President Martha Pollack and Ryan Lombardi visited the Student Assembly on Thursday.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

President Martha Pollack and Ryan Lombardi visited the Student Assembly on Thursday.

March 15, 2019

President Pollack, Vice President Lombardi Address Diversity, Mental Health, College Admissions at Student Assembly

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President Martha E. Pollack and Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, spoke to the Student Assembly at Thursday’s meeting, focusing on the recent college admissions scandal, ongoing efforts to improve mental health on campus and diversity.

Pollack began by addressing the issue of the recent FBI investigation into college admissions fraud, which implicated a Cornell alumnus and nearly 49 others in a scheme to falsify entrance exam scores and acceptances across the country.

She decried the lack of trust caused by the scandal and commented that Cornell was not directly involved in the fraud.

The next topic regarded mental health, which has been an ongoing issue on campus.

“The single issue that comes up the most within student complaints is mental health,” Pollack said. Twenty-one percent of all students sought care for Cornell Health’s Counseling and Psychological Services in the 2016-2017 academic year, up eight percent from 13 percent a decade earlier, the Cornell Chronicle reported.

Speaking on potential reforms to the current mental health support system on campus, Pollack said that the University is “taking a far broader and much more holistic approach.” Pollack also announced a new formal review of existing policies this semester, which will focus on evaluating the effect of factors like sleep and technology on mental health.

Another top priority is finding a new CAPS director following the recent departure of former director Gregory Eells, Pollack said.

Pollack also discussed the ongoing efforts of the administration to promote diversity and inclusion throughout campus.

Among the measures described was further education for faculty on how to teach in diverse classrooms, changing the campus code of conduct to make its wording more accessible to students and the creation of the Loving House, LGBT-themed program housing on North Campus.

Pollack also touched upon efforts to “strengthen collaborations” between Cornell’s Ithaca and New York City campuses — part of the “One Cornell” initiative, one of Pollack’s presidential projects.

“We really [need to] take advantage of rural-urban footprint,” said Pollack. She cited cross-campus initiatives such as a push to expand networking opportunities with New York-based alumni and the Milstein Program in Technology & Humanity, in which undergraduate participants spend two summers at Cornell Tech.

When asked by Mahfuza Shovik ’19, the S.A. College of Engineering representative, about Cornell’s response to the boycott, divest and sanction movement — which seeks to use economic pressure to protest Israeli treatment of Palestinians — Pollack declined to make a statement on the cause.

“The university is not a political agent,” said Pollack. “We don’t make political decisions with the endowment.”

S.A. members followed up with questions about the topics broached in the address.

Joe Anderson ’20, S.A. executive vice president, asked whether Cornell was considering abolishing its SAT requirement for applications. Pollack responded that “the more information we get [about applicants], the better,” citing Cornell’s rigorous admissions standards.

Valentina Xu ’21, an S.A. freshman representative, asked whether the new housing would separate LGBTQ+ residents from the general student population.

Pollack answered saying that while it will only be a small part of housing on campus, “there is something to having a space for people like you,” citing her own experience as a woman in  the male-dominated field of technology.

After the address, the S.A. approved a funding increase for the Cornell Summer Experience Grant, which offers summer scholarships for students in unpaid or minimally paid summer opportunities, and approved bylaws for the newly formed Student Health Advisory Committee.

Other resolutions, such as one amending spring election policies and another adjusting bylaws  for the Student Activities Funding Commission, were tabled for later discussion.