Less contentious than recent online gatherings, Thursday’s Student Assembly meeting addressed equity issues on and off campus while renewing calls to amplify student voices through online petitions.
After roll calling and acknowledging the Cayuga Nation’s historic claim to the land that the University was built on, S.A. members jumped into a discussion that stressed how students can levy their resources to promote collective action and assist local communities in need.
At the beginning of the meeting, Dean of Faculty and Prof. Charles Van Loan, computer science, sought the assembly’s opinions on how to make sure those who sign petitions are affiliated with Cornell and informed on the issues they are advocating for.
Van Loan cited the push to rename Goldwin Smith Hall and a chaotic snow day closure in 2007 that led to a petition signed by almost 1,400 faculty, students and staff for Cornell to reevaluate its inclement weather policies.
“When the faculty proposes something at the college level, the department level or the University level, petitions come our way,” Van Loan said. “[The Faculty Senate] needs to understand a little better how to process these.”
S.A. members stressed the importance of petitions to properly inform students on the issues before they sign, as well as methods for Cornell to authenticate that petitioners are affiliated with the University.
“[This subject] is honestly a great opportunity because everything has moved online, and I think students are finding that the best ways they can advocate for themselves is through things that can be done virtually such as petitions,” said S.A. President Cat Huang ’21.
However, Huang mentioned that improvements could be made by conducting student-led petitions through Qualtrics, and that the Office of Assemblies could play an active role in email-blasting petitions to the student body.
After concluding the discussion about petitions, the S.A. shifted to discuss new student initiatives striving to mitigate social issues such as food insecurity and homelessness.
These initiatives included Grub Ventures, a student organization using venture capital to empower agri-food businesses and achieve food security, and One Fair Share, which seeks to address students’ gentrifying impact on the local housing market and its adverse effects on the over 160 homeless individuals in Tompkins County.
“One of the reasons that we think it’s really pertinent for the Student Assembly to act on an issue like this is because, whether we like it or not, we all bear some form of responsibility for what our community looks like,” said One Fair Share co-founder Michael Stefanko ’22.
Stefanko argued that students’ willingness to pay higher rents and the University’s under-contribution toward Ithaca’s tax revenue exacerbate the difficulties local tenants face.
“When [rent increases] happen continually and we all say … ‘We will pay more than $1,000 a month for rent,’ that ends up pushing up rent prices and the people that are at the very bottom get pushed down pretty heavily,” Stefanko said. “This initiative seeks to kind of be a first step at addressing that problem and really contributing our fair share as community members of Ithaca.”