August 31, 2016

TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT | An Exciting Year for Cornell

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It’s the beginning of a new school year, and there is much to be celebrated. From launching the College of Business to welcoming a whole slew of top-level administrators, Ithaca is teeming with new and exciting changes. This year, we welcome Cornellians in the class of 2020, and trust that they will continue to pioneer the innovative and progressive energy that infiltrates Cornell. Like the class of 2020, this year marks a welcoming change for me too. This year, I begin my journey as the graduate student-elected trustee. I would like to take a moment to explain my role and vision for the upcoming year.

You may remember the election at the end of last year as a time of seemingly endless (and pervasive) quarter-carding, tabling and email blasts. I know many of you became somewhat familiar with the graduate student trustee’s role during the election. For those of you who may not know, the graduate student trustee, along with the undergraduate student trustee, are the two student-elected representatives on the Cornell University Board of Trustees. There are also alumni trustees, faculty and staff trustees, as well as Board-elected trustees.

Functionally, the Board of Trustees oversees the University’s finances, and votes on and enacts key decisions made on the Ithaca campus, as well as at Weill Cornell Medical College and Cornell Tech in New York City. The graduate student-elected trustee is the liaison between students and the Board, and strives to provide the most accurate student perspective on key decisions. With the unexpected and painful loss of President Elizabeth Garrett this year, members of the Board (including myself) are proactively searching for yet another brilliant, intrepid and admirable leader to honor her place.

Cornell is unique in that it is the only school in the Ivy League to have students represented at the highest level of decision-making with full voting powers. The origins of this role are the product of Cornell’s egalitarian founding, and the ideal that this institution was founded on: “Any Person, Any Study.”
In the case of the graduate student-elected trustee, that means that it is my job to effectively communicate with graduate and undergraduate students on issues facing the community. As I assume my position, I’d like to begin by emphasizing the importance of campus inclusivity.

Even before the 1969 takeover, Cornell was a premiere model for campus diversity and inclusion. Just last year, however, many incidents and movements challenged this position. The term “inclusivity” should not be construed as to solely apply along racial and gender lines. People come to Cornell from all walks of life, bearing diverse perspectives and a wealth of knowledge. We must continue to foster campus diversity and inclusivity to ensure that Cornell can remain a place of comfort, growth, and discovery for all students, faculty members, and administrators. In turn, we will strengthen our community perspectives, improve our campus culture, and perpetuate the innovations that make the Cornell experience laudable. While Yamini Bhandari, my undergraduate trustee counterpart, and many other student trustees before her have begun to address this issue, I would like to further their efforts this year.

Yamini and I will be co-writing this column to share our insights on issues we believe are pertinent to the Cornell community. Our goal is to provide readers- be it students or administrators- with a sense of the work being done to improve our campus. In doing so, we hope to inspire healthy discussions among community members, and shed light on key issues. This column is a space for dialogue, and I encourage anyone in the Cornell Community to reach out to me with questions, comments, or concerns.

This is our year. As the presidential search continues, we must ask ourselves: what improvements do we strive to be implemented on our campus, and what qualities do we seek from our University leaders? Whether one advocates for increased transparency between students and the Board, or the expanded use of technology in the classroom, Cornell has always been a place of tremendous respect and credence in our community members’ voices. I hope this year brings increased connectivity between the campus community and the Board, along with heightened community involvement in the face of controversial issues.

Dara Brown is the graduate student-elected trustee. She can be reached at [email protected]. Trustee Viewpoint appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.