Candidates running for graduate and professional student trustee dissected the University’s consensual relationships policy and discussed the need for a more inclusive campus and increased transparency in a debate on Monday.
The three candidates running for the two-year trustee position are Tatiana Padilla grad, Rebecca Harrison ’14 grad, current voting member of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, and Manisha Munasinghe grad, vice president of GPSA. The debate was moderated by Jacob Rubashkin ’19, The Sun’s editor in chief.
The current consensual relationships policy, adopted by the University in 1996, states that is a member of the Cornell community cannot “simultaneously be romantically or sexually involved with a student whom he or she teaches, advises, coaches, or supervises in any way.”
A committee set up under the Office of the Dean, is looking to submit a revised policy by April 16.
When the candidates were questioned about the current consensual relationships policy, Harrison said she found that the “fundamental issue lies in power dynamics.”
Munasinghe said she “had concerns” about the policy, citing a GPSA survey in which students’ attitude towards a relationship with faculty members within their departments “is very split, close to 50-50.”
She also expressed her discomfort regarding how the disclosure policy might negatively affect LGBTQ students.
“For those who are in academic environments … being outed in that way could create even worse academic situations,” Munasinghe said.
In addition to the relationship policy, all candidates indicated that building a more tolerant and inclusive campus was one of their priorities.
“We’ve had several incidents just this year and over half of our students feel that academic and social isolation are inhospitable to them having good academic success on our campus,” Padilla said.
Candidates also noted that students are generally unaware of the duties and responsibilities of the trustee due to a lack of communication. According to them, students often lack the will to participate in elections, partly because it takes place immediately after spring break.
In one of his questions Rubashkin highlighted how past elections have had a minimal turnout of around 12 percent and asked the candidates what they proposed to do to increase turnout and student involvement.
“The timing disrupts our way to get students excited about the position and have it be on their mind about voting,” Munasinghe said.
“Students who serve in this position, because the minutes [of trustee meetings] are also sealed, can’t share what is going on in these spaces and how they are advocating so they [students] don’t feel like those people in the room are actually advocating for them or see the work,” Munasinghe explained.
Candidates said that the position they are running for requires careful listening of students’ hopes and complaints.
“Cornell’s history indicates that students’ activism and pressure can actually have an impact. We wouldn’t have students on the board of trustees at Cornell University if students in numbers didn’t protest,” Harrison said.
“It [the position] is an echoing of the student voices on this campus and a constant listening,” Padilla said. “Listening, not talking.”