I’m even grateful for the most negative and ridiculous comments, which usually lurk under the Facebook posts. For every cruel comment expressing that only men, usually white men, are truly deserving of getting into engineering school there were two or three more comments underneath debating and disagreeing.
I’m not alone in my frustrations regarding Cornell’s handling of our campus’s partiers. It seems like on campus, there are certain sets of people who are above the rules and can do whatever they want without consequence — and to no one’s surprise they tend to be the privileged members of Cornell’s fraternities and sororities.
An acquaintance was once someone who you could run into as you rush through Ho Plaza on your way to class and chat, or attempt to catch up with over the roar of a frat party’s Spotify playlist. Maybe they were even a friend of a friend, or an ally when you frantically needed help on your problem set the night it’s due. Without these relatively inconsequential interactions, Cornell’s campus is no longer a community of interconnections, but a set of isolated bubbles. An unfortunate, but not unexpected consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic lasting as long as it has is the death of an entire class of friends. The loss of the acquaintance is just another symptom of the loss of the campus space and sense of community we’ve experienced over the last year.
The Cornell Engineering administration is under no illusion that first semester freshmen are under a large amount of stress and pressure. Thrown from all corners of the world into a notoriously difficult University environment, there are bound to be growing pains as they acclimate to their new lives. The administration provides them a large number of supplementary Academic Excellence Workshop classes, bar them from joining the competitive and time sinking project teams as fully fledged members and flood them with resources and opportunities to find their home and people on the vast campus. But despite precedent from other leading engineering schools, they’ve failed to eliminate the single greatest stressor to these bright-eyed freshmen: Their grades. By switching the first semester grading scheme to a S/U system, we can create a more equitable environment for students to acclimate to their new lives.
This fall, Cornell has announced that freshmen will not be allowed to join engineering project teams.
In the introductory documents offered to project team leads this semester, among all the social distancing and COVID-related measures, was the phrase: “First-year students will not be allowed to join teams this fall.” My first reaction was sadness for the freshmen who will be barred from many of the opportunities for social connection that project teams offer and that coveted sense of belonging that freshmen are usually afforded. But then I remembered a conversation I had with a friend in April, in which she described how her well-regarded project team made the conscious decision to avoid recruiting freshmen, as they had realized it massively skews their demographics toward wealthy, white and Asian men. When trying to recruit through organizations like Under-Represented Minorities in Computing (URMC), they realized almost none of them made it onto their team as freshmen because they tended to lack the opportunities wealth buys which make a good project team candidate. They came to the realization that all of the College of Engineering project team leadership needs to come to: Recruitment for freshmen is based solely on their opportunities prior to Cornell, not the students themselves. Entering your freshman year at Cornell, the disparities between the opportunities afforded to different socioeconomic and racial groups begin glaring apparent.
On today’s morning walk to stay sane, I strolled through campus from Collegetown, looping through the slope up to North and back down again. With a camera in hand, I snapped some of the first pictures I’ve ever taken of the slope completely empty. As I passed through the eerie silence of central campus I heard songbirds singing — a first in my nearly three years here. I realized that some of the engineering buildings hum like living things, betraying the immense amount of energy flowing through them. I realized that this probably wasn’t the first time the slope had been empty, or campus was quiet enough to hear the songbirds — I had always been too caught up in my busy life here to take a moment to notice them.
Here’s a scenario that has totally never happened to me before: you’ve had a long day of classes and you’re ready to finally head home to your apartment in Collegetown, when you find yourself pulling on a push door as you exit, say, Upson Hall. You feel like an idiot; you’re a junior and here you are, looking like a prospective student visiting campus for the first time. But what if I told you that’s not your fault? That, instead, you’ve fallen prey to one of the most common design errors: the Norman door. First coined in the 1988 novel The Design of Everyday Things, the Norman Door is the result of poor and conflicting design decisions that make it difficult to determine how to operate the door, often resulting in a reliance on signage, or allowing its users to feel like idiots every day.
Regardless, the only thing we can do, as viewers, is to support. Give Old Boy by the same director as Parasite, Bong Joon-Ho, a try. You can’t go wrong with the other nominees of this year, like Honeyland or Pain and Glory. To ensure the enduring power and success of diverse films in the American consciousness, the best endorsement we can provide are our eyes and ears.
At the beginning of the fall semester, I wrote an article about the gender ratio in the engineering school, and the ways that Cornell’s College of Engineering could better create a more inclusive environment towards women. I received a lot of supportive feedback on the article, but I was particularly struck by the backlash. The comment section of the Facebook post was filled with people who claimed that women, and as they inferred, people of color, were stealing valuable spots from white men who were more “deserving”; namely, they had better grades and more previous experience in engineering. They just couldn’t seem to comprehend why it’s genuinely necessary to have diversity in a field that literally shapes the world a vast majority of the population lives in. Even aside from the obvious ethical and moral necessity of student body diversity at a world-class university like Cornell, diversity is crucial for the future and success of the school.