Everyone always says Cornell isn’t the place, it’s the people. Maybe this is naive, but it’s not like that for me. I know that I will take the people I’ve met here with me wherever I go (and if you think you know better, that bonds grow weak and memories fade, please don’t tell me.) My brilliant roommates, my dazzling best friends and my beloved coworkers will stay with me. So, for me, what I’m really saying goodbye to is the place. Confession: I didn’t love Cornell the first time I visited.
“My name is Anuli Ononye, I’m a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and I am running to be your next S.A. president…”
I apologize to anyone who heard my Student Assembly president spiel more than once in the past few weeks. At this point, I have the five minute speech so deeply ingrained in my head that I can say it in my sleep.
To preface this article, I am writing this at 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 8 and I have no idea who “your next S.A. president” will be. Regardless of the election results, I can say that running for S.A. president has been the most rewarding, challenging and meaningful experience of my Cornell career. Whether you’re thinking about making your S.A. debut next election season, you can’t stand the S.A. and need one more reason to love-to-hate us, or you’re just curious about campaigning, here are my biggest takeaways from the last month:
Start With Your Platform
The best advice that I received throughout this entire campaign was to “articulate why I wanted to be S.A. president without lying to myself.” Although this seems like the bare minimum, it’s actually a harder ask than you’d think. It’s deciding why you want to spend hours a week in S.A. meetings, your summer vacation talking with administrators and the rest of your time here opening yourself up to the entire campus community.
So how did someone as antisocial as I decide that college journalism was a fine way to spend the past three years? Writing gave me the opportunity to create a barrier between a painful and often disappointing reality, and my own psyche. There’s so much information — superfluous or otherwise — jockeying for attention in one’s head at every moment, muddying any sense of inner peace or mental clarity. Writing let me take a second, a minute, an hour to gather my thoughts and consider the message of what I was creating.
As reducing and reusing have a more positive environmental impact than recycling, research institutions should support labs in lowering their plastic consumption. They can even go so far as to ban plastics. Leeds University and University College London have pledged to eliminate all single-use plastics on campus by 2023 and 2024 respectively. Institutional action will be key in reaching these goals.
In the words of the esteemed rap group Flatbush Zombies: “Always into weird, feared, dark-type girls. Independent, don’t-need-no-[man], keep-on-they-light girls. Don’t mean to be cliché but I like girls, that like girls, that like girls…”
A pink-haired pessimist straddling the divide between feminism and misandry, and sometimes trying to emit a soft goth girl glow (really just my glamorized rendition of mental unhealth) — I think I see why boys so commonly suspect bisexuality of me. I’ll sense his suspicion as he steers the post-fuck conversation (pre-fuck if he’s ambitious) towards that one foursome he had last year, in which he was the only male participant, he makes sure to note. Tossing the topic back my way (“Have you ever had a threesome?”), he goes on to reveal his true concern: “Was it with another girl?” “Do you hook up with girls?” “So you like girls too?”
“Briefly summarize activity and progress on your research and scholarship in the past year.”
“List academic presentations given in the past year.”
“List academic papers submitted or published in the past year.”
“List grant, fellowship, or other funding applications submitted or awarded in the past year.”
These are just the first of 14 questions on the Student Progress Review (SPR), a formalized process for Ph.D. students to reflect on our progress over the academic year. Essentially an engaging performance review we complete with our advisors, the SPR plays a critical role in graduate student professional development. Since I completed my first SPR in May 2018, these questions have not changed at all; however, as I sit down to answer these questions again in May 2021, the world around us has changed a lot.
After what has been an indisputably challenging and awful year for so many students, these interrogating questions about our productivity and academic successes read with a much different tone. With stunning insensitivity to our mental health and wellbeing, these questions make (even more) invisible the role graduate students have played in Cornell’s pandemic response while being provided with little (if any) additional support. We’ve seen an increase in teaching responsibilities along with the transition to virtual learning or socially distanced classrooms; we’ve experienced a dramatic rise in the uncompensated costs associated with conducting university work from our lonely apartments; we’ve continued to request (unsuccessfully) any amount of certainty or security about our funding packages and degree deadlines as we prepare for an abysmal job market; we’ve watched our hometowns and families ravaged by a virus that has unmasked an even more divisive political one.
A Cornellian can map the stage of their college education by the walk they take. Is it the freshman scramble across the Thurston Avenue bridge to make it from North Campus to Central Campus before attending a massive lecture? Is it the harried sophomore climb from West? Is it the pajama-wearing senior who slothfully meanders from Collegetown northwards, still struggling with last night’s hangover. Or is it the other kind of senior who’s always running late and already two coffees in before the sun is even overhead?
Not to flex on any ILR and AEM majors out there in the wild, but I have cycled through pretty much all forty majors offered in Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences. Just recently, I started fantasizing about pre-med despite my poor biology lab partner having to carry the both of us through the dissection unit (look, I’m squeamish, okay?). If I had a dollar for every time I have heard the words, “Wait…I’m looking at your schedule…but I can’t tell what your major is” I wouldn’t be running out of BRBs the way I am now.
The College of Arts and Sciences is unique among Cornell’s schools in that all students come in as undecided, for better and for worse. Experimentation is not only possible but encouraged through distribution requirements and major prerequisites. I have cycled through classes ranging from law to visual studies to economics to computer science.
The outside world is dangerous. Taxes stalk us down, a more successful hunter than jaguars; landlords breathe down our necks when the rent is due but are nowhere to be found when toilets won’t flush; mom is no longer there to hold our hands for shots in doctor’s appointments.
Frankly, it makes sense that students — particularly marginalized students who have had real, traumatizing voting experiences outside of Cornell — have lost faith in our University’s ability to manage and regulate our elections. And the statistics reflect this. Last fall only, 16.85 percent of eligible students voted in the S.A. election.