April 18, 2019

GUEST ROOM | Shut Up and Play: Challenging JT Baker’s Disqualification

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As a student-athlete, a black man and a supporter of JT Baker, I am disgusted and disappointed — though not wholly surprised — by the outcome of the recent student-elected trustee election. JT’s disqualification was not only unjust but is reflective of the campus climate at the predominantly white institution that is Cornell University. Furthermore, JT’s disqualification speaks to larger issues of exclusion of student-athletes and students from underrepresented communities at large from the limited, competitive and time-consuming opportunities in shared governance.

Both the president of the University and the chair of the Board of Trustees have spoken out with strong statements condemning the disqualification decision by the Trustee Nominating Committee. And yet, the only actions being taken are empty calls for “reforms” for future elections. To put this in perspective, the two highest positions of leadership on this campus have proclaimed that the TNC’s decision was wrong, but refuse to overturn it. Their response is simply and unequivocally unethical.

Even more importantly, what reforms are Pollack and Harrison suggesting? How will they help prevent unfair disqualifications in future elections if the administration is unwilling to take action against prejudice in this one? If they are not willing to act now, when a clear injustice has been committed, why should we believe that they will do anything in the future? Why should we believe the leaders of this university — who decry injustice, but uphold it in placing institutional protection over addressing blatant discrimination? Would the decision look different if JT was not a Black man or not a student-athlete?

As a student-athlete who has been very involved on campus as a scholar in Telluride, a facilitator in the Intergroup Dialogue Project, former co-president of Collective X Magazine, a Resident Advisor in Ujamaa Residential College and an ambassador for Engaged Cornell, I have personally faced the reality that there is not a lot of room for student-athletes to do other things on campus besides their sport. As long as we’re scoring touchdowns and entertaining the majority of students here, we’re accepted. Simultaneously, we are seen as one-dimensional — as bodies, not minds. Even in the Ivy League, we are seen as dumb jocks who are lucky to receive an Ivy League education of which we are not seen as fully deserving. This election has so blatantly shown us that we are not welcome in professional circles on campus. And the actions of the TNC, other candidates and members of the student body at large have sent a clear message to the student-athlete community at Cornell: Shut up and play.

This is not simply a campus issue. This is an issue faced even by arguably the best basketball player in the NBA, Lebron James, who was told to “shut up and dribble” when making comments about the current presidency. He was told that his place was on the court, and nowhere else. He was told that his opinions, that his mind, weren’t valuable — weren’t wanted.

JT, more so than any other candidate, came to the election with one goal in mind — to be a voice for every community on campus. He was, and continues to be, dedicated to making a difference on this campus and ensuring that every student has the best quality of life at Cornell that they can.

JT’s wrongful disqualification, and the subsequent lack of action by the administration to remedy it, is unacceptable. Join me in condemning the actions of the TNC and demanding that they release the pre-disqualification votes.

Even if you did not vote for JT originally, as students and constituents at Cornell who deserve to be represented in the way that reflects the totality of our votes, we have an obligation to each other to fight for what’s right. I encourage student leaders on campus to galvanize their respective communities to, first, demand that the disqualification decision be overturned and, second, demand that the pre-disqualification votes be released.

We will not be silent. We will not back down. We will not just shut up and play.

Marquan Jones is a junior College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Guest Room appears periodically this semester. Comments may be sent to [email protected].