Student Assembly issued a statement on Saturday evening meant to rally Cornellians together following an assault in Collegetown on Friday possibly motivated by racism, but the statement divided some assemblymembers themselves.
The statement — the result of nearly seven hours of deliberation among some S.A. members — recalled Cornell’s history, fraught with racial tension despite the University’s “any person, … any study” creed.
But it also included some additional lines, such as the declaration that “Cornell Tech was built with the support of an institution that has led to the loss of thousands of lives in the Palestine-Israel Conflict.”
S.A., in the statement, also called upon “the members of color on the executive board of the [Interfraternity Council] to explain and justify the existence of an institution that perpetuates racism, elitism, and sexual violence, and whose monetary influence silences the administration.”
At the conclusion, the statement exhorted the administration “to explain and justify the prioritization of white supremacy through the existence of fraternities over the safety of their students.”
Shortly after its Facebook publication, however, backlash within the S.A. began, and the group posted a new statement changing some of the more controversial lines.
Gabe Kaufman ’18, vice president of finance, who was not among the members who wrote the statement Saturday, said he saw two major problems with the statement. Kaufman said he was opposed to the inclusion of the final paragraph, which condemned Cornell Tech for its partnership with Technion Israel Institute of Technology — a portion that he said essentially accused Israel and the Technion “for being responsible for thousands of deaths.”
S.A. President Jung Won Kim ’18 said the authors’ intent was “not to bring in outside politics into this,” but rather “to cite historical instances where Cornell might have put money before people.”
The phrase calling on students of color on the IFC was revised in the second statement to read: “the Student Assembly calls upon IFC and the Panhellenic Council.”
Alec Martinez ’18, who Kaufman said managed the Google Doc while the statement was being drafted, said the statement was not intended “to injure or alienate any community on campus, nor was it to take a side.”
“It was a necessary introduction to conversations that we need to have,” he said late on Monday night.
Martinez said he has reached out to Cornell Hillel since the statement was posted.
“I think there’s plenty of room for them to be sad or angry or confused,” he said, adding that talking about the issues raised by the first statement is still important. “We’re not trying to alienate anyone. These are tough conversations that we have to have.”
Kim, the president, said the controversy served as “a reminder to every representative.”
“We know the gravity of our words,” he said, “but it was a striking reminder to be extremely, extremely careful because of the message it sends.”
For Kaufman, the conflict originated leading up to the publication of the statement. Assemblymembers who did not write the statement were given 15 minutes to vote on its publication, Kaufman and Assemblymember TJ Ball ’18 said.
“Because there was no real process, the statement was posted about 15 minutes after it was introduced to the general membership of the Student Assembly, which meant that the statement which was posted — though extremely valuable and [important] — lacked nuance in some areas and left some individuals and constituencies feeling confused, attacked, betrayed,” Ball said in a message.
With just 15 minutes to make any changes to the statement before voting closed, Kaufman said the resolution passed with a vote of 10-3, despite the fact that 12 members are usually required to pass S.A. legislation.
“A really key point is that this statement was literally passed without the support of even [a] bare majority of the Student Assembly,” Kaufman said. “So on account of that, it’s not a reflection of the Student Assembly, it’s not a reflection of the student body. The way I see it, it’s illegitimate and should be taken down immediately.”
Looking ahead, Ball said the S.A. is “working on fixing our official statement policy to ensure that future statements have more firm support of the entire Assembly in the future.”
In order to amend the official policy, Kaufman said the executive committee has recommended a new amendment for how S.A. will handle its social media accounts. Kaufman said this resolution will be introduced at the assembly’s meeting on Thursday.
This procedure would entail that any assemblymember could draft a statement for S.A.’s Facebook page, but in order for the statement to be published, it would need the unanimous consent of the executive committee.
If even one person on the executive committee disagrees, under the proposed bylaw, the statement would require a two-thirds vote of the S.A. to advance, Kim said.
Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs ’19 contributed reporting to this story.