Starting October 15, Julia Feliz would not be welcome at Cornell’s Alliance for Science program, its director said. The decision — which Feliz shared in a widely-circulated post — was followed by waves of student support in a Student Assembly resolution in solidarity with Feliz and a planned rally, as well as a University statement disputing many of Feliz’s characterizations and an email from President Martha E. Pollack.
The controversy began earlier this month, when Feliz accused Iowa State University Prof. Max Rothschild of racist and sexist terminology when responding to their question after a lecture. Feliz recounted their experience at the Alliance for Science in a lengthy piece on Medium, an online publishing platform.
On Thursday night, in a phone call and email to The Sun, Rothschild unequivocally denied all accusations, wholly disputing Feliz’s account of the incident. The animal science professor added that “[a]ccusing me of being racist because I am white is offensive and racist.”
Feliz said Rothschild spoke loudly and walked towards them to intimidate them. The guest lecturer denied this in an email to The Sun, saying that he requires a hearing aid, and attributed his actions to his inability to hear them at the time.
Pollack replied to Feliz’s email after the S.A.’s resolution — which was contested by all fellows who spoke at Thursday’s S.A. meeting — by writing a brief email to Feliz, which they posted online.
“I have received your message,” Pollack wrote to Feliz, a Puerto Rican former fellow, on Friday morning. “Cornell takes reports of alleged discrimination seriously, and all appropriate offices are fully engaged in this matter.”
The email was “weak” and “generic,” Feliz wrote in the accompanying post.
The Alliance for Science is a network that promotes scientific advances and conversation around food insecurity, sustainability and innovations in agriculture. The non-profit hosts a three-month fellowship program to “equip and empower emerging international leaders who are committed to advocating for science-based communications and access to scientific innovation in their home countries.”
This year’s program began with 32 fellows from 15 different countries. Feliz was one of the fellows until Oct. 14, when an email from the program’s Senior Associate Director Sarah Evanega asked Feliz to leave the program and not attend any further sessions — as of the next day. Evanega did not reply to repeated requests for comment.
“This decision was not taken lightly,” wrote John Carberry, Senior Director of Media Relations and News, in a statement posted online.
While Carberry noted that this part of Feliz’s experience — which they continue to document online — was accurate, the Cornell media representative disputed many of Feliz’s other claims.
Carberry said that Feliz’s dismissal was because they repeatedly interrupted classroom lectures and discussions, and “compromised” other fellows’ educational experience. Feliz has said that these claims are lies aiming to ruin their reputation, and issued a list of demands to the University, including an apology and 11 policy updates.
As the University and Feliz clashed on the narrative, so did those who responded to Feliz’s viral piece.
On Thursday, the S.A. passed a statement condemning the abrupt dismissal of the former fellow in a 24-0-1 vote. Students and student organizations spoke out in support of Feliz, sharing their own experiences of perceived racism in classrooms at Cornell, The Sun reported.
On the other hand, Patience Koku, a 2018 Alliance for Science fellow from Nigeria, said that the fellowship was an inappropriate forum for Feliz to make comments on social justice. Other fellows including Pacifique Nshimiyimana also spoke against the S.A. motion.
“You have had only one side of the story here,” Nshimiyimana, a fellow from Rwanda, repeated twice, saying that Feliz’s characterization of the biotechnology program was incorrect.
Feliz was an activist in sessions, fellow Rose Mukonyo, a native Kenyan, said in the meeting.
But “this activism came out in every single session that we had,” Mukonyo noted, saying that it ultimately prevented the fellows from having conversations about the “African dream,” and about putting food on the table in her home country.
At the S.A. meeting, Feliz was repeatedly asked questions about their experiences in the fellowship. They also said that after they raised concerns about the professor, the program failed to provide them adequate resources. In contrast, the University maintained that “Mx. Feliz chose not to take advantage of independent university support programs” in its statement on Wednesday.
There were also occasions where members of the Alliance for Science program misgendered Feliz and failed to provide them with disability accommodations for their ADHD, Feliz said at the meeting.
A protest, headlined as “Cornell: We Demand Accountability for Racism and Retaliation,” will be held on Saturday at 11:45 a.m., beginning at the Cornell Store. The rally, which coincides with day two of First-Year Family Weekend as parents of Cornellians flock to Ithaca, seeks to increase awareness and demand action.
Kathryn Stamm ’22, Amina Kilpatrick ’21 and Meghna Maharishi ’22 contributed reporting to this article.