May 1, 2019

TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT | Lessons From the Hill

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After two years, two months and three days (but who’s counting), my time as the Student-Elected Trustee has begun to come to a close. Serving as the Student-Elected Trustee has been one of the greatest honors in my lifetime. In an act of nostalgia and personal curiosity, I spent this past week looking through my past viewpoints and notes to pull out my most memorable lessons from the Hill and the Board of Trustees. While I still am unable to describe industrial and labor relations to my grandma in Chinese, I’m happy to report that my time at Cornell has been filled with learning moments that I hope others reading this can carry forward.

I learned that organizational traditions are not all pure. If your organization hazes to the point where members are unable to concentrate on their academics and are experiencing humiliation and fear, stop attributing their actions to tradition. If your organization has a sub-two percent acceptance rate or if you are judging students by the Google Street View of the address on their resume, it’s probably time to reconsider your recruitment process. If your organization is appropriating cultural and mythical icons that have nothing to do with the purpose of your organization, it’s probably time to change that, particularly if this appropriation is occurring in the logo or the name of the organization.

I learned that after the first three weeks of freshman year, no one really wants to make new friends. This is a mind-boggling concept to me as the University devotes energy and resources to recruiting a class that crosses identities, borders and lived experiences. Higher education is a happenstance place that should be recognized as a laboratory of sorts that can’t compare to any random residential community in the world. Cornell brings together folks from all kinds of backgrounds and provides the potential for new friendships and space for collaboration. Let’s make the most of it and not avoid eye contact when someone is smiling at you as you walk down Tower Road.

I learned that running a campaign at Cornell is akin to selling your soul. Crawling up Ho Plaza to chalk “Trust in Dustin” at 2 a.m. only to have it be washed away by a 15-minute rain shower at 3 a.m. was probably the worst possible outcome that I could have imagined, but it certainly taught me resilience. I learned that homophobia, racism and a multitude of other isms are alive and well, and that it is our responsibility as Cornell students to consider the public purpose behind our discipline: personifying our land-grant mission.

I learned that Trustees are real people (who have kids and eat three meals a day!), that administrators at Cornell are in their positions because they love working with students and that we need to recognize the humanity of all the individuals on our campus. We often forget to acknowledge or give benefit of the doubt to those in power. It is clear to me that for better or for worse, power will always be criticized. Let’s focus on ways we can collaborate and find ways to give feedback constructively — without using word counts.

My greatest lesson has been learning about gratitude — gratitude for those in my life and those who have come before me.  I feel gratitude for my great-grandmother who was sold as an indentured servant by her family, my paternal grandfather who chased his dreams of a medical degree, my maternal grandfather who had to leave formal schooling in middle school to pursue his vocation and my own parents who immigrated from Taiwan to America in pursuit of their education to grant me this privileged experience. I feel gratitude for my brother who picks up when I am in the Uris Library fishbowl finishing essays, a family who drives five hours when I’m at my lowest and the opportunity to achieve my ancestor’s wildest dreams.

And while my time on the Hill is coming to a close, I feel an incredible amount of relief knowing that a new class of leaders will fill North Campus soon and full faith to place Cornell in the hands of my successors. Four years on the Hill have prepared me for another 80 years as a Cornellian.

Dustin Liu is the undergraduate student-elected member of the Board of Trustees, and a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected]. Trustee Viewpoint runs every other week this semester.