After several incidents of racial bias led to widespread protests and anger on campus, Provost Michael Kotlikoff and Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi announced a new philanthropic commitment to support low-income, first-generation students and gave updates on other University efforts toward a more inclusive campus environment in an email on Monday.
“We are committed to facilitating a campus environment in which all students, faculty and staff feel included and valued,” the administrators wrote.
Over the past year, Cornell has increased the staffing of several student support areas, and reframed the role of the dean of students to focus on resources that support students in cultural and identity development, according to the email. The search process led to the hiring of Vijay Pendakur, dean of students, as well as four additional staff positions in student resource centers.
Several initiatives are already underway, including the renovation of the space in CCC that houses academic student support programs and works to ensure that the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives, the Intergroup Dialogue Project and the Learning Strategies Center are linked with student support programs to “deliver unified student support and advance inclusive academic success,” they wrote.
The two administrators also announced a philanthropic commitment from a Cornell alumnus to support first-generation and low-income student initiatives over the next five years, a gift that the University will use to hire a full-time staffer who will implement programs and support for this student population.
The University is also expanding the new Center for Teaching Innovation, an initiative that will devote new staff resources to help faculty address diversity and inclusion in the classroom and facilitate faculty-student conversations. The University will also build on their investment of $5 million per year in faculty recruitment and retention by enhancing a faculty task force focused on enhancing diversity of staff.
The University is also beginning a planning process to establish a central campus location for student resource centers that are part of the Division of Student and Campus Life.
“We will work with students, staff and alumni in the coming years to identify the right space and resources to realize this goal,” Kotlikoff and Lombardi wrote. “By co-locating these centers in one larger space, we will have the opportunity to preserve the unique character and work of each of these historic centers while capitalizing on new intersectional approaches to supporting our diverse student body.”
They also wrote that Associate Dean Renee Alexander ’74 has now assumed a new role as senior adviser to the dean, working with Pendakur to focus on campus climate issues. Marla Love is also joining Pendakur’s staff as senior associate dean for diversity and equity.
The administrators added that after four national searches for clinical staff in Counseling and Psychological Services since Spring 2017, three of the four individuals hired will “bring added diversity to CAPS and Cornell.”
“These steps represent important commitments to improving our campus and student support,” they wrote. “We look forward to continued discussions among the campus community as we move closer to fully realizing our founding aspirations.”
The statement followed an email from President Martha Pollack last week in response to the assault on Friday Sept. 15 of a black Cornell student, who said he was called the N-word several times and punched in the face by a group of white men. A week prior to the assault, a resident of the Latino Living Center reported hearing Zeta Psi fraternity members chanting “build a wall.”
Pollack wrote to students last week that in response to the “deeply painful” events, Cornell will develop and implement steps to be a more “equitable, inclusive and welcoming university,” including developing and enhancing programs and services that support diversity and inclusion on campus.
Pollack charged the dean of students to create and implement an alternative dispute resolution process based on restorative justice that can be a resource for students in addressing any future incidents, and said she would convene a Presidential Task Force charged with examining and addressing persistent problems of bigotry and intolerance on campus.
“For the vast majority of Cornellians who abhor these recent events, our community needs your help,” she wrote. “Please speak out against injustice, racism and bigotry, and reach out to support one another. Ours must be a community grounded in mutual respect and kindness.”