Students discussed the progress and prospects of the Presidential Task Force assembled by President Martha Pollack, in response to a string of hate-related incidents in the fall, in Goldwin Smith Hall on Wednesday night.
After an introduction by Kyonne Rowe ’18, an event organizer and task force member, students broke off into smaller groups to discuss answers to previously written questions. The questions asked about a variety of topics, including diversity, inclusion, student leadership and campus culture.
According to Rowe, forty students attended the event, which was advertised as an opportunity “to gather information from community members … as part of the President’s effort to overhaul our campus climate initiatives” on the event Facebook page. Six of the attendees were task force members while the rest were community members.
Attendees discussed factors of diversity and inclusion, which were distinguished as two separate concepts. Diversity, according to Rowe, is the “amalgamation of differences and variety among us,” while inclusion relates more to “status” and “fair representation.”
Students drew on their anecdotal experiences at Cornell for examples of both barriers and successes in the topics of diversity and inclusion.
One student noted that he was often “the only black student in a physics class,” while other students lauded a psychology professor who stood in Bailey Hall and “opened his door to anyone who felt any type of way.”
According to Rowe, the original purpose of the event was to give students the opportunity to voice potential solutions for the overarching issue of campus climate. Rowe said he felt that purpose was fulfilled and said he was “satisfied” by the discussions he heard.
The event also strived to “collect data” and to see if the thoughts and proposals of task members were in-line with the thoughts of the members of the “general Cornell community,” Rowe said.
According to task force member Reem Abdalla ’20, the administration encouraged proposals to be “bold,” and President Martha Pollack indicated that she wanted these “bold” proposals by the end of the spring semester.
One proposal discussed at the event was a “tagging” system in which the locations of bias and incident reports would be tagged by geographic location. Doing so, according to Abdalla, would put pressure on “hotspots on campus” that had consistently higher incident reports.
“Not any institution is willing to publish data like that,” she said.
Other proposals included diversity and inclusion training for STEM professors and more consistent residential hall programming.
Many participants at the event voiced concerns about the actual implementation of the proposals. Although Abdalla expressed a worry that the task force was rushed, she noted that “[Pollack] is a practical woman… [and] she wants to see results.”
“I expect that if I’m putting out these rushed recommendations, she is rushing to implement them as well,” Abdalla said.
Expressing that the event gave him hope, Rowe said that “it’s extremely gratifying to see students … carve out time to talk to one another.”
“It was a good way to see whether what we’ve been talking about in our board meetings, or what we’ve been talking about with VP Lombardi, whether that connects back with student sentiment,” Rowe said. “If the students during their two hours shared a lot of solutions that are the same things [the task force] talked about … that means we’re onto something.”