Omar Abdul-Rahim / Sun Contributor

Renee Alexander ’74 and Amber Aspinall ’17 discuss demands set by Black Students United at the Cornell Center for Intercultural Dialogue.

February 19, 2016

Black Students United Promises Further Protests, Urges Day Hall to Address Demands

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Correction appended

Members of Black Students United expressed disappointment with their progress in implementing a list of demands delivered to the Cornell administration and promised future action on campus at a meeting on Thursday.

Amber Aspinall ’17,  political action chair of BSU, spoke of the past, present and future of student activism, saying that many of the demands are the same demands that students have been making for the last 50 years.

“This is a history that we’ve inherited, and I take that history and that legacy very seriously,” Aspinall said. “A lot of the demands unfortunately have been things that people have been talking about for decades. The big question is if we’re having these conversations over and over again, what conversations aren’t we having?”

The administration has been receptive to several of their demands, including changing the name of the Cornell Plantations, setting up weekly support groups at Gannett for students of color and dedicating career services staff members to minority recruiting, according to Aspinall.

While she believes these demands can be met quickly, Aspinall said some of the demands will take more time and effort, specifically instituting a diversity curriculum.

One student spoke in favor of a diversity curriculum by highlighting her experience in an intergroup dialogue class facilitated by students.

“I think it is a lot easier for students to tear down those walls and face the challenges or the issues that oftentimes would be ignored in the presence of staff members when they’re discussing it amongst peers,” the student said. “I took the class and it was a process. You could feel yourself changing before you even knew that you were actually actively making a difference.”

Attendees also discussed how they hope to achieve change on campus using protests — like the takeover of Trillium that occurred earlier this year.

“The idea is to disrupt business as usual,” Aspinall said. “That is the point of a protest, to disrupt. It is often interesting when we get backlash saying ‘you guys were a distraction.’”

Speaking directly to the administrators, Aspinall promised future protests.

“I know there are some administrators in the room, and I’ll tell you this right now, we are going to continue to shut things down,” Aspinall said. “Meetings will not replace the direct disruption of your offices. It is a process.”

Some of BSU’s demands are related to divestment from the private prison system, and the administration’s response to these issues has been less promising, according to Aspinall.

“When we talk about changing campus climate, we can talk to Vice President Lombardi and we can talk to President Garrett because they have control over here, but supreme control, a phrase listed in Cornell documents, rests with the board of trustees,” Aspinall said. “When we talk about money, old white men’s money, that is another whole conversation that is a lot more difficult to get success in.”

Throughout the meeting, members of the audience expressed their appreciation for the Black Students United and the work that continues to advance the group.

“You are very thoughtful, very aware of what is happening here on this campus as well as what is happening around the country and around the world,” a Gannett staff member present at the meeting said.  “You really help to educate people on this campus although I know that at times is exhausting.”

Correction: A previous headline of this story misidentified Black Students United as “Black Students Union.”