October 31, 2017

LEE | The ‘Labor’ in Industrial and Labor Relations

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“This system of inherent modern day slavery was sure to have no end without fundamental solutions. This realization is what inspired me to pursue the study of the world of work to achieve my lifelong goal of improving the lives of others.”

This is a phrase from my ILR writing supplement for the Common App, submitted two years ago on this day. I stumbled upon this document last week searching for Common App materials that could be of any help for a current high school senior writing her essay. Rereading what had gotten me to this place, this utterly idiosyncratic school called ILR, I was nothing short of shocked. Surprised at how passionate I was, stunned by how much my interests have changed within such a short span of time.

I applied to Cornell and to the School of Industrial and Labor Relations because of a genuine interest in labor, from both the management and worker’s perspective. As a high school student fascinated by the social sciences — how humans think and behave, how societies are formed and sustained, how different groups work together — I wanted to pursue studies in economics, political science, history, psychology and more. ILR offered the breadth pertaining to my variety of interests as well as the remarkable ability to learn about industrial and labor issues even as an undergraduate.

Although there definitely are times when I feel that ILR is not wholesome enough because of its lack of both academic and professional orientation, I still love ILR for what it is. While students planning to go into non-corporate fields criticize how corporatized ILR has become, and those involved with H.R., consulting, finance or some business-related field denounce the impracticality of ILR coursework, I don’t think it receives as much support as it deserves. The fact that its curriculum is open-ended and neither too vocational nor too scholarly is the beauty of ILR.

It may only be a rumor, but I’ve heard that there has been a petition for labor-specific courses to be taken out of the School. To all those attempting to take the “labor” out of ILR, don’t come or stay. Why would you be in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations if you don’t want to learn about labor issues? Learning about industrial and labor relations does not mean that you succumb to become a left-leaning pro-union activist. ILR does not need to be a place that forces an agenda down your throat; by learning about labor relations, you can merely develop an appreciation for the issues and analyze how different parties — unions, individual workers, employers, organizations contend and come together to reach an agreement.

I’ll admit, as a person who was initially more interested in taking a social justice or policy-based role after graduation, I’ve developed an interest in H.R. and social issues within the business world. I understand that students attempting to take on a corporate role can be limited by ILR’s lack of depth in the field of business. But I still believe that ILR provides an edge even for non-socially oriented students, because, well, we do (or are forced to) love reading, which provides the critical thinking skills required by pretty much all organizations.

Meanwhile, ILRies interested in pursuing corporate roles have also received a lot of backlash as they’re known to be “selling their souls to the devil.” This type of stigmatization needs to stop. Those in business can still contribute positively to society in their own way, whether it’s within the organization or on a personal level. The curriculum alone should be enough for any ILRie to appreciate the importance of labor and issues of social significance.


DongYeon (Margaret) Lee is a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached a [email protected]Here, There and Everywhere appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.