Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Students speak in support of a resolution calling for Indigenous Peoples’ Day to replace Columbus Day Thursday.

March 17, 2016

Student Assembly Supports Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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The Student Assembly passed three resolutions — creating an Indigenous Peoples’ Day to replace Columbus Day, recommending a return to need-blind financial aid process for international students and “banning the box” from employment applications at Cornell — at its Thursday meeting.

Many Cornellians attended the S.A. meeting to support the passage of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, after a student-run Facebook page urged community members to support the resolution.

The resolution calls for the University to recognize the second Monday of October — currently Columbus Day — as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Benjamin Oster ’17, co-president of the Cornell Chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, spoke on why his organization believes the resolution is important to underrepresented communities at Cornell.

“We are looking to raise a a stronger voice for Indigenous people on campus,” Oster said. “We would like better recognition from the community that Cornell is situated in  an area not only rich in Indigenous heritage, but rich in modern Indigenous culture.”

Oster added that he believes the University must recognize Indigenous history, saying that although Indigenous Peoples were removed from their traditional lands, their story is generally ignored at educational institutions.

“Our history has not always been a positive one and on today’s college campuses there are people who are recognizing that we need to step forward to resolve this,” Oster said.

Many students present voiced their support for Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Approximately 750 people also supported this resolution on Facebook, according to Oster.

Community member Christian Brickhouse ’17 expressed his support for the resolution, saying he believes it might pave the way for more diverse variety of programs celebrating indigenous cultures on campus.

“I think this is a great resolution because not only does it counteract the erasure of indigenous people, but it also provides us an opportunity for the creation of other programs and dialogue to increase [Indigenous Peoples’] visibility,” Brickhouse said.

The second resolution of the day was raised by Shivang Tayal ’16 and aims to challenge the University’s new need-aware financial aid policies for International Students, which was announced by Provost and Acting President Michael Kotlikoff in February.

“I think it is well established that the need-blind processes are supportive and helpful for students from many different backgrounds, whereas need-aware processes are ones that are unsupportive,” Tayal said.

The resolution argues that the new need-aware policy would not accept meritorious students who would have originally been accepted in the need-blind policy if they applied for financial aid but did not receive it.

“International students come all parts of the world,” Tayal added. “These students want educational opportunities in the U.S. because the opportunities in their countries are not good enough to get us good jobs and to help us achieve goals”

Students also voiced concerns about the administration’s failure to consult international students before making the switch to a new financial aid policy.

“The University has a responsibility to be an equalizer of society around the world and that’s why we need Cornell to be one of the few educational institutions that still abides by the need-blind process,” Tayal said.

The Student Assembly also passed resolution promoting the “ban the box” initiative. This resolution urges Cornell to remove questions about criminal history from its job applications to make the University a fair chance employer.

“This matters because it is incredibly difficult for people to get hired after reentry into society,” said Garrison Lovely ’16.

Lovely provided figures that stated that there are 70 million U.S. adults with conviction histories, saying that minorities are often harmed by the prejudice promoted by this policy.

“It is worse for people who are minorities because they are less likely to get a first interview if they check the box,” Lovely said. “We believe that people deserve a fair, second chance because without employment people who are recently released are more likely to go back to prison.”

“Ban the Box” is a nationwide movement that has been passed in 12 states and 100 cities across the country, including Ithaca. Lovely argued that because Cornell is the largest employer in Tompkins County and influences the labor market through its application policies, the administration should adopt this policy to set an example for other businesses in the area.

Some S.A. members raised concerns about this resolution, saying that the University should be aware if job candidates have been charged with felonies for safety reasons. Lovely was quick to answer that the University can still find out of criminal history, through steps like background check, after the conditional offer is made.