Michael Wenye Li / Sun Photography Editor

At the Student Assembly's diversity and inclusion summit on Sunday, keynote speakers like Vice President Ryan Lombardi, above, addressed student activism and efforts to plan inclusive housing.

March 20, 2018

Diversity Summit Furthers Conversation on Inclusion Initiatives, Tackles Housing and Campus Activism

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In the Student Assembly’s first-ever diversity and inclusion summit on Sunday, student leaders representing groups from across campus came together to address ways to improve diversity within their respective organizations.

Keynote addresses by Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, and Vijay Pendakur, dean of students, highlighted campus housing initiatives and campus activism and how these areas are a priority for the University.

Lombardi emphasized the importance of looking at long-term goals as well as short-term issues. In the future, he hopes to see the University’s efforts extend beyond “taking care of the here and now,” he said. “I want to know that for whomever else walks into what I walk into, they are not going to face this stuff again.”

As part of trying to put diversity and inclusion at the center of his work, Lombardi highlighted the housing system as a key equity issue at Cornell.

“There is an inequity of housing in who controls and dominates the housing space on this campus,” he said. “If you look across the spectrum of where the power lies within the housing structure and the housing system you see that it’s inequitable.”

The plans to create new dorms — opening as early as 2021 — are a way to “create equity for all our students and try to minimize the power differentials that you see in various housing aspects on and around campus,” according to Lombardi.

Pendakur shifted the conversation to activism and working on solutions. Referring to his own experience as an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he realized the importance of having committed and structured leaders.

“It’s not enough to be ‘woke.’ You have to have the willingness and skill sets to move your organization forward,” he said. “Having some sense of strategy of about how we can carry ourselves in this work as equally important as our knowledge of the issues.”

Pendakur also focused on the importance self care in terms of trauma that people have experienced. According to Pendakur, in the 20 years that he has engaged in social justice work, he has noticed that many people have experienced trauma themselves.

“Many of us who are most attracted to this work are also carrying an immense amount of trauma,” Pendakur said. “We have faced directly the onslaught of oppression and marginality. That motivates us to want to be engaged in the long fight for social justice. But the other part of facing oppression and marginality is it’s traumatizing.”

He drew on his own personal professional experiences in his early twenties to emphasize the importance of dealing with personal trauma.

“Your sense of anger slips into a sense of rage. Anger can be a useful tool for sustaining your work, [however] rage is a very difficult place to sustain social justice work,” Pendakur said. “I found myself burning so hot, that I was burning the people around me.”

The ability to deal with trauma is important for resiliency for those interested in diversity and inclusion work, according to Pendakur. He noted that it also helps cope with two important emotions — anger and forgiveness.

“Forgiveness is imperative if you are going to build coalitions,” he said “Coalitions are built across differences.”

The summit, heralded by Mayra Valadez ’18, S.A. vice president of diversity and inclusion, was a “goal of many of [her] predecessors.”

Representatives from organizations including the Cornell Lending Library, First Generation and Student Union, Peer Educators of Gender and Sexuality and Cornell University Sustainable Design led workshops throughout the summit.

During the workshops, representatives from different groups questioned how to incorporate diversity and inclusion into their organizations and explored themes such as “making your organization more equitable” and inclusion of the LGBT community.