March 29, 2017

GUEST ROOM | The Land of the Canada Goose

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On a complimentary cot, one-year-old nugget me flew across the ocean blue to America. My family moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where my mom babysat, made diapers out of clothes and relied on governmental programs like WIC to keep me fed. The O.G. dumpster divers, my parents furnished rooms with trashed treasures.

Modest beginnings and hard work gave bloom to comfort. We tumbled up the East Coast, moving every year of my childhood. I saw America through my neighborhoods, heard it on radio stations. By high school, my parents had earned graduate degrees. I owe my ease entirely to their struggle.

While Ithaca is rad, the number of Canada Goose jackets per capita on this campus astounds me. Each jacket, initially made for scientists working on Antarctica(!), could feed 800 kids.

I’ve heard of gluttonous consumers hating their money, but the complacency that accompanies leaving these sleeping bags lying around at parties floors me.

On this predominately liberal campus, a segregation still thrives. Whether a result of self-preservation or exclusion, the divide between racial groups and socioeconomic classes persists. In spite of our diversity, social circles and many student organizations are largely homogenous. The largest one, the Greek system, is a bastion for disparity — the majority of its members being white, wealthy and often private school educated. It’s troubling when you learn that 80 percent of Fortune 500 executives, 76 percent of U.S. congressmen, and 85 percent of supreme court justices have been in a fraternity.

It’s difficult to reconcile that with what I assumed higher education preluded, a disruption of tradition. While my friends spearhead progressive initiatives on campus, they live with people misrepresentative of our numbers. It’s a generational problem that perpetuates poisons like cronyism and institutional oppression far beyond Ithaca.

Some time ago, I was raped in a bedroom, called a flurry of racial slurs and dragged from my quietly oppressive America. Kind words from friends cushioned the blow, but two of my closest jumped ship because of an innate inability to empathize. My reality turned psychedelic. I planned a trip to Memphis to listen to blues, said I’d stay in a tent and live off of canned soup. I was teetering on some edge, losing my mind. By grace of an elemental salt, everything was still again.

To salvage my academics, I carried the burden of explanation. On the subject of disabilities, one advisor talked about how her mother often made her insecure too. Another asked if I was happy that I had transferred, implying academic hiccups were result of a lack of effort or intelligence. They barred me from enrolling into STEM classes and suggested alternate majors. The kind oppressor robs you of opportunity to save you from the struggle.

Through offense and bruise, I experienced the cascade of prejudice. I envied students with the gift of stability growing up and the white women respected more than me. I felt my cheap ephemerality in social/romantic ties and educational spaces, and I was torched by people’s inherent freedom and endowed ability to learn and resist on this campus.

There’s faith that our campus isn’t just an extension of our country. Cornell is gilded, like the performative “humanitarian” douche on Tinder. Sure, we’re diverse, but the support ends there. We still offer scattered rooms and minimal funds to minorities; for example, The Center for Intercultural Dialogue, The Asian & Asian American Center, The IDP, SDDI, The African, Latino, Asian, Native American SPB and The LGBTQ+ Resource Center exist in a tiny house. Our staff is still 78 percent white, and over a period of nine years, the Now Campaign fished ~$36 million for Faculty Renewal, ~$10 million for Library Collections, but ~$4 million for Faculty Diversity from donors. Education isn’t nearly as powerful as example.

Food insecurity is still a major issue, and the only solution to mitigate it has come from students. We’re still stringing nets across bridges/stressing crisis lines in the nature of a reactive mental health system instead of hiring more than ~27 counselors/psychiatrists to serve 2,800 students —  at NYU, the cost of one counselor can be covered by retaining two students. There are even economic benefits to universities supporting their students to graduation since students’ eventual social contributions entice donors.

We should craft a mental-health section during orientation going beyond stress management, and we should use online/text mediums to satiate space scarcity. We’ve been trying to expand Gannett for over a decade after it was first deemed significantly undersized for the population. Many of my peers struggle daily with ableism.   If it’s known that our primary medical resource has been strained to capacity, awareness among staff should be reinforced beyond one-time training.

Calling to abolish the Greek system is idealistic, because that vacuum would be filled with something similar, and more pertinent, it’s a conduit for donors. If this sectarian system quantitatively equates to success, we should go beyond filling a diversity acceptance quota. Systematic oppression doesn’t molt away. Donors who perpetuate  their narrow ideals keep minorities underrepresented in the most powerful echelons of society. There’s no pressure on chapters to be more inclusive. For instance, the recruitment guides past rush were majority white or white-passing. Coupled with that representation, there aren’t diversity positions on councils. We should aid minorities in taking advantage of this mammoth network directly or by incentivizing houses to do so. Greek housing is one of the cheapest housing options. Maybe the dance of perspectives will take down the heteronormative, classist, misogynistic structures still loitering. While many use a few exceptions to naively romanticize the current situation, here is the rule.

Nearly all the wonderful people I’ve met here appreciate and cherish differences, but are unable to reverse practices so deeply ingrained in Cornell’s history during their time, leaving administration free to capitalize on turnover. So, I’ll spend my last summer taking in all of Ithaca’s beauty, groovin’ at Grassroots. I hope one day students won’t legally change their ethnic names to attract recruiters, lines won’t be longer behind female recruiters because “she’ll be easier” and one won’t have to pass by drunk Ivy Leaguers dancing to “Take a Walk.”

For anyone feeling like a tiny fish in a massive sea, “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”  Trust solidarity, and don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Moumita Basuroychowdhury is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. Guest Room runs periodically throughout the semester. Comments may be sent to [email protected]