Hannah Rosenberg/Sun Photography Editor

Thursday's meeting of the Student Assembly involved discussions from installing better lighting in dorms to cameras around campus.

April 28, 2021

Student Assembly Talks Campus Lighting and Surveillance

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At Thursday’s Student Assembly meeting, representatives focused on campus life, discussing proposals for better lighting and more surveillance in student dorms. 

Freshman representative Andrea Miramontes Serrano ’24 proposed Resolution 44, which asks Cornell to increase lighting in University-owned dormitories by providing students with lamps, starting with older dormitories like Clara Dickson Hall. It also asks that the University allow more campus libraries to remain open 24 hours before the spring 2021 final exam period.

The resolution contends that there’s a shortage of well-lit study spaces on campus, with poorly lit dorms and libraries that close too early. According to the resolution, these conditions have forced some students to bring unsafe lighting, like lightbulbs that exceed the recommended wattage for their lamps, into their dorms to study.

“A lot of students are not able to concentrate correctly, and especially now that with COVID a lot of people have to be taking classes in their dorms and can’t really go outside, there have been a lot of complaints,” Serrano said. 

Initially, some representatives supported the proposal — Lucas Smith ’22, a voting member of the S.A., proposed that the assembly could put its own money toward improving campus lighting, which Serrano said would accelerate the process and ease Cornell Housing’s concerns about where to find funding.

But representatives disputed where the S.A. would get the money. Valentina Xu ’22, a voting member of the assembly, said the S.A.’s infrastructure fund could finance lamps, but freshman representative Amari Lampert ’24 claimed that Student Activities Funding Commission bylaws wouldn’t allow it.

Smith proposed using the Access Fund, a University program that gives up to $500 to students to mitigate financial barriers, but Laila Elmagid ’22 questioned whether the funds would apply. 

The resolution was tabled until the next meeting to allow for further research. 

Serrano also proposed Resolution 46, which asks the University to install security cameras in Cornell-owned public spaces where food is stored, such as in dorm kitchens and lounges. The assembly voted to table the resolution indefinitely.

According to the resolution, students have increasingly downgraded or dropped their meal plans, often for financial reasons, and rely on communal kitchens for food. For these students, food theft can be a daily burden.

“Increasing theft reports, out of which a concerning percentage [regard] the disappearance of food and kitchen supplies even when said goods were appropriately labeled [are] preventing students from engaging in [campus] experiences and activities,” the resolution states. 

The resolution comes at a time of heightened discussion over policing and surveillance. In December, the S.A. ultimately passed Resolution 30 that called for police disarmament. Meanwhile, in December, the University expanded the role of the Judicial Administrator, and in February 2020 installed security cameras on West Campus dorms. S.A. international students liaison Youhan Yuan ’21 claimed he has recently seen security cameras strapped to trees on the Slope.

Bennett Sherr ’21, undergraduate representative to the University Assembly, condemned Serrano’s resolution as racist and authoritarian.

“Adding surveillance cameras to dorm common spaces will serve not only as a violation of our civil liberty but risk putting more students of color in contact with our racist and overreaching police department,” Sherr said. “This builds on a long history of the surveillance state being used to violate the civil rights of people of color, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants and Muslim citizens in our post-9/11 landscape. Intra-dorm military-like surveillance is no way to actually curb stealing in shared areas.”  

LGBTQ+ liaison Tomás Reuning ’21 added that the funds for the cameras could go toward providing greater community access to free food or to giving every dorm room a free mini-fridge — suggestions that Serrano said she liked but didn’t find realistic.

Reuning also said he believes the root of food theft was hunger, but Serrano disagreed.

“The reality is that you leave your stuff there, and then Friday night kids go and they’re bored and they take your stuff,” Serrano said.