What a terrible mess. This year’s student-elected trustee race saw Jaewon Sim ’21 take the prize, but only after the ugly disqualification of JT Baker ’21, who ran a campaign focused on student-athletes. The latest news is that Baker would’ve won were he not booted out for breaking an election rule. In light of that, the Committee on Board Composition and Governance opted to split the difference. The CBCG recommended Sim take the traditional student-elected trustee seat and Baker fill a vacant trustee seat.
In light of the controversy surrounding this year’s student trustee election, I feel that it is important for the campus community to understand a bit of history and context. Over 35 years ago, the University’s Board of Trustees, out of respect for the concept of “shared governance,” voted to create a Trustee Nominating Committee as the entity that would oversee the election of both student and employee representatives to the Board of Trustees. The TNC is not a committee of the Board of Trustees. It is comprised of campus community representatives, including the current student, faculty and employee-elected trustees as well as additional student representatives; and its authority was quite consciously delegated to this representative campus group and not retained by the Board or granted to the Cornell administration. The TNC is responsible for its decisions, and it has the ability to change its decisions.
With 2386 votes, Sim was elected by a 1025-vote margin over the closest candidate, Laurence Minter ’21. Sim will assume the position from Dustin Liu ’19 and will begin his two-year term in the fall semester.
Cornell University’s Board of Trustees is unique in its inclusion of students as full voting members. Of our Ivy League peers, we are the only one to seat students on our Board even though many other student communities have argued for a similar position. Other academic institutions may allow students to elect a representative to serve on their Board, but Cornell is one of the few institutions to seat not one but two students. One student-elected trustee must be an undergraduate student while the other must be either a graduate or a professional student. Regardless of their academic status, both student-elected trustees represent the student community as a whole.
This weekend marked my third Cornell Alumni Leadership Conference. While many elements of the weekend were the same — a seeming takeover of a hotel in a major city and at least 23 renditions of the alma mater — this weekend gave me newfound hope about how we as a community can exercise compassion and move towards the Cornell we hope to be. In the case you haven’t read the aptly- titled Sun article, Cornell gave an alumnus an award and while accepting it, he called Satchel Paige a “Negro,” prompting swift backlash. As I sat in the ballroom, I felt similar reactions to my peers: Looking around to find eyes and share a moment with someone else to make sure I was hearing correctly, scrolling through texts from other students in the room, including one that said “I can check off experiencing a racial incident on my 161 things to do,” and understanding the impact that his words were having on the group. But the focus of this column is not on the incident itself but the way in which we reacted as a community.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the accessibility and quality of student mental health services continue to be of high interest to the Cornell community. Written recommendations, like those submitted by the student-led Mental Health Taskforce, and ongoing discussions amongst campus stakeholders, like those facilitated by the Coalition on Mental Health, continue to highlight ways in which we can improve services and better support students. A recurring theme is that student demand for counseling services exceeds the possible support Counseling and Psychological Services can provide. While more than 22 percent of Cornell students used CAPS services in the last academic year, CAPS reports that for students seeking individual counseling, they aim to schedule first appointments within two weeks with wait times increasing even further during periods of high demand. The wait to see a counselor for individual counseling is a significant barrier to receiving high-quality care in a timely manner for many students.
“I want to thank you for sharing. I hear what you’re saying and I want to let you know how that makes me feel.”
I stopped short during my brisk walk to class as I saw two students, staring squarely at each other, maintaining eye contact, affirming one another’s words and exemplifying empathy. From their lanyards and newly purchased Cornell gear, I quickly deduced that these were new members of our community, already taking advantage of what I believe is the most valuable resource on campus — each other. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride and view this as an impact of the Intergroup Dialogue Project. The Intergroup Dialogue Project is an academic initiative grounded in theory and practice that creates community across difference through dialogue.
Dara Brown ’13 law ’18 looked back on her time as a student-elected trustee and on important issues facing the University in an interview with The Sun, encouraging students to “get involved in something they’re passionate about.”