June 8, 2020

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Re: ‘The Reason for Our Silence’

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To the Editor:

On Saturday, the executive board of the Cornell Republicans published a response to a column written by Andrew Lorenzen ’22 a day prior, which criticized the group’s lack of response in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. In light of the recent Black Lives Matter protests that have gripped America’s largest cities and brought issues of police brutality and racial injustice to the forefront of the media once again, we found in the group’s response little more than a vapid attempt to legitimize their continued inaction. We call here for the Cornell Republicans to publicly acknowledge that Black lives matter, and, in doing so, affirm the existence of systemic racism, institutional oppression and widespread racist police brutality.

In their response meant “to set the record straight” on past silence, the Cornell Republicans reasoned that “an expression of discontent with current popular opinions, such as defunding police departments” would cause unrest in the campus political climate.

However, the Cornell Republicans have previously not shied away from entertaining potentially contentious discussions – however unpopular – with little regard for the impacts they may have on campus climate. Their recent invitations of Rick Santorum in 2016 and Dick Cheney in 2018 to campus, both of which attracted significant student protests, serve to evidence this point.

Additionally, the policy-focused content of the Cornell Republicans’ letter is unlike many of the other statements released by campus organizations. In a time when groups from athletic teams to professional clubs to greek-life organizations have spoken up to acknowledge and condemn the institutional racism that led to George Floyd’s death, the Cornell Republicans opted to disavow a potential policy solution, and in doing so entirely missed the point of these statements.

What is being asked of the Cornell Republicans is not a proclamation of a preferred policy agenda, but rather an acknowledgement of the systemic racism and widespread police brutality that have long plagued our nation’s Black communities, an affirmation of human rights in the face of oppression and an assertion that Black lives matter.

Institutional racism is not a partisan issue, yet the Cornell Republicans seem to morph it into one when they claim that “[their] positions might not align fully with those that have received widespread approval.” As a politically based organization which represents a major American political party, asserting highly generalized perspectives as a result of party affiliation injects partisan debate into a human rights issue.

The willingness and ease with which the group transforms systemic inequality and institutionalized racism into partisan politics is divisive at its core. Importantly, the pivot to a conversation about policies without the explicit acknowledgement of institutionalized racism in the United States undermines solutions to an issue that persists regardless of party affiliation. Further, the Cornell Republicans had a choice to follow in the steps of prominent Republican figures from around the country who have, at a bare minimum, spoken up in recent days against widespread institutional racism, including the likes of George Bush and Mitt Romney. They chose not to.

While we appreciate the Cornell Republicans’ acknowledgement of aspects of police brutality, it is imperative that they also demonstrate an understanding of the deep historical and racial contexts within which this issue exists. Police brutality in America is a symptom of the endemic disease that is racism. One of the stated beliefs of the organization is: “You can be what you are, and become what you are capable of becoming.” While we would like to take this statement at face value, evidence overwhelmingly supports the assertion that racism is woven into the fabric of our country. Thus, the pervasiveness of institutional racism undermines the principle of equal opportunity and the capacity for oppressed individuals to become what they are capable of becoming. From this perspective, silence in the face of this injustice is silence in the face of a violation of one of the group’s core principles. In the words of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

While you may not agree with all of the policies that have been put forth or considered in popular culture, you have yet to acknowledge the underlying problem in the first place. The Cornell Republicans – and other campus organizations – have an opportunity to align themselves against the forces of racial injustice, and commit to action against them. We urge them to take it.

Noah Belser ’20

Joanna Hua ’20

        Grace Mehler ’20

Akhil Mithal ’21

James Piccirilli ’21

Fabrice O. Ulysse ’20

Mason Woods ’20