Dyson School students demanded institutional changes to address the ever-growing pre-professional culture among students and the apparent lack of acknowledgement from the school regarding recent racially charged incidents.
At a town hall on Monday, students debated the implications of the University’s mission of “any person, any study,” and proposed suggestions on improving diversity and inclusion at Cornell.
The event — hosted by Dean of the Dyson School Lynn Wooten and Prof. David Wooten, chief diversity officer of the SC Johnson School of Business — began with students identifying problems they have encountered at Dyson.
Students pointed out the school’s scarcity of resources for Black and Hispanic students, the socioeconomic barriers to competitive business clubs and the lack of more required courses on diversity.
One student said that in addition to black and hispanic students being underrepresented in Dyson, there is a lack of faculty with similar ethnic backgrounds as these students.
The socioeconomic gap between students has also been recognized by several participants as the barrier that restricted their chance of joining business clubs. These clubs often require large time commitments that are somewhat impossible for students who work on-campus jobs during the week, students said.
Others pointed out the career-focused culture of the Dyson school, where students “only want to succeed … and that’s all that they focus on,” said Gemma Padchonga ’20.
Within this culture, Padchonga also said that students tend to have narrower social circles that are restricted by the concentrations students pursue within the applied economics and management major.
“Students don’t always feel inclined to reach out beyond their little area, that’s why inclusion comes hard,” she said. “I can see that people outside marketing exist, but I have to really put a lot of effort out there to get to know and understand them.”
A solution to this issue, attendees said, could be to restructure the curriculum so students have classes that encourage teamwork and discussions with all Dyson undergraduates. This would limit the huge “sitting and listening” lectures that provide little chance of making new friends after freshman year.
Attendees also called for more mentions in class of recent events on campus, such as the recent incident in Collegetown in which a black student said he was called the N-word and beat up by a group of white men, as well as discussions of these issues that are driven by instructors.
One of the organizers of the forum Prof. Cindy van Es, applied economics and management, said she liked the idea of having a new class about diversity, and was “pleasantly surprised to hear that students would like to have these topics mentioned in class.”
Students also asked for more guidance from faculty members both on academic advising and on facilitating future conversations about diversity and inclusion.
Given the large amount of suggestions that students came up with during the forum, Padchonga anticipated that it would take a while before the administration could complete their plans. She said that regular meetings would be an efficient way for the administration to collect new ideas.
“We are now throwing [out] all the emotions we felt this entire year — and it’s been a hard year,” she said.
Wooten said that the next step is to share all the ideas with the faculty, students and staff, and to work on developing a timeline. The purpose of the forum was to “let the students have their voice heard,” she said, and allow them to work together to propose solutions to the Dyson School’s problems.