February 6, 2020

EDITORIAL: Beyond Diversity, President Rhodes and the Journey Towards Inclusion

Print More

To say Cornell is the same institution today as it was in 1977, when former President Frank H. T. Rhodes took the helm, would be wrong. However, to say the University has had a vast character transformation over the past 43 years would ignore elements of this institution that still need to be changed.

Yesterday, it was announced that the ninth president of Cornell, Rhodes, had died at the age of 93. Rhodes had the distinction of being one of the longest serving presidents of Cornell. He led the University across three decades, ending his term in 1995. In his tenure as president, he oversaw some of the greatest changes at Cornell, leading the institution in a post-Willard Straight Hall Takeover world.

During his tenure, one of the University’s most notable changes was in its demographics. The number of minority and women faculty more than doubled during his time, in addition to the percentage of minority students at Cornell increasing by 20 points (from 8 percent to 28 percent). The number now stands at about 48.5 percent for the class of 2023.

In the two and a half decades since Rhodes’ departure from Cornell, there have been even more improvements to the diversity on campus. Last year, the first LGBTQ-centered program house opened up on North Campus, with other identity affiliated housing still going strong. The University has also launched new programs to strengthen its socioeconomic diversity, at a place where only 3.8 percent of the student body comes from the bottom 20 percent.

However, new programs and initiatives do not tell the full story — the students do. One of the issues that Rhodes had to deal with was divesting from the apartheid regime in South Africa, a topic that was repeatedly addressed throughout his leadership. While the University fell on the wrong side of history,  declining to completely divest, these same conversations are happening today. Most recently students have been advocating for the Trustees to divest from fossil fuels, a request that looks ill-fated at best.

Additionally, an increasingly diverse population has felt the consequences of a campus that has not adequately dealt with its community full of difference. Racially motivated attacks have occurred as frequently as every few years to a couple of times a semester. Anti-semitic symbols and racist chants have also become a standpoint in the campus culture. Despite the rejection of these acts from campus leaders, it does not feel like these actions are exceptions to the rule. Rather, they are the rule themselves.

In order to reflect on the legacy of a president that worked hard to change the demographics of this campus, we need to look beyond changing numbers and continually focus on a culture of inclusivity across all axis of difference.


The above editorial reflects the opinions of The Cornell Daily Sun. Editorials are penned collaboratively between the Editor-in-Chief, Associate Editor and Opinion Editor, in consultation with additional Sun editors and staffers. The Sun’s editorials are independent of its news coverage, other columnists and advertisers.