President Martha E. Pollack issued a list of initiatives on Wednesday to combat systemic racism in the Cornell community, following nationwide civil unrest over the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans at the hands of police officers.
“While the challenges are enormous, and we cannot fix them on our own, that does not absolve us from taking whatever steps we can to fight against systemic racism and structural inequality,” Pollack said in a June 3 statement.
Pollack’s announcement came after she emailed the Cornell community on May 29 addressing the pervasiveness of police brutality and the recent killings of Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. In the message, Pollack promised to address issues of institutional racism through educational and research programs.
“We will address it directly in our educational programs, in our research and in our engagement and related activities, working through the ways we know best to push for a world that is equitable and kind,” Pollack said in the May 29 email.
Two initiatives deal with improving Cornell University Police. Cornell’s Public Safety Advisory Committee — which currently advises CUPD on campus safety policies — will ramp up efforts to reexamine procedures and training in use of force policies, de-escalation techniques and cultural competency. CUPD’s use of force policy is still not public, but the Ithaca Police Department publicized theirs on June 1.
Other than Pollack and CPSAC, CUPD has no other direct, independent oversight. In March, the Student Assembly passed a resolution calling for an oversight committee composed of members from Cornell’s governing bodies and CUPD.
According to the resolution, the oversight committee would be a liaison between the Cornell community and CUPD, while providing recommendations to Pollack over the “provision of police services to the University community.” Although the resolution passed the S.A., Pollack has yet to approve of the committee.
The University will also host a conference with CUPD, IPD, the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office and New York State Police, as well as students, staff and faculty representatives to discuss improving law enforcement for communities of color.
Pollack added that she would reach out to local community leaders to discuss these past instances of police brutality and “advance town-gown initiatives to further support the needs of our friends and neighbors.”
According to the statement, over 75 percent of the goals outlined in the 2018 President’s Task Force — which was created after a slew of racist incidents occurred on campus — have been met. Some goals the task force proposed were compulsory diversity education — leading to a mandatory Intergroup Dialogue Project orientation for incoming students — and a revised campus code of conduct that would be less punitive.
Throughout the summer, the University’s Office of Human Resources will also host 75-minute Zoom sessions on issues like institutional racism, the current protests, how to be an ally to Black colleagues and how to engage in more meaningful conversations on racism.
The University will also host a community book read with Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be Antiracist, with virtual discussions on the book to be held throughout the summer.
Floyd’s death left the Cornell community reeling as, on Wednesday, students organized the largest Black Lives Matter protest in Ithaca’s recent history. Another protest is scheduled to take place on Friday.
On Monday, the Ezra Cornell statue on the Arts Quad was covered in the phrase “I Can’t Breathe” — the same words Floyd pleaded as former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin continued to suffocate him to death. University maintenance immediately covered the statue, drawing backlash from some students. CUPD launched an investigation into the incident.
Pollack reiterated throughout the statement that Cornell would work toward creating a more equitable campus climate.
“All of this work will continue, but so much more needs to be done, at Cornell and beyond,” Pollack said.