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At a time when dialogue about race relations has come to the forefront, three Cornell men’s basketball players are providing a forum for Ivy League minority students on the website IvyUntold.
Men’s basketball seniors Jordan Abdur-Ra’oof, Kyle Brown and junior Troy Whiteside, along with their friend senior Katie Kilbourne, have launched IvyUntold to fill a void by giving minority students in the Ivy League a platform to express their unique perspectives.
“There’s not a single narrative for any student on this campus and there’s not a single narrative for any minority group on this campus,” Abdur-Ra’oof said. “But I think it’s important that people can see [minorities] for who they are and see that they may have different experiences beyond the different stereotypes that they’re often confronted with.”
Abdur-Ra’oof said he came up with the idea for the website in the summer of 2016 when the Fisher v. University of Texas case reached the Supreme Court. The result of the case upheld the constitutionality of affirmative action.
He reached out to his friend and teammate, Troy Whiteside, to formulate a plan to turn this abstract idea into a reality. The duo then enlisted the help of Kyle Brown, an information science major, to build and maintain the IvyUntold website, and Katie Kilbourne, an English major who serves as the website’s editor-in-chief, joined this past January as the latest addition to the team.
“I thought it would be great if minorities had more of a voice on this campus [and others] because a lot of times they just need an opportunity to show their backgrounds and what great things they’re doing,” Abdur-Ra’oof said.
The website has featured pieces by a vast range of minorities, each shattering stereotypes in their own right. One story involves a Jamaican immigrant going from poverty to the Ivy League while another highlights a gay, Southern man in the military going from struggling with his sexuality to embracing it. The website also features a contribution from Cornell football linebacker Miles Norris, who wrote about his experience as a black athlete in Ithaca, among other East Hill contributors.
So far, the response to the forum has been overwhelmingly positive, with the contributors empowering not only those around them but also feeling liberated themselves by sharing their stories.
“I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me talking about how much they love the site,” Abdur-Ra’oof said. “I think it’s a good, positive impact that builds community rather than destroys it.”
“We’ve definitely seen a lot of positive impacts [on social media],” Whiteside added. “Students and other people we don’t even know have been following the stories and the website.”
The team hopes to be able to expand the reach of IvyUntold beyond just Cornell to the rest of the Ivy League and other prestigious colleges, such as Stanford and MIT.
But regardless of what the website eventually blossoms into, the group knows what they have produced is, at the very least, starting a dialogue for those who are often silenced.
“I have a lot of friends who are minorities, but we never spoke about race ever. We never spoke about their stereotypes,” Kilbourne said. “Cornell is kind of a bubble. A [majority] of people here are really accepting, but that’s not necessarily always the case.
“You can’t really know someone until you know what they’ve had to struggle through.”