September 19, 2017

TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT | You Are Not Alone

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These are turbulent times on The Hill. It’s times like these that we benefit from looking into our past to question how our community has deviated so far from the caring one we strive for.

This past week a black student was verbally and physically assaulted in Collegetown. One week prior, a student chanted “Let’s build a wall” outside of the Latino Living Center. In 1993, art crafted by Latinx artists was vandalized and defaced with messages such as “white pride.” In 1969, a cross was burned on the lawn of Wanawake Wa Wari house. While these acts of bigotry, racism or even hate are not unprecedented, they do not represent who we are at Cornell. And for the students who are understandably doubtful of this sentiment, please note that these acts do not represent who we strive to be here at Cornell.

This weekend reminded us that racism remains alive on The Hill. We can’t deny it. The evidence is here. Importantly, last week’s events serve as a reminder of our failure to ensure the safety and inclusion of all students on our campus. To remind us that repeatedly saying “Any Person, Any Study” doesn’t mean we are living up to it.

Diversity is a strength here at Cornell. It is a benefit and should not come at the cost of marginalized students. Diversity, however, requires inclusion, and the definition of inclusion needs to be clear. Inclusion goes beyond describing the unintentional moments that students feel accepted. It trumps superficial examples, such as cursory programming once a year. Inclusion dictates a group’s intentional commitment to push against systemic forms of discrimination, endeavoring to successfully create an inclusive climate. This naturally prompts the question, who is to lead this change? Who is to take the burden of individual, structural and systemic forms of discrimination and reform the way we engage across difference?

So far, the answer has been students. When the same students, however, attend the events to discuss how to foster diversity and inclusion, how does the community on a whole become accountable for safeguarding the “any person” portion of our university’s motto?

We must  keep in mind the shocking realization that student leaders are human. Student leaders are students first. Students are here to receive an education and should not be expected to carry the emotional burden that come from these incidents.

For those of us fighting, what we can say is this: we are not alone, you are not alone.

Yesterday, we both attended an inspiring gathering of students committed to pushing back against hate speech on our campus. This weekend, we were humbled by the leadership of marginalized individuals providing support and advocacy for their community, tackling the deep structural issues embedded within our university. Today, we continue to meet with leaders of the Tri-Council, administrators, members of the greater Ithaca community and alumni. We know that alumni are hearing your struggles. They are paying attention to your words. President Pollack’s message serves as an indication of the administration’s commitment to the cause — but we realize that these words must result in real and concrete actions.

Thank you to those whose voices have elevated this issue to the surface. Thank you to marginalized individuals who have carried emotional burden this week. Thank you to student leaders who have spent countless hours mobilizing their communities. Thank you for your commitment to creating a better campus climate.

To those who have not contributed to this dialogue, reevaluate your role on this campus. Open your eyes and understand that there are students of color here who do not feel safe. Do not be complacent. Show your outrage. Time and time again we see history repeat itself, and it is not until we ensure the commitment of all members within our community that we will begin to see hope for change. It is troubling to us both that we see history repeating itself. We need each and every individual to make a conscious effort to fight against hate.

Consider this a call to action. Utilize your privilege as a tool to uplift voices that are being so clearly oppressed in our community. Keep in mind other student communities who are also facing threats right now. Look out for one another, self care and never lose sight of the impact we can make on the trajectory of the Cornell experience.

History will repeat itself if we do not acknowledge our past. History will repeat itself if we are not calling upon those who have not spoken up in the past. Hate will stay if we do not commit a valiant effort, if we do not work within our community, if we do not support one another and if we do not engage across differences.

If we have anything to do with it, this is the last time that history repeats itself. No longer will hate be tolerated or treated with a “slap on the wrist.” Each incident that occurs affects the security of our fellow students and propagates immoral values we hope to end.

The Cornell experience is invaluable. Cornell brings together some of the top talent from around the world and allows us to live and learn together. It is not only a privilege, but a responsibility to use this opportunity to shape and change the future leaders of the world. While it is easy to see Cornell as a mere segment in the grand scheme of a lifetime, this is a setting for change. Failure is another student experiencing hate, another community further oppressed — failure is simply not an option.

 

Dara Brown ’13 is a second-year student at Cornell Law School, and Dustin Liu is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. They currently serve as student-elected members of the Board of Trustees of Cornell.  Trustee Viewpoint appears alternate Tuesdays this semester. 

  • Jay Wind

    The problem is that speech codes never solve any problems, they make matters worse and prevent the type of dialog that the two trustees claim to advocate in their opinion column above. I have always been proud that Cornell resisted the trap of adopting a speech code and have watched many other college trip over their speech codes. Suppose hypothetically, that a black organization delivers a set of demands to the Board of Trustees, and the Board considers those demands at an on-campus meeting. Are the Trustees willing to be hauled before the Judicial Administrator if they speak out because they consider those demands unreasonable or counter-productive? How about faculty or administrators at a Faculty meeting?

    The speech code is an oppressive tool that is contrary to the core beliefs of an academic institution. Put simply, it is an unworkable, bad idea.

  • Jay Wind

    Dara Brown, Dustin Liu and the 40-some other Trustees will have more of a say in the fate of the BSU’s 12 “demands” than will President Pollack. Although this column was written before the demands were made public, Dara’s and Dustin’s silence since has been puzzling. As a law student, Dara should realize that some of the “demands” are outright illegal (discriminate when hiring doctors and misallocate our cooperative extension funds to favor serving African-Americans in Tompkins County over the rest of the state) and others are poor public policy. Yet, all we have since is silence.