Editor’s Note: Aminah Taariq-Sidibe is the Political Action Chair for Black Students United at Cornell University.
Given the progression of 2020, it is certain that we have all had some experience with the difficulty and weight of these unprecedented times. We also recognize that in an effort to express empathy, students have been sent messages reiterating displays of solidarity from countless institutions, industries and communities. However, these stands of solidarity have yet to change the systems in which we live. Demoralized by a lack of change, and desensitized by the incessant deaths of unarmed Black people, especially at the hands of law enforcement, we ask the administration for this: Say their names. Jacob Blake, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, George Floyd, Atatiana Jefferson, Oluwatoyin Salau and countless others. Acknowledge the reality of racial oppression in America, and its ramifications on BIPOC students at Cornell University.
This “Quarantine Period” has exposed the systemic racism prevalent in a multitude of social, economic and political systems within the United States. Systemic racism has perpetuated the oppression of minority populations in education, job opportunities, resources allocation, legal/criminal justice, etc. This reality is not up for debate. Black people are tired. But the degree to which Black people and people of color have surmounted oppression and excelled in America shows our strength. The Black students and alumni at Cornell are a testament to this triumph. What we need from the Cornell community is not performative allyship, but to actively be a part of the change and to acknowledge the reality of racism in America.
This school year, I am serving as Political Action Chair for Black Students United. I sat down with 2020-2021 BSU co-chairs Nnaemeka Nwankpa ’22 and Lassan Bagayoko ’22 to discuss our vision for the school year. Nwankpa shared, “as people of color in this country, our existence is threatened. This year has shown us the power of unity and the change that can happen when we approach issues as a united front. It is imperative that we maximize our privilege as students at Cornell to address the problems we face, and change the culture for generations to come.”
When it comes to our vision for the semester, our goal is to reinstill hope and motivation in fighting social injustice. This past Thursday, BSU hosted its annual Black Life on the Hill event for incoming freshmen to learn about multicultural organizations on campus. This is just the first of many virtual events for multicultural orgs to create a safe space for students while social distancing. Nwankpa added, “life is about intersectionality. As BIPOC, it is important to explore all of the identities that make us who we are.” Our plan as BSU is also to continue collaborating with ALANA umbrella organizations and other non-multicultural student organizations on campus. Social injustice isn’t limited to just one group. It will take a collective effort to address the problems in our society.
We are asking for more empathy in action. Educate yourselves. Have uncomfortable conversations. Provide support in any way you can to racial and social justice. We ask that the administration actually reach out to the Black student community, and solicit public comment on their diversity and inclusion initiatives, instead of limiting student contributions with committee applications. We ask faculty and staff to make space for conversations about topics like mental health and race with students. And we ask students to take advantage of opportunities to learn more and contribute. Bagayoko says, “it makes it immensely more difficult for students of color to prioritize their academics when there are so many other issues that the University is not addressing. Some students still have not received their financial aid, bringing concerns about food and rent on top of lectures and homework.”
So much good has come from decades of social activism, and the fight for civil rights by BIPOC and non-BIPOC. But the fight is not over. When you are a person of color in America, everything has to do with race. We can’t get over something that we are still experiencing. It is a privilege to be able to ignore the pain of seeing people disadvantaged and murdered because they look like you. Black students may make up a small percentage of the student body, but we are important to Cornell’s community. We are in your lectures, student government, labs, athletic teams, housing and more. We want Cornell and its students to be leaders in creating a more equitable society, and for the administration to continue their efforts in diversity and inclusion. As an elite institution, we want to ensure that Cornell fosters unity and anti-racism, which students can learn from and carry on after their studies.
In the words of Angela Davis: “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”
Aminah Taariq-Sidibe is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected] I Spy runs every other Tuesday this semester.