October 19, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Cornell Refuses to Light Clock Tower Green, Citing “Tradition”

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To the editor:

America’s Veterans are some of our nation’s bravest, hardest-working ladies and gentlemen. However, it can be difficult to show them the appreciation they deserve after they hang up their uniform. Greenlight A Vet is a campaign established to create a visible national support for our Veterans by changing one light to green. Green is the color of hope, renewal and well-being. “Greenlight” is also a term commonly used to activate forward movement. The simple action of changing one light to green will spark a national conversation regarding the treatment and recognition of Veterans and “green light” them forward as valued members of our communities.

Recently, as president and co-founder of the Cornell Undergraduate Veterans Association, I requested to have the clock tower lit green for Veterans Day. The Cornell Chimes refused this request. Marisa LaFalce, the program coordinator for the Cornell Chimes, responded to Outlaw stating, “McGraw Tower is not lit for different occasions throughout the year, save for a handful of very long-standing university traditions.” This is the second year in a row that LaFalce has refused to support Veterans by participating in the “Greenlight a Vet program.”

Since LaFalce broached the topic of tradition, I would like to discuss it further. As New York State’s Land Grant University, Cornell has a “long-standing tradition” of supporting our Armed Forces that dates back to our founding in 1865. During WWI, Cornell commissioned almost 5,000 officers, more than any other institution in the United States, including the military academies. An additional 4,000 Cornellians, including faculty, alumni, students and staff, also served. During World War II, Cornellians had more than 20,000 serving in the armed forces and in every theater of war. As the only Ivy League University to host Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine ROTC programs, Cornell is one of three that offered continuous ROTC studies throughout the Vietnam era to today.

While serving their country, Veterans wear camouflaged uniforms, but ironically, once they return home from service, these men and women are even more camouflaged. Of the 14,000 undergraduate students at Cornell, only 22 are undergraduate Veterans. Nationally, Veterans make up five percent of students on college campuses; and Cornell has less than one percent. Because of our small percentage, Cornell Veterans arguably need a light of support, now more than ever.

As an institution that encourages research and innovation, I am shocked and disappointed that the Cornell Chimes would use “tradition” as a blanket to cover up their discrimination. Tradition has long been used as reasoning for not changing human behavior. If we maintained “tradition,” my mother and sister wouldn’t be able to vote, my uncle and his partner would not be able to get married, and Barack Obama would not be our president. Change can be difficult, but change is necessary.  Without change, we breed stagnation and complacency.  In this case, change is easy; it’s a light bulb. But this is so more than a light bulb; it’s a symbolic measure that Cornell cares about our Veterans, honors their service and is committed to their future.

David Outlaw ’17, president and co-founder of the Cornell Undergraduate Veterans Association