Hannah Rosenberg/Sun Photography Editor

The Student Assembly meeting on Oct. 21, 2021 was held in Willard Straight Hall.

October 22, 2021

S.A. Condemns University’s Third President’s Involvement in Colonization of the Philippines

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The Student Assembly voted Thursday to hold the University responsible for actions taken by its third president Jacob Gould Schurman, who played a key role in advancing American involvement in the Philippines. 

While president of Cornell from 1892 to 1920, Schurman was appointed by President William McKinley to serve as chair of the Schurman Commission starting in 1899, on which he stated that “the Filipinos are not capable of self-government” and advised for American intervention. 

The Schurman Commission was created by McKinley to observe the condition of the Philippines and make recommendations for American intervention — a mission that concluded that while the Filipinos expressed desire to be independent, they were not ready for sovereignty. Filipino nationalists resisted American rule, and as a result conflict ensued and American troops killed at least 200,000 Filipino civilians.

Joseph Mullen ’24, S.A. internal vice president, spoke of the far-reaching effects of American imperialism in the Philippines.

“The damage that has been done in the long-term is extremely significant,” Mullen said. “From the underdevelopment of the Philippines, the exploitation of natural resources, and even today the United States [has] a lot of military bases in the Philippines and [continues] to meddle in Filipino internal sovereignty.”

Resolution 33, written by cultural chair of the Cornell Filipino Association Alyssandra Ortanez ’23, includes a list of corrective measures for the University to address its past. Included in the demands is a formal apology from the University, changing the name of Schurman Hall on Tower Road and expanding the ethnic studies departments to allow students to better explore the history of imperialism.

The resolution also calls for increased transparency from the University. It demands the creation of a plaque inside of Schurman Hall that explains the history of American imperialism in the Philippines and calls for  Cornell to post information about Schurman’s opinions on Filipinos in his official biography, where this is only a brief mention of his involvement on the Schurman Commission.

According to Mullen, who sponsored the resolution, Schurman used racist language to describe Filipinos, calling them an “uncivilized people” in an address to faculty and students at Cornell on Sept. 23, 1898.

“What does ‘any person, any study’ even mean when a colonizer is upheld?” Ortanez said to The Sun. “How am I supposed to feel when I walk through campus, knowing the building that Cornell named after a racist and violent white supremacist that terrorized my country is a three minute walk away from me?”

Ortanez said students can get involved by learning more about Filipino culture and how it is often intertwined with the history of other marginalized groups at upcoming CFA meetings.

This undertaking by the S.A. follows other resolutions aimed at tackling international affairs. Last semester, the S.A. passed a resolution to sever ties with parties involved in the Yemeni Civil War and this semester they called on Cornell to condemn the Biden administration’s treatment of Haitian refugees. 

During Thursday’s meeting, the S.A. also passed Resolution 32, which urges Cornell to establish Veterans Day as a University holiday and voted to allocate more funding to Cornell EARS, which is restructured to focus on peer mentorship.

“I believe that diversity means more than enrolling students from marginalized groups,” Ortanez said. “It means protecting and actively caring for these students, treating them as more than a statistic.”