On the way to a prelim on Halloween night, rain washed away any possibility of a bus coming through the flooded intersection of CTB. I crossed the street and had the right of way when a car decided to turn, stopped inches away from me and the driver rolled down the window. A racial slur escaped from the window, along with some choice phrases about how I failed to see with my small eyes.
At first, I couldn’t believe that I was called a racial slur at Cornell. I then remembered that a similar event happened to me freshman year. These events are not uncommon, even on Cornell’s campus. We know that racism still exists, but I wondered why I thought that this sort of behavior was more unbelievable to me because it occurred at Cornell and why I would have been less upset by this sort of incident if I were somewhere else.
Our belief that Cornellians are more accomplished, intelligent and better overall just by way of being at Cornell undermines the reality that we are just as capable of harboring the same biases that we criticize in people who don’t bleed Big Red. This mentality doesn’t just manifest in objectively rude and racists incidents. I have friends who talk about only swiping right Cornell students when they use dating apps, or how they have lower standards on physical attributes if a person goes to Cornell. Comments under Sun articles come from people from different backgrounds (many of them not students), and many of these claim that Cornell students who make mistakes are not deserving of being here, without recognizing that students here have just as much room for growth as others. While not as damaging as racial slurs, this mindset of Cornell students being automatically better than others takes root throughout our daily lives, extending from the seemingly innocuous dating app considerations to the unexpected surprise of racism in action.
I fell victim to a similar mindset when I first came here, thinking that Ithaca College students somehow did not work as hard as I did in high school to get to where we are. Coming from an incredibly competitive high school and being ridiculed for “only getting into Cornell,” I spent a good chunk of freshman year trying to justify my achievement by setting very high expectations for Cornell students as a whole and lowering my expectations of others as a result. The inferiority complex of being a “low” Ivy League school comes not only with internalized toxicity to always prove to yourself that you must be better, but also with putting others down in the process. We then lower our expectations of others and increase our expectations for ourselves. We shouldn’t act shocked and think that incidents like what I experienced are rare and isolated, but rather address the biases that perpetuate at Cornell just as they do everywhere else.
Why do we have loftier expectations and judgments about people at Cornell? Just because we are on top of this hill in Ithaca doesn’t mean that we are automatically granted a higher status and are “holier than thou” — the people who diminished me to a racial stereotype on that rainy night certainly did not deserve that distinction. Each of us has as much room to grow and learn as others, and to expect that as a student body we are better than people outside of Cornell inhibits our pursuit of higher education and our insatiable attitude toward personal growth. While we should always strive to be better and hold ourselves to better standards, this shouldn’t be accompanied with lowering others — we need to walk down the Hill and off the pedestal.
Joanna Hua is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cup of Jo runs every other Friday this semester.