President Martha Pollack speaks to audience members at a GPSA meeting.

Jing Jiang / Sun Staff Photographer

President Martha Pollack speaks to audience members at a GPSA meeting.

September 24, 2018

Pollack Presents on Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives, Mental Health at GPSA Meeting

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President Martha E. Pollack presented an overview of the University’s recent diversity and inclusion initiatives and efforts to address mental health concerns at Monday’s Graduate and Professional Student Assembly meeting.

Cornell recently released a report outlining these initiatives, which have included the hiring of three new therapists, the implementation of an Intergroup Dialogue Project session during orientation for new students and a plan to spend $60 million over five years to increase hiring and retention of a diverse faculty, as The Sun previously reported.

In regard to mental health, Pollack spoke about several substantive changes, including an increase of over two and a half years from 32 to 43 counselors and Cornell’s decision to contract with ProtoCall, a 24-hour by-phone mental health counseling service that Pollack said was “very carefully vetted” in the hope that it would be helpful.

In response to an audience question about calls for an external review of Cornell’s mental health services, Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, said the University has not “gotten to the point of deciding who will conduct” an upcoming comprehensive review.

Though Lombardi said he “can’t speak … to exactly who” will be conducting the review, he said he does “envision it being external audiences.”

“I think part of the first step is to understand what we want to look at, and then I think that will really inform that broader question about who’s best to come in,” he said. “Obviously I think we’re going to want people to have expertise in mental health. I don’t want that just to be Cornell folks.”

On the theme of diversity, Pollack also highlighted several educational initiatives and moves to make the Campus Code of Conduct more readable. She also expressed the possibility of Cornell creating a value statement.

The president said that since she has arrived at Cornell, she has heard feedback urging that the campus code be changed. She called the current code “legalistic” with a “punitive tone instead of an educational, aspirational tone.”

Matthew Battaglia ’16 grad, chair of the University Assembly and a member of the Working Group on Hate Speech and Harassment, told The Sun that the U.A.’s work with Pollack on the Code of Conduct is going well.

“We’ve worked really great with the President so far,” he said. “We’re really looking forward to partnering with her and her administration to really try and make the code more readable to your average student while not losing its robust series of protections.”

Noting that the University does not have “one, single place where we talk about our core values,” Pollack said the University will be working on a value statement for Cornell this semester in addition to other initiatives.

“We need one statement, that we as a community say, ‘These are our values,’” Pollack said. “We can hand it to every new member of the community, every existing member of the community. When we make difficult decisions, we can point to that.”

Looking to the results of the IDP session, which Pollack said is normally offered as a semester-long course, Pollack noted that there has already been a 40 percent increase in “students who have expressed interest in registering for the longer program.”

Pollack also touched on the role of student and faculty feedback in the Center for Teaching Innovation’s new online class, Teaching and Learning in the Diverse Classroom.

“One of the main things we heard from students, undergraduate and graduate, was that sometimes the faculty members needed a little more help in teaching effectively in a multicultural classroom and in handling difficult discussions,” Pollack said. “And we heard from graduate students, T.A.s and from faculty that they wanted this kind of training.”

Initiatives like these that are mentioned in the report come mainly from the recommendations of the Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate and the Provost’s Task Force to Enhance Faculty Diversity, The Sun previously reported.

Pollack emphasized that “we’re committed to” the University’s diversity and inclusion initiatives but that everyone needs to be involved to make such efforts possible.

“We could be fully committed and work on this 24-7, but if the community isn’t also practicing these principles, we won’t make progress,” she said.

Also at Monday’s meeting, GPSA voted 13-0-5 to pass its 2018-2019 internal budget and 13-0-5 to pass a resolution approving updates to the Assembly’s bylaws for the academic year.