Prior to moving to Dubai, UAE in the middle of High School, I never really thought about what it means to be Asian. Even though the 325 million Americans tend to place the 4.4 billion people on the Asian continent altogether under one group as “Asians,” I could clearly sense that I was an East Asian minority in a country where the vast majority of the people were Middle Eastern or South Asian. I’ve also naturally been in a part of an international community throughout most of my life and was never forced to regard myself as different. Yes, I thought that I was international in that I strive to be a global citizen, but not in the sense of being foreign or someone “other” than the majority. Here in the U.S., I have become increasingly exposed to the different identities one can embrace.
American newspaperman Philip Leslie Graham (1915–1963) was fond of saying that journalism is the “first rough draft of history,” but sometimes that first draft is a long time coming. Just this month, The New York Times published N. R. “Sonny” Kleinfield’s thorough account of the April 1967 fire that took the lives of a Cornell assistant professor and eight students: “Never Solved, a College Dorm Fire Has Become One Manʼs Obsession.” Many will read this story as the belated search for a suspected arsonist, a miscreant who allegedly attacked and killed Cornellians, including members of the University’s novel Six-year PhD Program. But Kleinfield’s engrossing tale is primarily about alleged public corruption in a town-gown enclave: namely, collusion by Cornell University administrators, local law enforcement officials and the press to stall a criminal investigation. In June of 1967, after a second and third fire again struck the ‘Fud’ students who had been relocated from their damaged Cayuga Heights Residential Club dormitory, Ithaca Police Chief Herbert L. Van Ostrand (1907–1997), Ithaca Fire Chief Charles M. Weaver ’39 (1917–1992) and Tompkins County District Attorney Richard Byron Thaler ’53, LLB ’56 (1932–2017) each stated for the record that they suspected the first fatal fire to be arson. But then the story died — completely.
Last week, after a phone conversation on what I wanted to do after I graduate ended inconclusively in tabled arguments and passive-aggressive goodbyes, my dad texted me the median income of a political science Ph.D. “About the same payscale as an operator” at the company where he works, he wrote. “You will study hard for LSAT and then we can discuss.”
It hurts knowing it would be literally and metaphorically easier on his heart if I had just gone all-out for law school or had read Cracking the Coding Interview back when I had the chance. Anything would be better than my current trajectory of understably worrisome directionless half-assery. My father is painfully practical and intensely loving, with the kind of radical sensibility of so many other Asian immigrants in America. After all, Baba already took his risks: He started a revolution and fought for it through a horribly bloody war.
It is not my usual and customary practice to respond to letters such as the one that appeared in The Cornell Sun on: April 26, 2018, but as one of Jack Greenwood’s attorneys, I feel it is imperative to respond to the many misstatements in that letter. That letter is a result of a complete mischaracterization of the facts of this case. First and foremost, Jack Greenwood is completely innocent of the charges that were originally filed in this case. There was a rush to judgment back in September when the local papers sensationalized the assault of a Cornell student because of his race. This could not be further from the truth.
The following is an open letter to President Martha Pollack. Dear President Pollack,
Underage drinking, particularly of hard liquor, has and always will exist on college campuses. Since neither you or I can change the legal drinking age, I would hope we could ensure that when this drinking does occur, it occurs in a regulated environment. The banning of hard liquor from chapter houses inevitably does nothing to the amount of hard liquor consumed by college students, but rather changes the locations in which this consumption occurs. Rather than occur in an environment in which there are sober monitors and university policies in place, such as Greek mixers, they will occur in unregulated off-campus environments.
We, the undersigned members of the Cornell University community, call on Cornellians of conscience to denounce the Israeli military’s recent massacre of unarmed Palestinian protesters participating in the Great March of Return in the Gaza Strip. Since March 30, 2018, thousands of Palestinian civilians, including youth, women and men, have affirmed their internationally-recognized “right of return” as historically displaced persons by marching peacefully toward the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. The Israeli military has responded with indiscriminate lethal force. Military officials have declared an area 300 meters inside the border fence a “kill zone,” and video evidence shows that soldiers are shooting protesters well behind that line, as well. The Israeli military has killed more than 30 Palestinians.
Last week, in a moment of hunger and desperation, I went to Okenshields. Like most members of our campus, I had written-off this meme of a dining hall. Thanks to my pecuniary-minded friend, Gabe, I put some faith in “A Night of Chocolate and Intuitive Eating.” [For those who know what “intuitive eating” means, I would love some clarification because nothing about Okes is intuitive]. For the uninitiated, Okenshields is a medieval-style dining hall at the heart of campus named after a Lord of the Rings dwarf, guarded by the happiest man at Cornell, filled with gothic chandeliers boasting an sundry assortment of salad, grains and Asian food with walls covered in black and white photos of Cornell’s history and 2000s throwbacks booming from the ceiling. And they take swipes.
At long last, Martha Pollack. After as turbulent a first year as one could imagine, President Pollack made her biggest splash yet on Cornell with the introduction of a whole host of Greek life reforms. The changes, which the administration will implement in four phases over the next three years, are far reaching and will no doubt elicit pushback from some in the Greek community, but they are a welcome step in the wake of yet another disturbing instance of unacceptable behavior by a Cornell fraternity. Of the myriad reforms Pollack listed, the most notable is the creation of an online scorecard that will “include, among other things, the full judicial history of each chapter” at Cornell. Universities have short memories — the undergraduate community sees almost 100 percent turnover every four years, and in that continuous cycle, it can be easy to forget incidents that occurred just a short while ago. As a result, institutional and systemic issues, such as those that plague the Greek system, often go unresolved and unremembered.
We always think that we should be able to tell a linear story about ourselves. Not a story anyone would ever want to read; nothing heroic, or profound, or notable, or worth carrying around in your bag to read on the bus. Not a story to tell for other people. But as far as I can see, telling a story gives life direction and intentionality, at least in retrospect. Things happen with an internal logic that makes them ultimately worth it.
The decision of the Consensual Relationship Policy Committee to recommend “CRP-A” to President Pollack against the wishes of a majority — three of five — of Cornell’s constituent assemblies is disappointing, as is the committee’s failure to adequately explain their choice to do so. While the CRPC was forthright in stating that the votes held by the Student, Employee and University Assemblies, as well as the Faculty Senate, were nonbinding and would only be “considered” by the committee, its decision goes against clear majorities of graduate and professional students, employees, and faculty, all of whom deserve to know why their opinions were disregarded. “CRP-A” and its counterpart, “CRP-B” are identical except for in how they deal with relationships between graduate/professional students and faculty who work in the same graduate field or degree program. CRP-A, the policy the committee decided upon, is the more restrictive of the two, outright banning such relationships, while CRP-B allows for such relationships “provided there is disclosure and an appropriate recusal plan.” (Both policies include blanket provisions banning relationships between faculty and undergraduates, a welcome and commendable clarification of the current, 1990s-era policy.)
There are strong arguments for each variation; balancing the rights and freedoms of consenting adults with necessary protections against predation and bias is a difficult task indeed, and we applaud President Pollack, the committee and the various assemblies for taking the initiative to address this issue. But the outcome as it stands today is far too tenuous for comfort.