moumita 3-30
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 associate-editor@cornellsun.com. 

  • Boris sergev

    You attend one of the most prestigious schools in the world. You have no reason to complain. We all have issues. We all have to deal with our personal struggles and it’s not always easy, but venting in an editorial makes you sound more entitled than the canada goose-wearing Jewish girls on campus. Don’t let anyone tell you not to take stem classes. Take them and push yourself. And grow up.

    • Moumita Basuroychowdhury

      Hello Boris,

      While I agree that we all have issues, it becomes a problem when I’m being denied entrance into a course on the basis of a personal stigma that sufferers of mental illness can’t perform, in spite of proper care. It’s an issue because I’m paying for this education. This advisor went so far as to tell me the professor had denied me a seat when it was in fact it was she who felt I would be better not taking the course. I eventually did take it, after going over her head to several people, and the relationship I formed with that professor is one that I cherish to this day. Yes, we all have issues, but it’s important to recognize when a very unique experience is not yours to trivialize. Complaining about the failure of the administration to deliver me the education I’m paying for, on the backs of my parents, does not mean that I’m not grateful for the education itself. I just understand the countering weight of tuition.

      While I understand my post is emotionally charged (written during a fiery, manic time), it’s not the burden of the oppressed to fix the situation. We get to complain. We especially get to complain in an opinion column, one of the few vessels we have on campus to voice our experiences. If there can be columns on ice cream, I can goddam talk about a hate crime. If claiming that voice back entitles me, then so be it. It’s always *interesting* to see the misbalance between the hate that floods these posts vs posts about cats, for an apparent disvalue for words. Makes me proud to have written it.

      Also, I do believe both men and women of many creeds and cultures wear those jackets Boris.

      • Boris segev

        You are clearly a smart person, and you should be glad to have taken that class. Sounds like you have a terrible advisor. Get a new one!

        As you know, Cornells a competitive place and no one is going to stop “oppressing” you. You have to be the one to take command of your education because no one here cares, which is good and bad.

        But this article makes you sound like a wimp. You think you sound like you’re fighting a righteous battle, but your “oppressor” aren’t even aware of it. They’re just in AEM or CS doing whatever it is they do. Seniors graduate and move to Wall Street.

        You’re spitting into the wind. Readers might try a new ice cream place someone writes about, but I guarantee you the world and Cornell will not change with this article. So why waste your time?

        This is my advice. Take it or leave it. Your life, your choice.

        • Moumita Basuroychowdhury

          I’m not trying to change the world with my post. I’m doing exactly what is expected of an opinion editorial. Why are you taking the time to write out what I’m supposedly doing wrong, in spite of knowing that I most likely will not adopt your unsolicited advice (hard pass)? Sometimes it’s important to place ideas in a common space, as limited as the audience may be. It encourages thought. Even this exchange is a small victory.

          Yes I know, the world isn’t fair. Your whole idea is fight or get eaten; I get it. Well, surprise, I can do that and write an op-ed too. It just offends you, for some ubiquitous reason, to read it.

  • Man with the Axe

    This sort of complaint, as heartfelt and sad as it is, is ubiquitous across the universities these days. Too many white people. Too few resources for the put-upon colored people. Life is hard, and I am not happy.

    Welcome to the human condition. It will never be the case that poor and wealthy people will find it easy to socialize. Only a totalitarian communist state can bring everyone to the same socio-economic level, and that is a low level indeed. It’s simply hard for a person of limited means to afford to do what wealthy people can do. Even as adults, people tend to congregate toward people at the same level. No one wants to be too poor to go to a fancy restaurant with richer friends. No one wants to feel badly by knowing that he is excluding poorer friends from an expensive activity.

    I’m not saying people of differing means can’t be friends. I’m saying that it’s harder, that’s all.

    When you leave the university that you complain so heartily about, you are going to be shocked to find that the wider world cares about you even less. Perhaps not at all. Your parents had it tough. You won’t have it nearly so tough. But you will have to steel yourself for the cold reception you will get from that real world.

    • Moumita Basuroychowdhury

      “No one wants to feel badly by knowing that he is excluding poorer friends from an expensive activity.” I just have to say, you had me until there. Call me cynical, but I think that’s the basis of class-based power structures. Folks strive to hop into that exclusion. That’s why the greek system thrives.

