Following the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria, the Turkish Student Association students set up a table in Klarman Hall to inform passersby of the incident and collect donations on behalf of the victims. As of Tuesday morning, the death toll in Turkey has risen to almost 36,000, with many injured and still trapped under the rubble. Combined with Syria, the death toll has reached more than 41,000. And yet, Cornell students walked on, disinterested. Friends of Turkish students waved and continued on their merry way. But of course, the Instagram posts detailing the catastrophe and calling for donations received empathetic messages and sincere concerns.
As the clock hit 5 p.m., a business fraternity set up a banner next to the TSA table. Students congregated around the fraternity members to discuss philanthropy, while ignoring the table desperately seeking help beside them. A fashion magazine held their shoot selection event across from TSA and similarly paid little attention to the table. At least some acknowledgment, if not a donation from one student who spotted their neighboring table, should be expected from a Cornell student.
This issue is not limited to students. A Dyson student was removed from a Dyson GroupMe by a Cornell administrator who was in the group chat after sending texts calling for earthquake aid and awareness. They wished to reach the most students possible and inform them of ways they could contribute if they wished to do so, yet they were removed from the group and emailed personally regarding the issue. The email stated that the fundraiser was “outside of the chat intention and guidelines.” In cases such as these, a simple warning would suffice. They have since re-entered the chat following a hurt email from the removed student, but support from professors and the administration is particularly precious at this time.
Professors and the administration are among the most vital channels through which Turkish students can spread the word. The contents of the Dyson student’s message may have fallen outside of the guidelines, but with the cooperation of other students and administrators, significant progress could have been made. Cornell administration, even after receiving emails from the TSA, has taken more than a week to acknowledge the situation in a campus-wide email. Despite the active presence of the TSA in promoting the aid campaign, the barrier between awareness and action remains.
A fundamental issue that contributes to this behavior is performative activism. These days, it is primarily fueled by social media and has grown more prominent after the Black Lives Matter protests. Performative activism is activism that intends to gather attention, respect, social capital and monetary compensation, instead of providing proper aid to the cause it advocates for.
One may think, “Oh, I would never do that. I really care about [insert cause here]!” But the majority of us are guilty of performative activism at some point in our lives. We share informative graphics on our social media pages, but how many of those causes do we research and send aid to?
These posts may be spreading awareness and helping a broader audience learn about the issue, and that is indeed a significant contribution. It can be challenging to take the initiative and search for ways to help when so many crises occur in the world. But it is performative activism when the mechanisms of change are laid before your eyes, and you feign ignorance, only to return home and announce your support online — just a $2 donation can provide a blanket for the victims housed in earthquake shelters.
Of course, it is also crucial to mention that this is not an issue limited to Turkey; Syria has been affected heavily by the earthquake as well, and it is just as important to acknowledge this fact and act upon it. Both countries are in dire need of aid at the moment.
How can students contribute?
The TSA participates in Google and Spotify’s “Double the Donation” campaign to help the funds reach organizations such as AHBAP, which plays a vital role in providing supplies to victims. Furthermore, donation boxes for those who cannot offer monetary support will be set up for clothing, preservable food products and health and sanitation supplies. Listed below are some organizations that students can donate to directly. Even if it is not for Turkey, we hope that students will finally take action for a cause they support beyond social media.
List of Organizations that Provide Aid to Turkey and Syria
Lal Kosematoglu is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]