January 24, 2017

TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT | Finding a Voice

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Aziz Ansari, this week’s SNL host, expressed an important sentiment during his opening bit. “Change doesn’t come from presidents. Change comes from large groups of angry people,” he noted in reference to the millions of people around the world that came together for the Women’s March. Ithaca played its role in this national phenomenon as thousands of students, professors and Ithacans came together for the Women’s March in Ithaca. Like many of you, our social media feeds were filled with pictures and messages displaying throngs of Americans coming together and using their voices to fight for equality.

One of the biggest takeaways we’ve received from a Cornell education is seeing the power of students coming together to fight for change. Institutions like Cornell change when they are pushed to change through organized actions. Recent examples of this include the Fight the Fee and the Save the Pass movements led by student activists. Now more than ever, this spirit of empowerment can be channeled into joining collective action movements.

Turning out for protests following the election and for the Women’s March are a start, but continually challenging and pushing institutions will require us to be real and active allies for communities. It is important to listen to the challenges of all communities that are hurting and work together using the lessons we learn here on the hill to come together and push for change. Every week there are several events and opportunities to learn about issues in our community and the global community. We implore you all to consider your education as a lived experience inside and outside of the classroom. If the election has taught us anything, it’s that our country is divided. The challenges of the future require students at places like Cornell to learn to engage in and question our surroundings.

So what are some ways that we can come together as a community to discuss policy changes  that impact our campus climate? Just on Monday, President Trump signed three executive orders. The President’s reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule in particular sparked media attention not only because of its policy implications, but because of the message it sent to the millions of women who marched just days before. In our efforts to best facilitate discussions and to hear student perspectives on the policy changes to come, we have to hold our campus organizations, news sources and even our faculty accountable for addressing these changes. After all, what’s the use of studying administrative law if we can’t  turn a keen eye to the impact of former President Obama’s policy initiatives or see how President Trump may seek to overturn them? What’s a women’s march in Ithaca without the participation of the Women’s Law Coalition or campus debriefs on how to be an effective ally when issues may not be directly felt by you?

Practical methods for addressing the potentially hostile policy changes to come may include (1) allowing for students to voice their sentiments regarding these policies in open forums; (2) encouraging students to create a collective of individuals who share their concerns and (3) proposing a campus initiative to mitigate the harm these policy changes may have upon our community. All three of the aforementioned methods were used to address the election’s impact on DACA students. Students voiced their sentiments and fears at student governance meetings. Over 2,200 Cornellian signed a petition expressing collective concern over potential shifts in federal policy. In response, the administration came together to honor its funding commitment to DACA students and provided free legal assistance to these members of our community.

If we allow for these policy changes to occur without addressing them and they create a hostile environment for our students, we have not lived up to our mission of maintaining a campus where every one of us is accounted for.

For years, Cornell has been a symbol of the power of protesting and using our voices for further change. We hope that students returning to campus can continue channeling that voice throughout their time here.

Dara Brown is the graduate student-elected trustee. She can be reached at dpb73@cornell.edu. Yamini Bhandari is the undergraduate student-elected trustee. She can be reached at yb94@cornell.edu. Trustee Viewpoint appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.