The use of the N-word in a text poll at a house dinner in Becker Hall, pictured above in 2014, has stunned its residents.

Kelly Yang / Sun File Photo

The use of the N-word in a text poll at a house dinner in Becker Hall, pictured above in 2014, has stunned its residents.

October 1, 2017

West Campus Residents ‘Stunned’ by Use of N-Word at House Dinner

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Following two high-profile incidents in which Cornell students reported being targeted physically or verbally because of their race, the use of a slur last week at a house dinner has left a West Campus house community “shattered.”

Students at the Carl Becker House’s weekly house dinner on Wednesday night were answering poll questions by anonymously texting responses to questions such as, “What is your favorite place on campus?” Their answers appeared in bubbles on a projector, and soon people began submitting silly and somewhat inappropriate answers, people who were there said.

Then, in response to one prompt — “Name your key strength” — someone responded by submitting the N-word, which appeared prominently at the front of the room, projected onto a screen.

“The room went completely silent,” Prof. Neema Kudva, the house professor and dean, said in an email to residents of the house the next day, adding that “a sense of shock at the intent to violate and intimidate slammed into us.”

Prof. Thomas Fox, biology, who attended the dinner, said he has been a member of the house since 2005 and has never heard the room get so quiet.

“I have never, ever heard it that silent there,” he said. “There was dead silence for five minutes. People were stunned. There were some students at my table who were literally in tears.”

In an email to members of all five houses in the west campus house system, the house professors and assistant deans said a bias incident report had been submitted.

At the house dinner, “during a light-hearted community activity involving online polling, a racist epithet was submitted and sent a shockwave of sadness and outrage through the community,” the professors and assistant deans said. “A bias incident report has been made and Becker House leadership is working with campus partners.”

Following the incident, many students and at least one professor began to cry. One resident said that more than 100 people were there when the N-word appeared on the screen, and that Kudva had urged the person who sent the message to come forward, calling the person a “coward.”

The resident confirmed many details of the incident on the condition of anonymity because it is being handled internally. John McKain, associate vice president for university relations, said, “it’s been an active conversation within the Becker House,” and University officials did not respond to requests for additional comment.

Fox said he thought the response from attendees of the dinner “was about as good as you could expect.”

“In other words, there was no horsing around at that time,” he said. Kudva, he said, “was obviously stunned, but her response, I thought, was very appropriate and effective.”

Kudva, in an email on Friday, said it had been “a long couple of days” and declined to elaborate on the incident, saying she had been working with various support systems within the University.

In the email Kudva sent to residents of the house last week, she said she spoke immediately after the incident “from a place of sadness, and of furious anger at what had happened, in defense of everyone whom the text targeted, against the cowardice and cyber-bullying that was on display.”

The use of the slur comes in the same month that a black student said he was assaulted and called the N-word by a group of white men in Collegetown. Also in September, a resident of the Latino Living Center reporting hearing a member of a next-door frat proposing that people “build a wall” around the residence.

Police arrested a student, John Greenwood ’20, in the Collegetown incident and charged him with two misdemeanors, assault and aggravated harassment. A grand jury will decide this week or next whether Greenwood will face hate crime charges.

In the email from house professors and assistant deans, they said, “Racist and intimidating acts have no place here.”

“In light of the recent racist incidents on our campus, it is especially disappointing and hurtful to see that this has happened right here, where we get together to live as an inclusive and supportive community,” the professors and assistant deans said.


  • Ezra Tank

    Nothing should be anonymous. This person can and should be traced.

    • Ezra Tank

      Oh and my wife who is 75% Italian has been called a dago during her life and she’s never wept.

      • Trina Roach

        No wonder there’s still racism/inequality/Injustice. You give the victims a fake gold star every time they just “grin and bear it”.

        • Ezra Tank

          LOL. Reading comprehension a struggle I see. Did you miss my whole post about finding out who said it? The weeping part was ridiculous. Spare me the victim hood.

      • New Yorker

        You should really stop calling her names, ET.

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  • NV81Grad

    Since the question posed to those in attendance was ” Name your key strength ?” Isn’t it possible that someone of African American decent might have responded with the N-word as his/her answer ? Just asking the question.

  • Jay Wind

    I suspect that the N-word is used on the Cornell campus more frequently than is reported in the Cornell Sun. Also, I find the double standard applied here to be disappointing. When an alleged member of a fraternity, who turned out not to be a member of a fraternity, uses the N-word, there are protests and “demands” that the fraternity be banned forever (even before the facts are fully known.) In contrast, when a member of the Carl Becker House uses the N-word at an event attended by two faculty members, there is no comparable call to eject all Becker House residents from their dorm immediately and to convert the dorm into office space for minority student groups.

    • Happy Jack

      Bogus Bogel-Burroughs uses it every time an “n-word” cuts him off when he’s driving.

  • QED – quod erat demonstrandum

    “Following the incident, many students and at least one professor began to cry.” Oh boy, these folks are ready for the real world.

    • Manny Ramirez

      Exactly what I thought. This reads like as Onion article.

    • Trina Roach

      But if someone who felt insulted by this display of mindless racism discovered who the culprit is, and then proceeded to slap the taste out of his/her mouth, there’d be an outpouring of outrage.

      Tired cynicism for the feeling of/mental impact on the victims of racism.
      Outrage for conscious and concrete pushback against it.

      • QED – quod erat demonstrandum


        Mental impact of racism? It’s a vile word. Get used to it butterflies because there aren’t any safe spaces in adulthood.

        Unless of course you’re a tenured professor spewing this nonsense on a college campus these days. And then you see their true feelings in the form of hatred for conservatives. And these days, conservatives don’t cry or ask for safe spaces. They punch back.

      • Ezra Tank

        So Trina you have no problem with a black SNL “comedian” openly calling our President a Cracker on live TV? Did you ever think that could be “offensive” to whites?

        You can’t have your cake and eat it to.

  • Happy Jack

    trop precieux

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  • George Glass

    Is the Sun going to run an article when it is determined a black student wrote it? LOL

    • New Yorker

      Georgie, do you have a job other than professional troll?

      • Ezra Tank

        NY what do you do? He brought up a valid point and you come back with your tired TROLL argument?

        How about adding to the conversation?

        • New Yorker

          Is this what you guys call a conversation?

  • George Glass

    So will Cornell also ban the playing and listening to of any and all rap and hip music containing the word “nigger” or “nigga”? I think any student caught with a Snoop Dogg or NWA song on their ipod should be disciplined.

  • Ruthie

    The article doesn’t make it clear but did anyone speak at the time the vile word was said? It says the room went silent but did anyone denounce this, including the professor? This is what should have happened. No need for a big inquiry after the fact. Someone should have spoken up then. I’m saddened to hear that someone felt free to use that word in what was supposed to be a light-hearted forum.