’re saying, ‘I’m a minority” he said.

Original Author: Noah Rankin