September 13, 2022

PLOWE | Check Your Power

Print More

Now, more than ever in history, is it important for Cornell students to evaluate their positions of power both locally and globally. Cornell students, like all people, are moral agents. Our actions have immense rippling impacts. 

With my time online, I try to raise awareness surrounding one local issue — student-generated pollution — and also one global issue — the Uyghur genocide — in the Xinjiang Provence in China. Last March, I wrote about why the Uyghur genocide matters to Cornell students. I was hopeful that my community and nation would become more aware and vocal since March, but I have found, still, only ignorance surrounding the genocide. The relationship, or lack thereof, of Cornell students to the Ithaca and Tompkins County community concerns me greatly, too. 

What does students’ littering have to do with the genocide in China?

Inattention and moral numbness. Cornell students’ inattention to the Big Red garbage littering the gorges is the same inattention which fosters dangerous ignorance of our school’s implication in massive scale human rights abuse. The University has a dual degree program with Peking University and the Nolan School of Hotel Administration, which indicates the University administration’s disregard for human rights abuses. The fact that there is no outrage by the student body of Cornell’s association with abusive institutional oppression by the Chinese Communist Party — such as the University’s lover, Chinese surveillance technology — speaks to the moral nonchalance and lack of political participation. 

The litter around campus and in natural areas also exemplifies Cornell students’ passive egocentrism. This is my fourth year at Cornell, and over the past few weeks, I have seen more litter discarded alongside roads and creeks than I’ve ever seen before. Cayuga Lake, an ancient 40 mile long and 400 ft. deep glacially formed lake connected to campus by two creeks and only one mile, has 100 million microplastics in it according to the Ithaca College Toxicology Lab in 2020. Second Dam, a popular student party destination, has an ever-growing trash heap. 

When you litter, or even walk past trash without picking it up, you are damaging our watershed and disrespecting the land and all its people. The spirit of this land is still healing from the burning of the Gayogo̱hó:nǫʼ and Haudenosaunee villages by the order of George Washington in order to “open the Finger Lakes to civilization.” How dare we infest it with our trash when the clean option is little burden to us? Why are so many people apathetic to the garbage on our streets?

Students’ inattention and self-obsession leads to moral numbness. There are a plethora of moral issues birthed by the absurdly rich University, yet the conversation surrounding University-as-corporation is quiet. I’m not saying that we’re all hedonistic robots, but rather that there are many factors which make it easier to be self-centered, whether it is anxiety or stress, too many credits or no alone time.

I will remind or introduce you of the outpour of horrific events to remind you of the world in which we study and work. We are on the same planet as hell. Since I wrote about the Uyghurs in March, the U.N.’s human rights chief timidly affirmed that China is committing crimes against humanity. Over the past month, it made public news that China is starving its people. Even in my personal research I have noticed articles and videos disappearing, confirming the breadth of China’s censoring of desperate calls for food. The Chinese Commuist Party is terrorizing Xinjiang, including children, and especially women. The Chinese government is actively trying to shut down global awareness of the genocide. 

How can we rest until we know we have done something to quell the hell, something small, even? Do Cornell students this year simply not have ethical consciousnesses? Are we too distracted?

Wealthy Cornell students tend to treat their time in Ithaca solely as a networking experience before they reach N.Y.C. or another desired city. As someone with experience in the greater Ithaca community, I can say with certainty that most locals do not respect Cornell students. Most Cornell students do not care to or are unable to participate in the community in Tompkins. It is clear to me that this is related to students’ inability to behave as global citizens. 

Ivy League students are powerful. We will be lawyers, investment bankers, teachers, movers and shifters of the paradigm and stewards of the Earth. The time to reckon with your attention, your identity, your morals, starts now, and not when you graduate. We must examine our habits of inattention which result in the disrespect of our home. Then, we can address a genocide — doing good is not out of our reach. 

ED Plowe is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at With Gratitude runs every other Tuesday this semester.