February 10, 2020

TAARIQ | Black History Month: Celebration of Community

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This article highlights important aspects of the Cornell Black community, with the goal of sharing and celebrating their significance. These aspects include spaces and organizations on campus that work to support Black and/or other minority students. Each contribution to the community is defined by a person who works closely with that space or organization.

This Black History Month, I wanted to remind you how proactive, impactful and empowering Cornell’s Black Community is — and always has been. This isn’t an article to highlight the very real struggles of being an underrepresented minority (in a place where Black students make around seven percent of the Undergraduate population). Instead, I want to give a glimpse of the beautiful community we have made here on campus. Moreover, I want you to hear from the students who go above and beyond their responsibility as an academic to serve their community in different roles.

The Cornell Black community wouldn’t be Cornell Black community without its academic and professional support system. At the core of the support system is the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives, better known as OADI. Located on the Ag Quad, the OADI office has become a space where minority students gather to partake in social, academic or professional activities. Dr. Wayne Hilson Jr. — the new Executive Director of OADI —  shared, “as I reflect on the continued, often tumultuous journey of the Black community within higher education and society as a whole the challenges have never been about intellect, drive and ability but access and agency. As a means of facilitating substantive progress along both fronts, the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives  serves as a centralized hub that provides academic and professional-development support and resources for undergraduate students who are traditionally underrepresented and/or underserved in higher education.”

The Cornell Black community wouldn’t be the Cornell Black community without its comradery. One prime example of amity and communion can be found within the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated. The Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity is the first historically Black intercollegiate fraternity in the United States, and it was founded in 1906 at Cornell University. Laurence Minter ’21, the current President of the chapter shared that “Brothers of [the] chapter continue to provide advocacy through some of the most expansive and historically significant spaces on campus including the Board of Trustees, Student Assembly, Class Councils, BSU and Trifecta organizations. As an organization some of our most notable programs include our annual pageant, college tours, conversations on the black family structure and a guest speaker series featuring notable administrators, government officials and other relevant community stakeholders.”

The Cornell Black community wouldn’t be the Cornell Black community without our other inclusive organizations — and there are several I’d like to highlight. Black Students United  is an umbrella organization for all Cornell University organizations that predominantly represent students of the African diaspora. Basirat Owe ’21, a co-Chair of BSU, shared that “[this] year, I’m incredibly proud of BSU’s spirit of change. Our events are increasingly intersectional and, unapologetically, take on contentious issues in the community. We have reimagined how to actively engage with community partners to pay our education forward beyond the hill. Finally, we have undertaken major projects to bring a range of Black voices to campus in person and film — including Dr. Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five as the 2020 Dr. Martin Luther King Commemorative Speaker in partnership with the University.”

The Nigerian Student Association is an organization that focuses on fostering cultural unity and understanding among the Nigerian and pan-African community at Cornell. Vice-President of Intern Affairs Maureen Ekwebelem ’21 shared, “NSA is important to the community because we host events that are affiliated with Africa. Some of our events either pertain to the continent as a whole or they focus on our home country Nigeria. Hosting these events is important because we want to provide a community for Black and African students to meet others and be able to celebrate their culture.”

Black Women Support Network  and Le Femmes De Substance are two organizations focused on supporting and uplifting Black women on campus. Ariel Roldan ’21, Events Coordinator for BWSN says that “[BWSN] is incredibly important for women of color because our organization strives to create safe spaces where we can talk about issues that are affecting our community … organizations like this fight for our voices to be heard.” Kambria Lockett ’21, Vice-President of Le Femme adds, “our goal is to empower women to pursue any and every professional aspiration through sisterhood, educational experiences and mentorship. We strive to establish a sisterhood in which we learn from each other and challenge ourselves to accomplish our goals despite glass ceilings and societal barriers.”

Finally, Under-Represented Minority in Computing is a new and outstanding organization in the Cornell STEM community. The focus of the organization is to provide mentorship, community and professional support to minority students in the computing field. Jehron Petty ’20, former co-president of the organization, stated that “[by]  the numbers, our organization has grown from around15 to 250 plus within two years. This has fostered a community so strong that our students feel as if anything is possible and someone will always be there to support them. This is why many of our students are now excelling both in and out of the classroom. Students are becoming TAs and getting Google internships as freshman — this was unheard of when I was a freshman.”

As you can see, the Cornell Black community is filled with intelligence, activism and hard work. By giving just a glimpse of what makes us who we are, I hope that the greater community not only gains more insight on what happens in different pockets of Cornell’s community, but is inspired to celebrate Black History Month as well.
Aminah Taariq is a Junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. I Spy runs every other Tuesday this semester.