December 17, 2020

EDITORIAL | Cornell Administrators Must Advocate for their Marginalized Students

Print More

Earlier on Thursday, the Young America’s Foundation — a conservative youth group that has been criticized as a white supremacist group — published a column and social media campaign attacking Cornell Student Assembly representatives. 

The inaccurate shpiel of the YAF disseminated this morning is nothing more than a diatribe that attacked young adults with marginalized identities for having the gall to think differently. 

In the opinion pages of this newspaper, cited in the YAF piece, The Sun has tried its best to trust the intent of different perspectives; we’ve advocated over and over again for students to disagree on policy, not personality. But it is impossible to model or facilitate discourse when off-campus agitators attack our peers for having the audacity to advocate for a disarmament resolution that seeks to make this campus safer.

For all the hoopla attributed to members of the S.A. for their admittedly unconventional approaches to student governance, the power structures at play in this moment are clear: Students of color attempted to make change in the sphere of their own University, with democratic support of their community, following the institutional procedures that permit accountability. Rules were not broken. Policies were followed. There were certainly, as even the President of the S.A. noted, times of pettiness, but that is indubitably a hallmark of all governance. 

Now, these students have been spotlighted in racist, misogynistic and targeted machines that are oiled to pluck “controversial” incidents on campuses, decontextualize and dehumanize them to national audiences. These outlets then can move on, unaffected or unperturbed by the harm caused to, and division sown between, real people. 

College campuses are supposed to provide an opportunity for students and staff alike to experiment with the institutional rules that define society, to brainstorm policy initiatives and to be supported in their endeavors by the University that granted them admission. 

Does a University police force — on a campus that falls under the jurisdiction of multiple other armed police forces —  need to be armed all the time, when many students say this approach does not work? Is there a better approach to safety that prioritizes the most vulnerable? Are police forces embedded in histories too steeped in racism to repair? Students on this campus have spent months critically developing these questions, and have created thoughtful answers to them, too. 

The YAF doesn’t engage with any of this substance. Instead, they chose to use their national platform in a manner that most students on this campus — conservative and liberal — should dub racist and reckless. 

The role of a campus newspaper is often bizarre; we highlight our student leaders’ roles and responsibilities and attempt to hold the University and our peers accountable for their actions, while also recognizing and fearing that larger publications can strip and mine our pages injudiciously. In this moment, we hope to make clear the objective inaccuracy of the YAF piece, as well as its clearly unethical approach. 

It is incredibly disappointing to see the deafening silence of this University. In our experience, the University doesn’t hesitate to quickly lurch into action to highlight errors they see in The Sun’s coverage, levying the awkward power dynamics of campus newspapering to advocate for themselves. This is fine. But we ask now that they channel that same energy to advocate for their students.

The Sun is technically off-duty — we said goodbye yesterday. However, in the absence of University leadership, someone must respond. The report by the YAF was silly, childish and racist.

A previous version of this story listed the YAF as the Young American Foundation. A change has been made to reflect their true name, Young America’s Foundation.

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.