Over 100 students surrounded Gretchen Ritter ’83, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, outside her office Friday to demand greater funding and institutional support for ethnic and identity based programs at Cornell.
“Cornell as an institution boasts about its diversity, but what it neglects is the lack of support for these programs,” Tiffany Fotopoulos ’18 announced to the crowd. “The University as an institution cares about what is profitable, about what fields of study can produce the most money instead of what fields can actually educate students.”
Multiple students voiced that Cornell focuses mainly on educational programs that push “profitable career goals” and “professional development,” rather than supporting programs for ethnic studies, LGBT Studies and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies.
“The University fails to see these programs as more than identity development and cultural immersion,” Fotopoulos said. “These programs are first and foremost academic spaces that teach a universal knowledge. They’re about teaching and critiquing the structures and systems that determine who belongs, who is the Other, who is excluded, who most bear the deep injustices that are clear throughout our history.”
Students also expressed frustration at the University’s lack of progress and accountability on following through with a Student Assembly Resolution to establish a major for Asian American Studies from one year ago.
Emily Dong ’18 called the University’s lack of funding and inaction to establish the major “unsurprising.”
“It has become clear that the University does only not care about Asian American Studies but also other ethnic studies, gender studies and sexuality studies programs,” she told the crowd, who broke out into applause.
Dong said that student action throughout history is the reason that ethnic studies programs exist on campus, despite the fact that these programs consistently receive inadequate resources from the University.
“It was us who started these programs from the beginning,” she said. “It was us who had to fight and fight and fight to establish programs that explicitly acknowledged and taught systems of oppression and ignored histories.”
Specific challenges that programs currently face include funding, autonomy and lack of faculty numbers, according to multiple testimonial speakers.
After reading dozens of testimonials to Dean Ritter, students demanded that the University create university-wide interdisciplinary majors in each ethnic studies program, including Asian American, FGSS and LGBTQ studies, among others.
Other demands included turning ethnic and identity-based studies into the individual departments with concrete support from the University, increasing the number of tenure-track lines, and funding and renewing the search for more program tenure-track faculty.
Ritter told the students that she would welcome a discussion with them on their demands.
“It’s time for the University to step up,” Dong said. “This fight for ethnic studies, LGBT studies, FGSS is a fight for me, for you, for everyone. This is a fight for academic programs that matter and think we matter, too.”
“We won’t stop fighting until our programs receive the support they deserve,” she told the crowd.
Correction: a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Ritter did not comment to the gathered group of students. In fact, Ritter did speak to the students and said that she would welcome further discussion with them on their demands.