December 2, 2015

Letter to the Editor: A Response to Lee Bender ’84

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Re: “Letter to the Editor: A Change for the Worse,” Opinion, Dec. 2.

With all due respect, no one asked for your opinion and, to be frank, we’re pretty ashamed of it. Although we don’t expect every Cornell alumnus to understand today’s campus climate or the experience of students of color at Cornell, we do expect someone who graduated from this prestigious university to approach complex problems like this one with a shred of intellectual curiosity and with an empathy that attempts to accurately understand the real conversation happening on our campus. When you accuse students of fighting for “safe spaces,” you fail to try to see what students of color are actually interested in combatting.

When students of color are fighting for better graduation rates, the same resources that white students are granted, a faculty composition that represents our diverse university and for a campus free of slurs and derogatory remarks, they are not asking for too much. Instead, they are responding to the insidious reality that white privilege dominates this campus. As a white, double legacy student, you weren’t at a statistical risk to not graduate, no one ever called you the n-word and you were likely connected with alumni, students and faculty when you stepped on to campus in the early 1980s. When you spoke with armed campus police, you could be certain that they represented your best interests — that they were there to keep you safe.

You call our generation “coddled, narcissistic, self-absorbed, thin-skinned young people, permanent ‘victims,’ who will be ill-equipped to function effectively in the real world.” This narrative is tired. I encourage you to come back to The Hill to see students double and triple majoring at higher rates than your generation, getting involved in more campus activities than ever before and launching their careers in varying, impressive ways. This is all happening while we steadily increase the racial and socioeconomic diversity of our student population and the number of first generation students that attend. Not to mention that we also face astronomically higher tuition, rent and food costs than you did, are often asked to work two or three jobs to pay the bills and still graduate with burdensome amounts of student debt.

You may notice that every signatory on this letter is white. This is deliberate. It’s important that you understand that students of color are not the only students who believe that change needs to happen. We hear — with far too much frequency — that protesters should stop whining and appreciate the opportunity to even attend a university like Cornell. Those messages falsely presume that students of color protesting are the only ones who believe that Cornell is broken.

We’re not writing today to speak for or to take the microphone away from our peers who are fighting for the same equality that you erroneously assume was secured forty years ago. Rather, we’re here to say shame on you for daring to take that microphone away, all the while knowing that those students of color who have bravely grabbed it will keep fighting, talking and holding it no matter what. We write in support of their work. We are sorry your article will continue to spread misinformation with minimal context. We don’t say that in pity as they certainly don’t need it. We say it because during moments like this one, we don’t know what else to say.

What we do know is that those students have, and will continue to make, this university a more productive place and will leave as the “respectable leaders” that you ask them to be. Whether or not they become those leaders in a way that you, or others who share your perspective, find respectable is of no concern to us.

Jordan Berger ’17

Blake Brown ’17

Emily Decicco ’16

Michael Ferrer ’16

Elizabeth Gorman ’18

Kendall Grant ’16

Matt Indimine ’18

Emma Johnston ’16

Adam Shelepak ’17

Matthew Stefanko ’16