Courtesy of Roger William

A coalition of graduate and professional students, some pictured above at a recognition banquet in May, issued a series of demands to Cornell last week.

October 3, 2017

Graduate Students Issue Demands to Cornell Administrators

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A coalition of graduate students has issued a list of demands to Cornell administrators — calling for increased funding, representation, training and more — in the wake of what the group called “several recent social injustices on and off the Cornell campus.”

The Graduate School Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement’s Student Leadership Council, in a Sept. 28 letter to President Martha Pollack and other senior leadership at Cornell, called on the University to recruit and retain more graduate and professional students “from underrepresented backgrounds,” restructure the grievance process, increase conference grant funding, include graduate representatives on a proposed task force, uphold Obama-era Title IX guidance and more.

The council, a coalition of at least nine graduate and professional student groups, began its letter by supporting the demands of Black Students United, an undergraduate group that hand-delivered 12 demands to Pollack on Sept. 20, days after a black student said he was assaulted and called the N-word by a group of white men in Collegetown.

Three members of the graduate coalition, in an interview on Monday, said the group fully supports BSU’s demands and wants to ensure that the University is also paying to concerns regarding diversity and representation at the graduate level.

The demands, provided to The Sun, cover a wide range of issues and the letter includes dates by which the coalition is hoping the University will complete the demands, which are split into four categories: community, research, teaching and learning, and safety and physical/mental health.

“We’re trying to evoke empathy through this statement and I think that’s what a lot of people are trying to do right now: evoke empathy with the university,” said Monet Roberts, grad, a member of the coalition

The graduate students said they all have had friends depart the Graduate School who they think may have been able to stay had their demands been in place.

“If we did this earlier, how many students would still be here?” Roberts said.

“At some point, it becomes ridiculous to continue to articulate that the sky is blue,” said Theresa Rocha Beardall, grad, “and at some point the ownership has to be taken on by President Pollack and the administration.”

“We wouldn’t ask them to do these things and demand that they do it if we didn’t feel that they weren’t capable of doing it,” Beardall added, saying she was frustrated that the group had not heard back from the administration as of Monday night.

John McMullen, grad, said that the voices of graduate students are often not heard by the University because they are being “pulled in so many different directions” at all times.

Many initiatives, McMullen said, are led by students because the University does not have an appropriate support system in place.

“It would be great to see that it wasn’t always graduate and professional students that had this weight on them,” McMullen said.

The recent incidents on campus, members said — including the Collegetown assault, an incident at the Latino Living Center and the use of a slur at a house dinner last week — encouraged them to make these demands to Pollack, who is nearing the six-month mark of her tenure as president.

These incidents, Roberts said, “are showing that this list of demands is needed, from Black Students United and from graduate students who are marginalized.”

“I don’t see how we can sit here and not have action,” she said.

One of the group’s demands is that Pollack’s presidential task force be increased to 20 members from between 10 and 12, and that the graduate student community nominate its own representatives.

Roberts and Beardall said it is easy for the University to pick people who do not represent or understand the experience of marginalized graduate students.

“There are grad students here who experience several layers of marginalization that often go unheard and it’s our job to remind them of what those experiences are,” Beardall said.

McMullen said that if the group does not hear back about the demands, or if the University does not actively work to reach the outlined goals, the coalition plans to “essentially raise hell, send emails, and protest.”

The coalition’s demand regarding the task force gave administrators a deadline of Oct. 4 to call for nominations. Beardall said it was “very disappointing” that the University had not yet responded to the group.

“By design, we’re trained as graduate and professional students to be diligent researchers and problem solvers,” she said, adding that “the skills that we’re honing each day” are the same ones the group will use to compel the University to implement the group’s demands.