November 17, 2015

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: A Letter on Behalf of the Cornell Latinx Delegation

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To the Editor:

This past weekend, Brown University held the 10th Annual Latinx Ivy League Conference where delegations from each Ivy League institution were in attendance. The purpose of the conference is to bring Latinx students from each institution together in order to discuss issues related to their respective campus communities, as well as the broader Latinx community. Friday night, a party was held at Brown University’s Machado house. Those who attended from our delegation reported feeling unsafe within Machado, as they were met with armed security officers at the front door. At one point during the night, there was an altercation between Dartmouth College student Geovanni Cuevas and a security officer who eventually “slammed [him] against the wall and slammed [him] to the ground. Meanwhile they accused [him] of resisting when [he] wasn’t, and scraped [his] face and chin. [He] was then detained outside of Machado until Brown students could verify [his] identity and the security officers finally let [him] go.”

The next morning, the conference had intended to start off their activities with two keynote speakers; instead, Geo recounted what had occurred at the party the night prior. We were shocked to hear that one of our own had faced assault by an officer. Needless to say, it was difficult to move past his retelling. One of our community members, at a space where we were supposed to discuss these issues, experienced violent assault by a security officer, highlighting the very need for organizing and hosting these kind of spaces, such as the conference. The incident only emphasized our insecurities as students of color on campuses, a feeling that we are constantly reminded of as we enter predominantly white spaces. As a response, we, the Cornell delegation, along with the other Latinx Ivy League delegations, have created a list of demands and subsequent letter from all eight Ivy League institutions. Along with this effort, the Brown delegation also held an open forum, following the drafting of the demands, where the larger community of students of color within Brown University were invited to come in to express their grievances towards their university president, Christina Paxson.

Overall, the Cornell delegation felt that the experience was emotionally taxing. Specifically, in the forum, we witnessed fellow students of color openly expressing their anguish. Some were brought to tears after having to thoroughly and repeatedly explain their frustrations to their own president. We could feel the high emotions and tension within the room.The incident exemplified the way that our communities were and are suffering as we continuously fight to be treated equally. We had collectively reached a breaking point, and this was even more evident amongst the Brown students in attendance who were aware of their own struggles on Brown’s campus.

Despite the incident occurring at Brown University, it is important to note that it is not the only institution of higher education that is rampant with diversity issues. We directly want to address the fact that all Ivy League presidents were contacted, including our own President Garrett, with mixed responses from each university. Our president has yet to contact us directly in any way in order to ensure our safety, nor has she even addressed the incident and the issues it has raised in any capacity. President Garrett, along with others in upper-level administration, has also failed to publically acknowledge other incidences of racism that have recently occurred in institutions of higher education throughout the country, including Yale University, University of Missouri, Ithaca College, University of Kansas and Purdue University, to name a few. Although each school faces their own unique challenges specific to their campuses, we are still faced with similar struggles collectively as students of color in higher education. These are not necessarily individual occurrences, but rather are ones that interconnected. They present a prevalent issue of systemic racism and the constant marginalization of other identities within higher education.

The statement written by the delegates of the Latinx Ivy League Conference directly addresses these issues within Brown University as well as the other Ivy League schools. One demand that directly addresses the lack of response from President Garrett is the call for “[o]ne public statement from all Ivy League presidents responding to each bullet on this list, stating how they will implement similar solutions at their home institutions. This publication must include the amount of funding allocated toward each respective Ivy League’s diversity and inclusion programs, and be released by Monday, November 23, 2015.”

Given the events on campuses across the nation, we demand that President Garrett and Chief of Police Kathy Zoner make a pledge to ensure the safety of people of color and other marginalized identities. The pledge must be made public in some way so that it is not only our delegation’s commitment to make sure they follow through, but the entire campus’. We will ensure that the administration follows suit on all of our demands and hopefully create a space for dialogue between one another.

To the Cornell community, specifically the students of color on this campus: We want to express our need for greater inter-community cohesion. While at Brown, we were impressed with the efficiency displayed by the larger community of color to mobilize within a few hours to express grievances at the improv forum with President Paxton. They immediately came together to take action; this coincides with what was detailed within our statement to administration: “As urgently as we’ve addressed this incident, we expect an equally urgent response. We demand immediate action, and will hold our institutions accountable until complete and appropriate action is taken and sustained.” Although it began as an issue amongst Latinx students, it branched out to encompass the other students of color within Brown’s campus who understood, and could relate to, this shared struggle. We believe that issues like police brutality aren’t just exclusive to the Latinx community. It, along with many other issues, is shared amongst all students of color. Despite this, it is also important to remember the effects of anti-Blackness specifically, even amongst our own individual communities. Solidarity is powerful. A unified  community of students of color in a predominantly white institution is powerful. We must work as a united front in order to move towards greater change in institutions of higher education.

We, the Cornell Latinx Delegation, invite all students of color to attend La Asociación Latina’s Cafe con Leche this Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, at 6 p.m. to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the Day Hall Takeover. We will meet outside Day Hall, where we will walk collectively to the Latino Living Center. Students will be given background information regarding the 1993 campaign, followed by a dialogue concerning this past weekend’s events, as well as an in depth discussion on our campus climate for students of color at Cornell.

Unidxs en la lucha,

On behalf of The Cornell Latinx Ivy League Conference Delegation,

Benjamin Nicolas Hernandez ’16

Paola Muñoz ’17

Sarah Zumba ‘18

You can find the full statement from the Collective of Delegates attending the 2015 Latinx Ivy League Conference at Brown University here.