February 10, 2013

New Diversity Committee Promises ‘Tangible Impact’

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On Saturday, Student Assembly members and student leaders gathered in Willard Straight Hall for a preliminary meeting of the Student Assembly Committee for Inclusion and Diversity Initiatives, a committee that will focus on diversity initiatives and will include a broader spectrum of students.

SACIDI replaces the Joint Assembly of Multicultural Issues Committee, which made recommendations to the University regarding ways to promote cooperation among different religious groups.

In the introduction to Saturday’s meeting, Cameron Pritchett ’15, minority liaison at-large, discussed the improvements SACIDI has included in its mission in order to achieve more tangible change than JAMIC.

“A lot of S.A. members and people of the general community felt like JAMIC wasn’t serving the purpose we intended,” Pritchett said.

He said SACIDI would focus more on implementing new initiatives,  rather than only facilitating discusion.

“Rather than being just being a forum to talk about what’s going on in your various organizations, [SACIDI] will be action-oriented,” Pritchett said. “We’ll be working on initiatives and legislation that will make a tangible impact on students across campus. We’ll also be doing a semesterly report detailing what the committee is working on and initiatives that we’ll be tackling in the coming semester.”

In the discussion that followed, committee members suggested preliminary ideas to increase inclusion on campus, including making a set of fitness center passes available to students who cannot afford one; follow-up programming to Tapestry of Possibilities, the diversity performance for students during Orientation Week; and including more books that are more pertinent to diversity issues as part of the New Student Reading Project.

Ulysses Smith ’13, vice president of diversity and inclusion for the S.A., said he believes the timing of these initiatives is vital to the success of the committee. Although SACIDI was officially planned to meet monthly, members will attempt to meet weekly this semester in order to promote the initiatives as soon as possible, according to Smith.

“I think this committee has a lot to prove,” Smith said. To garner support from the student body, “[SACIDI is] going to have to push out some pretty significant initiatives within a timely fashion,” he said.

According to Ross Gitlin ’15, vice president of outreach for the S.A., SACIDI will continually work on diversity initiatives, rather than suggesting projects after an incident occurs.

“Cornell’s often very reactionary with problems that we face,” said Gitlin, citing examples such as the Leadership Roundtable and working groups that were formed in response to reports of sexual assault last semester. “This work that we’re going to be doing is going to be done at all times, not just when facing adversity.”

The other main focus of SACIDI is to foster cooperation between a wider range of student groups. The preliminary meeting contained representatives from the LGBTQ group Haven, Native American Students at Cornell, La Asociación Latina, and the Multicultural Greek Letter Council, among other organizations. To represent the cooperating communities, SACIDI is being led by two co-chairs, one an S.A. representative and the other a student leader from a participating group. This semester, Juliana Batista ’16, S.A. freshman representative, will serve as the S.A. co-chair and Oscar Correia ’14, president of La Asociación Latina, as the community leader co-chair.

Correia said he is eager to move forward in a committee that he believes has “more legitimacy” than its predecessor, due to its increased representation and more direct calls for action. In addition to the public committee meetings, SACIDI will be publishing an online “initiative tracker” that anyone can access and use to provide input, according to Correia.

“Just having that [support] will allow us to be much more successful with the initiatives that we have,” Correia said.

According to Batista, the cross-cooperation and sharing of resources among different communities will be a fundamental part of SACIDI’s potential success.

“We have people that are really strong leaders from all these different communities on campus,” Batista said. “Our job [as co-chairs] is to rechannel and refocus their energies and make sure that what they’re doing is getting cross-channelled across the different groups … It’s all about the small steps. We’re not going to be able to change everything right away. It’s about making those small impacts.”

Original Author: Noah Rankin