      I do agree that there is a facet of greek life that I failed to talk about, and that’s being able to afford living within the system itself (events, dues, etc.). I do agree I’ll have it tough once I leave the university, but I think that’s irrelevant to improving the experiences of minorities on campus right here, right now. Yes people will drift to those among their socioeconomic level, but it’s one thing to recognize that, and another to be a willing bystander as a mammoth institution. We could be doing more. I think you’d agree.

      • Man with the Axe

        Just to clarify the point I made: “No one wants to feel badly by knowing that he is excluding poorer friends from an expensive activity.” Over the course of my life I have been on both sides of this divide. I have been the poor person who could not afford to go with richer friends to an expensive meal or trip, and later in life I have been the (relatively) wealthier friend who had to be careful not to make poorer friends feel bad by inviting them to events they could not afford to attend.

        In either case, it is cause for distress. It’s not impossible to overcome these differences and still be friends, but it’s harder, and it’s human nature to avoid such unpleasantness whenever possible.

  • Jake

    Its funny that you complain about being oppressed, and yet your parents were basically given free money that led to opportunities to live on the East Coast which you are now reveling in. It is fairly obvious that your parents came here because it was a better place than the country they were originally in, but because the United States is not YOUR utopia, you seem to have this skewed idea that you are oppressed. Yet the reality is, the United States is a utopia for no one at all. It is not a perfect place, but it is one of the best places that you can be. You mistake flaws and imperfections for oppression. I often notice that when asked where is better in the world to live when someone is complaining about the US, many have no answer. Either that, or they respond by listing off some Scandinavian countries (with a higher proportion of whites than the US, and I don’t know how you would like that given how you seem to feel about white people). By your definition of oppression, I don’t think you could find a single person in the entire world that is not oppressed. Everything is about power and privilege to you, but your limited worldview ignores the nuances of the situation, like the fact that someone can be both powerful and powerless, and also oppressed and an oppressor. This postmodernist/Marxist view of the world is spreading like a horrible virus right now, and it is antithetical to everything that this country was founded upon. I am afraid that if you want your ideal vision for a society to be played out in real life, you need to go somewhere else. If immigration is something to be celebrated, why not try it out yourself?

  • eponine

    I appreciated your piece. Particularly, the absurd hypocrisy of Cornell’s professed “liberalism” and “inclusivity” while its social life requires being scrutinized, judged, and accepted into a Greek cult is what resonated with me. Greek life is a toxic pernicious preclusion to any professed value Cornell claims to espouse. I believe it is a root cause for the perpetuation of the segregation .

  • LBJ

    I am curious why you find it troubling 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. Where is the causation? Why is this statistic inherently bad? Really, I am curious to know. If you dislike fraternities, that’s fine. But don’t assume that your feelings render all statistics about fraternities “troubling” from points of view–like an objective one–other than your own.

    • Stop being so naive

      Those stats you drop are more telling about the system in general. What kinds of people have the privilege to spend their 4 years in college drinking like low life alcoholics, partying most weekends, and prioritizing their frats before their academics?

      Not the brown or black kid who comes from a disadvantaged family who needs to make sure he takes advantage of every opportunity he gets because daddy won’t get him a job at Goldman Sachs.

      And guess which assholes run this country? Not the brown or black kids who come from a disadvantaged families who needs to make sure he takes advantage of every opportunity he gets because daddy won’t get him a job at Goldman Sachs.

  • j

    As an alum I am proud of you for sharing your struggles and shining a light on your experiences. If those in the power structure don’t learn about the issues that others in the community face, and don’t read impactful personal stories like yours, they may never work to make the changes that will in the long run benefit us all. Keep up the great work!

  • DJT

    Might as well to just move to an isolated hut in the woods to live out the rest of your life. Tired of entitled special snowflakes. Life is hard. More action less whining!

    • Susan P

      So surprised to see how much venom comes out against this very articulate expression of an experience most of the responders know nothing about. Why is it so hard to shut up and listen? What do you have to lose by listening to this woman’s experience? She is speaking the experience of many other students at Cornell. there is nothing entitled about wanting to be treated on par with other students. I encourage the angry responders to consider that they know absolutely nothing about this lived experience and will only grow by quieting down and opening up.