Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

From left to right: Willow Martin ’22, Alyssa Anderson ‘22 and Matea Lebeau ‘22 stand outside Goldwin Smith with signs, advocating for a teach-in for Ukraine, on March 9, 2022. Students and faculty across campus are working to educate the Cornell community on the Ukraine-Russia conflict.

March 9, 2022

Students, Faculty Push to Educate the Cornell Community on the Ukraine-Russia Crisis

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Responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, students and faculty are taking steps to provide educational opportunities to the Cornell community about the conflict. From webinars to protests, Cornellians across the University are pushing for greater awareness of the crisis.

This week, a group of Cornell undergraduates has been advocating for the implementation of a University-wide teach-in day, dedicated to addressing the conflict in Ukraine.

This week, the students have been organizing in Goldwin Smith Hall from noon until 1 p.m. each day, with QR codes for other students that direct them to sign an open letter to the University President, the Provost and the Director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.

Concerning the teach-in day itself, the students hope to see a variety of lectures and discourses promoted by various departments. 

“We want to interrupt normalcy on campus and give students the opportunity to break out of their daily routine and understand the war that’s happening in Ukraine right now,” said organizer Willow Martin ’22. “We want to open up space for students who are directly affected to have a safe space, and also for students who aren’t aware of what’s happening to get accurate information.” 

Martin and Alyssa Anderson ’22, another organizer, initially learned about the conflict because their professor, Prof. Jane-Marie Law, religious studies, took a day in class to talk about the crisis. 

“It is hard to get students to look up from their studies.… having a mandatory pause provided will be the most effective way to bring awareness,” Martin said.

Aside from the teach-in, Anderson said she hopes that students will take additional action. 

“Being present and showing up is what we can do right now, on top of the teach-in,” she said. 

Cornell’s Institute of Politics and Global Affairs recently held a series of webinars discussing the Ukraine-Russia crisis. Housed in the new Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, the institute aims to provide the Cornell community with opportunities to hear from various speakers currently invested in the realm of policy.

Steve Israel, director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs, emphasized how bringing in speakers gives the Cornell community an unique opportunity to expand their awareness of global issues, as well as support Cornellians directly affected by these conflicts.

“Crises like this present opportunities, particularly on campus. For one, they remind us that Cornell is a global community with students who are personally affected… and, two, they can be used as learning lessons,” Israel said.

The first webinar on Feb. 22 hosted William B. Taylor, who served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009 and is currently the Vice President for Russia and Europe at the United States Institute of Peace. Israel, a former U.S. Congressman (D-N.Y.), emphasized how these webinars and discussions are vital in addressing situations as severe as the Ukraine-Russia crisis. 

“This is a generational test for democracies across the world,” Israel said. “This is the first major aggression in Europe since the 1960s and World War II, and instead of reading about it in Russian history books, you can study it in real time today.”

When conflict arises, Israel’s focus is on educating the Cornell community on its dynamics. This education, he emphasized, is an integral part of the Institute for Politics and Global Affairs’s mission.

“We bring in global leaders to the Cornell community to explain it without soundbites. [The Institute] gives us the ability to marry academics with the people who staff our embassies, are elected to Congress and work in the White House,” Israel said.

The Institute hosted its second webinar, titled “Dispatch from Ukraine: Human Rights and Conflict in the Eastern Regions”, on March 2. This webinar brought in Representative Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission,formerly known as the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, and Bernard-Henri Lévy, a French activist. They discussed Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s response to the crisis as Ukraine’s president and head of state, as well as how other countries are responding to the attack.

Since the start of the webinar series, the U.S. Government has issued a series of sanctions on Russia — which have included blocking Russian banks, air travel and, more recently, oil. Having served on the Subcommittee for State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs during his time as a U.S. Congressman, Israel is familiar with the process of issuing sanctions. He expressed support for economic sanctions as an alternative to military escalation but stressed that they should not significantly hurt Americans. 

“President Biden has been very careful to implement the kinds of protections that will maximize punishment on Putin and reduce the impact on Americans,” Israel said.

Students expressed continued dedication and effort toward educating Cornellians on the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Matea Lebeau ’22 emphasized the necessity of these initiatives.

“It’s making a difference, keeping [the conflict] at the forefront of people’s minds,” Lebeau said.

Julia Nagel ’24 contributed to reporting.