October 15, 2014

‘Disorientation Guide’ Slams University With List of Grievances

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A 20-page-long “Disorientation Guide” listing grievances against Cornell — such as its lack of campus governing bodies with power, consolidation of “patriarchal class power through fraternity culture” and racism — has been circulating online since Oct. 1.

The guide was written by a group of students who prefer to remain anonymous, according to Tatiana Sverjensky grad, who circulated the guide on Facebook. She added that it was produced in conjunction with guides from schools all over the country, including Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University and Oberlin College.

“It’s interesting to see that campus administrations nationwide have been so unresponsive to student concerns that students are now having to develop and disseminate guides for one another in order to simply keep each other informed about how universities are actually functioning today,” Sverjensky said.

Sverjensky added that Cornell “has shown itself to be antagonistic to most students’ interests.” The guide expands upon this, saying that Cornell “primarily exists for its own profit,” calling it a “degree factory” that charg[es] students a fortune to prepare them for jobs that won’t exist for them.”

“Administrators pressure graduate students to speed through their research before throwing them out onto a collapsing academic job market,” the guide says.

The University could not be reached for a comment about the guide Wednesday night

The Disorientation Guide’s grievances against the University are divided into 11 sections, including one about Cornell’s governance system. The guide criticizes four legislative bodies — Student Assembly, Faculty Senate, University Assembly and Employee Assembly — saying they are a “way that the administration pacifies and de-mobilizes the community, trying to convince us that everything is fine and that we are being heard.”

It claims that because the S.A. has only “symbolic power,” there is an “extremely low turnout” for elections.

“The races are decided primarily by the candidate with the largest, wealthiest and most powerful social network,” the guide says. “Consequently, a disproportionate number of seats are won by members of [fraternities] and sororities.” The guide does not go on to include figures supporting these claims.

Kushagra Aniket ’15, director of elections for the S.A., said that voter turnout for this fall’s freshmen race was around 42 percent for the class, which was higher than it has been in previous years.

“While I cannot comment on any individual publication, I do believe that my work speaks for itself. It has been our effort to ensure that candidates do not get any unfair advantage by violating election rules,” he said.

Juliana Batista ’16, executive vice president for the S.A., said she welcomes criticism of the S.A., but would “give some pushback on the doubt about the S.A.’s composition.”

“From my opinion the statement is unfounded. I take pride that in comparison to the past and our current peer universities, the Cornell S.A. is diverse on many levels whether that be campus involvement, political dispositions, racial, religious, gender, among others,” she said.

Yamini Bhandari ’17, vice president for outreach for the S.A., added that she feels that frustration about policies are understandable, the comments about the S.A. in the Disorientation Guide are misguided.

“I don’t think one characterization of the S.A. is completely true for all members,” she said. “Personally, I come from an immigrant family and I have an on-campus job to help support my education financially. While I am also a part of Greek like, that’s not true for every member of the S.A. With regards to voter turnout, this is an area that we are working on, and would love to work with students on improving.”

Another section of the guide deals with Cornell’s Greek culture, describing fraternities as “a fun way of consolidating class power by getting drunk together, doing stuff to women without asking, ritualistically punishing one another and harassing people who just happen to be on the other side of systemic social oppressions.”

The guide goes on to say that sororities “spend a lot of time calculating how to ensure their future basic security and social recognition through dating and hooking up with men.”

Corey Matthews ’16, president of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, said she believes these claims are uninformed and narrow-minded.

“No one would suggest that Greek life does not face real challenges at Cornell, but it is simply untrue that our women’s groups exist largely for the purposes of social classification and sexual liaisons,” Matthews said. “Frankly, the romantic relationships our members maintain with men or women is the business of those women and no one else. The assumptions made about those relationships made in this ‘guide’ are hypocritical and simply reinforce the need for women’s groups.”

Another section of the guide talks about how the administration “especially ignores students of color.” It references an incident from last October, where a Cinco de Mayo-themed marketing campaign to promote a football game encouraged students to dress up and offered a prize for the best costume.

“While bias incidents and racist microaggressions are a feature of daily life for students of color on Cornell’s campus, the administration treats the symptoms of this problem instead of actually intervening to change students’ or their own internalized oppressive worldviews,” the guide says.

Nadia May ’16 said she agreed with the guide, saying that Cornell “doesn’t put nearly enough effort” to resolve these bias issues.

“I hope that instead of racist events just being canceled, we can get formal apologies for why they shouldn’t have been planned in the first place,” May said.

After ending the Cinco de Mayo-themed promotion, Jeff Hall, associate director of athletics for sales and marketing, wrote a letter to the editor of The Sun apologizing for the “insensitive marketing campaign.”

Surayya Diggs ’17, a member of Black Students United and the Women of Color Coalition, said she also supports the guide’s stance on Cornell’s inclusion efforts.

“This guide is used to paint Cornell in its real light: a business that has little concern for those parties who do not benefit the school economically,” Diggs said.

Daniel Marshall ’15, who has been involved with movements on campus including the Save the Pass Coalition — a group of students and organizations concerned with TCAT funding — said he feels the guide shifts the discourse on campus in a “really necessary way.”

“Through its everyday operations, Cornell disrupts people’s lives in massive, irreversible ways,” he said. “When a sexual assault survivor is asked to continue to go to the same school as their rapist, when Cornell legitimizes the Israeli occupation of Gaza, when a dining hall worker is laid off for two months out of the year — not long enough to get unemployment — to cut costs that were increased through unnecessary building projects, it ruins the lives of millions of people.”

Finally, the guide advocates disrupting the University’s upcoming sesquicentennial celebration, which it calls a “fancy 150th birthday party that [Cornell] is throwing itself this year.”

Anna-Lisa Castle ’14, a former student activist, said she feels that the sesquicentennial anniversary “warrants celebration but also serious critical reflection.”

“Cornell could stand to be humbled,” she said. “When an institution like Cornell behaves zealously garish, it becomes difficult for members of the community who are suffering or are committed to principles of justice and equality to hold their tongues.”