February 2, 2024

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | DEI is Part of Cornell’s Founding Principles

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Re:  Jon A. Lindseth’s “Open Letter” to the Cornell Board of Trustees

Dear Chair Kraig H. Kayser and the Board of Trustees: 

The undersigned Cornell alumni are members of the Alpha Chapter Alumni Association (ACAA).  We write in full support of Cornell University’s efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion on campus because those principles are core features of the Cornell Tradition. In fact, Cornell University’s founding principle of “any person, any study” was indeed our beloved University’s first ever DEI statement. Accordingly, we urge Cornell University’s leadership and its Board of Trustees to remain steadfast behind this sacred concept that has distinguished Cornell from other American universities from its founding.  

We are aware of alumnus Jon Lindseth’s letter to Cornell’s Board of Trustees, submitted on January 23, that mischaracterizes Cornell’s legitimate efforts to live up to its founding principles. Although the letter purposefully fails to spell out the words “equity” or “inclusion,” it does pay lip service to “viewpoint diversity” which has recently become a catchphrase for anti-DEI political activists. The truth of that matter is that achieving “viewpoint diversity” is impossible without ensuring individuals of different backgrounds have access to Cornell University, feel included when on campus and have equal opportunity to succeed. For this and other reasons, we consider Lindseth’s letter disingenuous – at best – and overly political in nature. 

It is worth noting that – like our country – Cornell University has not always lived up to its best ideals, especially in relation to its students and alumni of color. Retired Cornell lecturer and historian Carol Kammen wrote a historical narrative of the University’s Black students and titled her book “Part and Apart.” This history of Cornell is an admission that despite Cornell’s egalitarian principles of “any person, any study,” there were painful moments in Cornell’s history where diversity was limited, equity was an afterthought and many students – unfortunately – were excluded from core facets of campus life.  This dynamic was the impetus for the founding of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., at Cornell on December 4, 1906. Indeed, one of our Fraternity’s founders proclaimed: “Society offered us narrowly circumscribed opportunity and no security. Out of our need, our Fraternity brought social purpose and social action.” We should learn from Cornell’s powerful history; not retreat from the best of its aspirations. 

We are aware that there have been calls for the resignation of Cornell’s president Martha E. Pollack. Such a reaction would be a disappointing sign of contempt for many students and alumni of Cornell and a signal that Lindseth’s position is shared by the University’s leadership at the highest levels.  Cornell would, indeed, move further away from its highest ideals and succumb to the essence of its past shortcomings.  Do not make this mistake. 

Alternatively, we urge the University to work with a broad array of its alumni, including the brothers of Alpha Chapter Alumni Association, to ensure the University’s DEI efforts truly serve all Cornell University students well. Furthermore, Cornell University should leverage its alumni base to better shield the University from political distractions that are remotely related to its mission. We write this letter out of sincere love for an institution that has given us a tremendous amount of pride.


Alpha Chapter Alumni Association 

The Alpha Chapter Alumni Association is an alumni network of persons who have matriculated at Cornell University and were initiated at a chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.