October 2, 2014

Admin Speaks to Student Assembly on Diversity

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Renee Alexander ’74, associate dean of students and director of intercultural programs, addressed the Student Assembly Thursday on ways to engage the student body following the results of a 2013 study reporting student views on diversity at Cornell.

The study — called ‘The Climate for Diversity at Cornell University’ — was directed by Prof.  Sylvia Hurtado from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California: Los Angeles. It was conducted in accordance with plans and discussions among the University Diversity Council, according to the report.

The study outlines five critical areas — “Key Findings and Recommendations,” “Diversity Skills and Knowledge,” “Bias, Discrimination and Harassment,” “Power Dynamics and Equity” and “Bridging Diverse Communities” — each of which call for specific “Opportunities for Action” within the Cornell community.

At the S.A. meeting, Alexander said that minority groups on campus experience climate differently than their “majority counterparts.”

“The more you have groups engaging by addressing stereotypes [or] learning about differences … the better the experience for everyone,” she said. “This engagement and inclusion is truly the foundation of Dr. Hurtado’s study.”

She also said that students generally want to see more involvement from the administration on issues of diversity — a notion the study confirms. Under the “Diversity Skills and Knowledge” section of the study, Hurtado found that “students expected better from administrators” when it came to improving the climate for diversity on campus.

“I’m sitting here really seething at the fact that we still have ignorance and bias and we have to address it.” — Renee Alexander ’74

“We’ve done a terrific job on the compositional piece — [Cornell] is more diverse than [it has] ever been,” Alexander said. “But what Dr. Hurtado’s team tells us is that [the student body] wants more authentic forms of engagement. We as administrators rely a little too heavily on [the student’s] self-reliance, self-direction and leadership in an area we should be proud to move forward.”

Members of the S.A. raised various questions and concerns on their collective effort to help staff and faculty continue to develop programs and skills that improve the climate for diversity on campus.

Lisa Liu ’15, an undesignated at-large member, inquired about what the S.A. could do to better address the problems at hand “beyond required programming events” such as Tapestry.

“I really want your opinion on more organic ways that [the S.A.] can raise awareness about diversity issues on campus,” Liu said to Alexander, “because the only types of events that I can think of pertaining to the diversity conversation were the ones that were required.”

Philip Titcomb ’17 asked Alexander how the report will advance the situation for members of the LGBT community, who he said deal with bias on a “day-to-day basis” and given that the University “does not represent all minorities on campus.”

Alexander responded by expressing her general discontent for the bias students face around campus.

“I’m sitting here really seething at the fact that we still have ignorance and bias and we have to address it,” she said. “And [the solutions] all loop back to [the study] sitting right here under my microphone.”

While the study was published nearly six months ago, Alexander said she believes a need remains for further discussion on the matter.

“This document is still young … and it’s just early October,” Alexander said. “We have a lot of time to work on this, so we want to get some engagement going. I’m asking for your support.”