Provost Michael Kotlikoff and Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi announced Sept. 25 new commitments to diversity and inclusion, as well as progress made on initiatives already underway.
The announcement follows two racial incidents involving students near campus in recent weeks, including the arrest of one student for assault, and updates the university community a week after Cornell President Martha E. Pollack sent a message to Cornellians, promising to develop and enhance programs that support diversity and inclusion on Cornell’s campuses and outlining numerous other steps the university is taking.
“Many of these plans and proactive initiatives have been in the works for a year and reflect our ongoing commitments to better the Cornell experience for all,” Kotlikoff said, “but these recent incidents have given us the impetus to accelerate and enhance our efforts, as well as to commit to thinking about additional proactive steps that can be taken.”
The steps outlined by Kotlikoff and Lombardi include:
- Renee Alexander ’74, associate dean of students, is taking on the new role of senior adviser to Dean of Students Vijay Pendakur to focus on issues of campus climate, among other staffing enhancements in that office;
- Student support programs and units will be better linked to deliver more unified resources and access;
- A planning process has begun to establish a single, central campus location for the multiple student resource centers that are part of the Division of Student and Campus Life;
- A faculty task force will be established to propose new approaches to diversifying the faculty;
- Diverse clinical staffers are being added to counseling services; and
- New programming on living in a diverse community will be added to expanded student orientation next fall.
The statement follows several others released by university leadership in the days following the events.
Early in the morning on Sept. 15, a verbal exchange between Cornell students, including the use of racial slurs, led to a physical assault of a black student and the arrest of a white student.
Lombardi, in a statement released later that day, confirmed the incident and arrest, saying that the university had also launched an investigation and that support to the victim was being provided. He stated that some of the other students involved in the alleged altercation were reportedly members of a currently unaffiliated fraternity, Psi Upsilon.
The altercation and reported assault followed another reported bias incident Sept. 6, when a member of the Latino Living Center reported hearing another student chant “let’s build a wall around the LLC” from the Zeta Psi fraternity house near the living center on Thurston Avenue.
“I will not tell you ‘this is not who we are,’ as the events of the past few weeks belie that,” Pollack said in a message she sent to the university community Sept. 17. “But it is absolutely not who we want to be.” She said the investigation was continuing, appropriate disciplinary action would be taken, a presidential task force was being created to address bigotry and intolerance at Cornell, and based on the information the university had, Psi Upsilon’s reinstatement as an affiliated fraternity would no longer be considered.
On Sept. 18, the Psi Upsilon alumni board of governors communicated to university leadership that they plan to indefinitely close the chapter at Cornell and, once current renovations at the 2 Forest Park Lane property are complete in 2018-19, the house will be opened for the use of student organizations at Cornell dedicated to promoting a diverse and inclusive student community. This action was announced to the Cornell community via a joint statement by Lombardi and Fred Van Sickle, vice president for alumni affairs and development, the following day.