President Elizabeth Garrett and Ryan Lombardi, vice president of student and campus life, held a question and answer forum during Thursday’s Student Assembly meeting that allowed students to bring up issues that included diversity, financial aid and sexual assault on campus.
“We intend to work with you to continue to strive to provide excellent education in the classroom, outside the classroom, in our community and throughout the world,” Garrett said.
She added that in order for her and Lombardi to effectively step into their new roles at the University, they know they must listen to student voices and perspectives.
Samari Gilbert ’17, co-president of Black Students United, started the question portion of the forum by asking Garrett how she would take the concerns of students of color more seriously.
Garrett responded by pointing out Cornell’s history of egalitarian culture and added that there are many different types of diversity.
“I believe that what we ought to do is to talk with our student groups, hear some of the groups who may be struggling with particular issues, in some cases it’s students of color, in some cases it’s international students, in some cases transfer students face issues that are different, and what we need to do is to … address the particular challenges that they are facing,” she said.
Matthew Battaglia ’16, chair of the University Assembly, spoke next about students who did not qualify for financial aid but were still unable to afford tuition and asked Garrett what she intended to do to decrease the number of students who fell in that category.
Garrett responded, however, that she does not believe a reduction in tuition is likely to occur in the future.
“It is extraordinarily important to me that we are successful to students who will thrive here and go out and change the world,” Garrett said. “What we do here is expensive … I don’t think we serve anybody well in pretending it’s not expensive or in pretending that we’re going to be able to reduce tuition. I don’t see that ever happening.”
Moving the conversation toward allocation of University resources, Jevan Hutson ’16, former president of LGBT student union Haven, asked Garrett how she plans to increase funding for programs and resources for students on campus.
Hutson also said he believes the University allocates less money to student resources compared to Cornell’s peer institutions. However, Garrett was quick to respond, saying that she could not verify his claim.
“It is important for institutions to look at what they are doing every three to five years and make sure that they are doing the best that they can and that they are allocating resources to current priorities as opposed to past priorities,” she said.
Following Hutson, Diana Li ’16, S.A. undesignated-at-large representative, asked Garrett for her opinion on University rules concerning relationships between students and people in positions of power on campus, citing resident advisors, teaching assistants, lab professors and even professors as potential figures in power.
In response to Li’s question, Garrett said that the Faculty Senate is currently discussing rules concerning relationships between students and faculty members that may or may not have authority over the students.
“I encouraged the Faculty Senate to reach out to the Student Assembly … and to talk to you guys,” Garrett said. “I think you all have input that ought to be heard and ought to be considered as these sorts of policies are considered.”
Closing out the forum, Garrett said that moving forward she and her administration will continue listening to students and learning about campus culture. She also assured students that her administration already has planned initiatives underway.
Echoing Garrett, Lombardi added he believes he needs to first acclimate toward Cornell’s campus culture before implementing initiatives and that he appreciates the student body’s patience.