October 5, 2014

President-Elect Garrett Talks Cornell Campus Issues

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Following the announcement that Elizabeth Garrett, provost at the University of Southern California, would become Cornell’s 13th president, Sun Managing Editor Tyler Alicea ’16 spoke with her last week about her stance on a variety of campus issues. This is the second part of the two-part interview.

The Sun: Cornell often prides itself on the fact that it is so racially and culturally diverse. Could you speak about any diversity initiatives that USC had that you were involved in? What are your thoughts on campus diversity?

Elizabeth Garrett: Diversity is one of the great strengths of an American university. Bringing diverse perspectives of all kinds to the faculty and students is what propels us forward in excellence and in the process of discovery. … I think that USC is similar to Cornell in the diversity of its student body. We have no majority, racial or ethnic groups in our student body.

“I believe we cannot tolerate sexual violence, assault, intimidation or harassment on our campuses.” — President-Elect Elizabeth Garrett

Another area I’ve been very proud to have been part of is emphasizing first-generation college goers in our undergraduate class. Fourteen percent of USC’s entering undergraduate class are first-generation college goers. And I think Cornell has a similar emphasis on that kind of diversity of socioeconomic and often racial and ethnic diversity that can be reflected in first-generation college goers. We has have 18 percent of our entering class at USC who are Pell grant eligible. Again, that shows economic diversity that I think is very important.

One of the things we did last year is we’ve looked at the diversity in our undergraduate student body. One of the struggles I think all of us in higher education have been facing is making sure to have African American students comprise a significant part of our undergraduate class and participate with us in this great experience. So we made a targeted effort last year to increase the number of African Americans in the undergraduate class by going to high schools where we knew that there were a significant number of African American students graduating and discussing with them the opportunities at USC. We were able to change that number quite significantly in this years class. Those are some of the kinds of things that I think are important to do as you think about building a diverse undergraduate class from the admissions standpoint.

We also at USC since I’ve been provost have been identifying segments of our student population that may not sometimes feel as connected as other parts or may face particular challenges in various kinds of aspects of higher education, and we’ve made a targeted outreach. For example, international students, comprise of about 17 percent of our entering class and I know they are a substantial part of Cornell’s student body. You know, they have some different challenges than domestic students — they’re further away from home, they may face cultural difference that are surprising to them [and] sometimes they don’t graduate in the same numbers as others at USC. We have been doing very targeted outreach for international undergraduate students and our graduate students, and making sure they feel at home and comfortable. Similarly with some of the racial and ethnic groups, we work very hard to make sure that they feel both integrated and also supported as groups. …

That’s the sort of broad description of how we’ve thought about it at USC on the student side, and I would want to continue those sorts of efforts because as I’ve said, I think diversity is not only fundamental to Cornell’s founding and in Cornell’s DNA, but because I think it is what makes the university experience in the United States such a special one.