Michael Wenye Li/Sun File Photo

March 19, 2021

Student Assembly Responds to National Issues of Race

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Issues of safety for people of color consumed Thursday’s Student Assembly meeting, as representatives responded to recent national events. 

Tuesday night’s shooting in Atlanta — in which six of the eight victims were Asian women — loomed over the meeting, as members mourned and S.A. president Cat Huang ’21, who is of Taiwanese descent, passed a resolution demanding action. The meeting also addressed the needs of undocumented students, introducing two resolutions to be presented next week.

Discussion centered around Huang’s resolution titled “Manifesto Calling Upon Cornell to Actionably Support the Asian American Community.” The resolution recognized the grief of Asian students, recommending the creation of an Asian American Studies major and semesterly mental health training for professors.

“This is a really tragic moment for a lot of folks in the Asian American community across the country,” Huang said. “We’re seeing a lot of national mourning and a lot of national outcry about how this is just the tipping point of a year and a history of anti-Asian violence and hatred.” 

In an email to President Martha Pollack conveying the proposal, Huang drew connections between the tragic deaths of Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Julie Park and Hyeon Jeong Park with campus institutions including police and Greek life.

“While mourning the deaths of the six Asian American women in Georgia at the hands of a disturbed white male killer, I was driven by the impetus to do something,” Huang wrote in the email to Pollack on Thursday. “Anti-Asian racism, sexism, hatred, and violence starts at home.”

Much of the debate centered on Huang’s initial recommendation that the University consider eliminating all fraternities, citing the role of Greek life in enabling sexual assault against women of color. This proposal generated significant debate — some criticized Greek life, while others disagreed with linking it to this national tragedy.

“I think it’s regrettable that we’re exploiting the concerns of the Chinese and Asian student population in targeting Greek life,” said Everest Yan ’22, president of the Cornell chapter of Phi Delta Theta. “As far as I’ve experienced, and as far as the Asian members of Greek life that I know have experienced, it’s been a very welcoming and hospitable environment for us.”

S.A. Vice President of Finance Uche Chukwukere ’21 said that, despite his role as president of the Multicultural Greek and Fraternal Council, he thinks the harms of Greek life outweigh the benefits — arguing in favor of dissolving Cornell’s Greek life system.

Ultimately, the manifesto passed, with the abolitionist language replaced with a request that the University “review policies and action items over [the] fraternity system, including reform, disband or abolish to make sure [the] Cornell campus would protect [the] Cornell community, especially Asian and other vulnerable communities.” The resolution also called for Cornell to again consider disarming the Cornell University Police Department.

Additionally, Cornell DREAM Team — a campus organization dedicated to empowering undocumented Cornellians — and its supporters in the S.A. and the Cornell Anti-Detention Alliance proposed two resolutions. The first called on the University to sever its ties with Immigration and Customs Enforcement; the second called on the University to proclaim itself a sanctuary campus. 

The timing of these resolutions coincides with national and local developments. Arrests and deportations in Ithaca in recent years, Trump-era abuses like forced sterilization of immigrants, the expansion of Customs and Border Patrol presence at Ithaca Airport due to its new international status, and the passage of the American Dream and Promise Act in the House of Representatives all motivated writing these resolutions, according to Stella Linardi ’22. 

The campus movement against ICE has moved to the S.A. in part due to University inaction. 

“We’ve been working with [the Cornell Committee Supporting Undocumented Students] for at least three years now, and have made very slow progress … Now we’re pushing for student solidarity and student power in order to get our demands across,” Linardi said.  

According to DREAM Team member Marco Salgado ’22, the University’s ties with ICE and lack of an explicit sanctuary campus policy makes undocumented students feel fearful and anxious. 

The first resolution alleges that Cornell currently allows ICE and its affiliates — companies like Palantir Technologies and Anduril Industries — to recruit on campus, and maintains educational and technological contracts with them. 

It also claims that Cornell Tech has been suspected to collaborate with ICE and its affiliates to provide facial recognition software and build fully automated “detect and shoot” towers at the southern border.

Linardi said the University should cut its ties with what she called brutal organizations. 

“Working with these companies which are guilty of human rights abuses is being complicit, in and of itself, with human rights abuses,” Linardi said. “We are looking to start with Palantir and Anduril and ICE, and looking to expand on a rolling basis.”

While Pollack has expressed support for undocumented students, DREAM Team organizers said she needs to go further. 

The resolutions discussed concerns over what they see as the lack of a formal CUPD protocol for immigration-related detentions. They also detailed a need for more information about the legal options available to students and community members taken into custody by ICE.

In some cases, protections for undocumented students exist but go unstated. Salgado said he doesn’t think that Cornell currently shares students’ immigration statuses, but feels that codifying current practices in an explicit “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy would ensure such information couldn’t later be revealed to ICE.

The resolutions on ICE and creating a sanctuary campus will be officially presented to the Student Assembly for a vote next week.