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Task force created to look at issues confronting Cornell's Asian and Asian-American student communities

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Susan Murphy, Cornell University vice president for student and academic affairs, has announced that a task force has been formed to address issues confronting Cornell's Asian and Asian-American student community.

Murphy said the task force was established in response to the need for a campuswide approach to address campus climate, services and program issues as they relate to Cornell's Asian and Asian-American community. She noted that students of Asian descent comprise the largest single community of color at Cornell, at 14 percent of the total student body, 16 percent of all undergraduates and 55 percent of all international students. Any improvement in the well-being for this community will likely improve the campus climate for the university at large, she said.

Murphy explained that the term "Asian and Asian-American" encompasses a diverse array of groups and individuals, differing in such characteristics as ethnicity, generational status and socioeconomic background. At Cornell, she added, the Office of Minority Educational Affairs (OMEA) has identified at least 26 different Asian ethnic groups in its 2001-2002 survey of incoming first-year students.

"Even though there are such important distinctions and differences among members of Cornell's Asian and Asian-American community, our students, faculty and staff have identified a number of common issues confronting them," Murphy said. "These include an apparently disproportionate number of suicides by students of Asian descent; bias-related incidents; survey results showing a higher level of dissatisfaction with certain aspects of their Cornell experience among Asian and Asian-American graduating seniors; a relative under-representation among university staff and faculty of persons of Asian descent; and under-utilization by this community of existing mental health resources on campus."

The task force, co-chaired by Tanni Hall, associate dean of students, and Wai-Kwong Wong, Counseling and Psychological Services, Gannett Health Center, will be composed of students, faculty, staff and alumni. Members include Irma Almirall-Padamsee, Student Affairs and Diversity, Campus Life; Derek Chang, assistant professor of history, Asian American Studies Program; Raymond Dalton, executive director, Office of Minority Educational Affairs; Robert L. Harris Jr., vice provost for diversity and faculty development; Angie L. Kim, senior, Agriculture and Life Sciences; Daniel Keh, senior, Industrial and Labor Relations, and president, Korean Students Association; Sarah Hilsman, International Students and Scholars Office; Sivilay Somchanhmavong, Undergraduate Admissions; Michelle Renee Wong, sophomore, Arts and Sciences, and Bartels Action Research Fellow; Sunn Shelley Wong, associate professor and director, Asian American Studies Program; Ednita Wright, Diversity and Outreach, Office of the Dean of Students ; and Jiangtao Yu, graduate student, Molecular Biology and Genetics.

"The task force's first goal is to learn more about the students in this community and what their needs and resources are," Hall said. "What is their experience of Cornell? What challenges do they face and how do they go about meeting them? What are we [the university] already providing in support of our Asian and Asian-American students? What changes or additions would they recommend? This information is crucial in order for the task force to make recommendations to Vice President Murphy and Provost [Biddy] Martin that will better enable students to thrive at Cornell."

Hall also noted that in another initiative aimed at providing services for Asian and Asian-American students, the Cornell Asian Alumni Association (CAAA) board has approved an amendment to its by-laws offering student membership. The measure, to be voted on by CAAA members this summer, would provide student membership with no dues and invitations to career networking events and services.

"In many ways, Asians and Asian-Americans continue to be seen as a 'model minority,' which monolithically defines a hugely diverse group of people on the basis of some select statistics and popular stereotypes," Wong said. "We need to try and somehow do some semblance of justice to this diversity and adequately address the experiences of everyone, from a Ph.D. student from Bombay, to a fourth-generation Japanese-American from Fresno, to a recent immigrant from the Philippines. I think that this will be our biggest challenge."

An executive committee of university administrators will oversee the efforts of the task force, and will be chaired by Murphy and Provost Martin. The task force will be responsible for directing subcommittees charged with addressing particular issues or needs and with providing recommendations for change.

Subcommittees include:

o the Needs Assessment Committee , which will identify personal, social, academic and institutional factors correlated with students' sense of satisfaction and well-being at Cornell;

o the Student Programs and Services Committee , which will develop recommendations and help implement the design, structure and coordination of universitywide collaborative programs and services addressing the needs of the Asian and Asian-American student community;

o the Crisis Prevention Study Committee , which will develop and implement a systematic protocol for in-depth examination of extreme student crises, such as suicides and suicide attempts, in order to develop prevention strategies; and

o the Multicultural Awareness Committee , which will develop recommendations and help implement a system to provide educational and training programs by and for students.

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