Courtesy of The New York Times

With campus tensions high, students gather around in support of one another.

November 27, 2023

KOH | Cornell’s Community Day: There Was No Restoration   

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The month of November began with a ping: an email to the entire student body, faculty and staff declaring a “Community Restorative Day”. In response to “extraordinary stress of the past few weeks” — which included the Israeli-Palestinian humanitarian crisis and war, brewing political tensions on campus and antisemitic threats scattered throughout campus and online — the University canceled classes and work for faculty and staff.

Despite its intentions, however, this day seemed to be the University’s meager attempt to effectively address such concerns within the Cornell community and is a testament to performative activism that infests institutions and our generation today.

For many of my peers and me, the restorative day was in fact, not that restorative at all. With an essay due that day, a prelim scheduled for the following Monday and lab reports due the next week, that Friday was more of an opportunity for me to catch up on my work, rather than to truly reflect or recover from the recent events on campus and beyond.

Life as a Cornellian is difficult: prelims and essays relentlessly cycle through every week; assignments, if left unattended, will crowd Canvas inboxes; six hours of sleep fades into a luxury as the year progresses; “an extra shot of espresso” rolls off the tongue a little too easily for a daily Libe Café order; the windy, black Ithacan weather haunts the walks back home. For myself, my friends and classmates and students across the country, schoolwork consumes our lives. So, amongst the flurry of exams and essays, the cancellation of classes did little to alleviate stress placed upon students; the burden of deadlines still loomed over shoulders, and what the restorative day was dedicated for was forgotten.  

Instead of canceling classes, perhaps it would have been more effective for the University to postpone assignments and exams for a day or two; rather than canceling classes for just one day, which had little effect on students, a community restorative weekend could have been established, in which no work could be assigned or due and students could have briefly returned home to family. After all, how could students rest, recover and reflect — the very purpose of the day off — when high academic expectations were still expected from classes? Simultaneously, how were students expected to meet such expectations when coping with additional stress from recent events?

Much like how there was no restoration on Nov. 3, there was also no sense of community that the University seemed to have promised. In the email sent out, Provost Michael Kotlikoff, Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi and Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Christine Lovely urged students to “reflect on how [to] nurture. . .  [a] caring, mutually supportive community.” But the question of how to do so still lingers in the air and remains unanswered. When the student body is overwhelmed with the turmoil of the world added onto the preexisting pressures of college, should the University not offer more guidance to building this community?

Instead of “hop[ing]” students dedicate time to reflect and rest for the day, the University could have easily taken more active steps to enforce community and restoration, such as reserving a time for students to collectively remember those impacted by the Israeli-Hamas war or encouraging conversations regarding recent events amongst Cornellians, faculty and staff. In a time of distress, pain and even division, the University should not remain passive nor wishful that the situation might appease itself.

The University’s failure to implement the two core aspects of the community restorative day resulted in the day’s purpose to be overlooked. Amidst my assignments, I also found myself forgetting why classes were canceled; rather than a day of remembrance, November 3rd blended into the weekend, and its original intentions were lost.

So, if the community restorative day was neither particularly restorative or community-building, what has the University accomplished through that initiative? While for some it may truly have been a day well-spent on recovery and reflection, it essentially did not change much for the larger Cornell body. Classes resumed, and I, along with the rest of the student body despite how affected they might be by such issues, continued — and were expected to — with my normal schedule, neither rested nor restored from the day off.

Cornell’s response was simply not enough. Rather than a carefully organized plan, the last minute, three-paragraph long email seemed to be a hurried makeshift response to the arising issues on campus. In fact, the University’s lackluster reaction is exemplary of inauthentic, performative activism that troubles many institutions and the younger generation today. The administration’s lack of active, effective and continued attempts for restoration questions the authenticity of their activism and intentions. This absence of initiative disappointingly contrasts President Pollack’s powerful messages to the Cornell body attacking anti-Semitism and promising tangible changes in policy and support services. This passiveness pales in comparison to the gatherings and dynamic protests advocating for long-term changes within Cornell hosted by students, alumni and larger communities affected by the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, despite differing perspectives.

The University should reconsider their role in community, and redeem itself before it is too late.

Serin Koh is a third year student in the College of Arts and Sciences. Her fortnightly column And That’s the Skoop explores student, academic and social culture, as well as national issues, at Cornell. She can be reached at [email protected].

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