Senior leaders join with South Asian Council students at the annual Perkins Prize reception. From left, front row: Shivani Parikh, Cornell President Martha E. Pollack, Aliza Adhami, Kumar Nandanampati, Meera Shah; Back row: Sophie Sidhu, Rachel George, Anuush Vejalla, Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi, Dean of Students Vijay Pendakur, Trustee Emeritus Thomas Jones, Vegen Soopramanien, Aashka Piprottar.

Chai and Chat series awarded Perkins Prize

Chai and Chat, a dialogue series developed by the student group South Asian Council to promote inclusivity, received the James A. Perkins Prize for Interracial and Intercultural Peace and Harmony at a ceremony March 19 in Willard Straight Hall.

The Perkins Prize is given annually to honor the Cornell individual or program making the most significant contribution to furthering the ideal of university community while respecting values of racial diversity.

President Martha E. Pollack presented the prize to Shivani Parikh ’19, president of the South Asian Council.

Chai and Chat provides a “valuable forum” for South Asian students and other groups to discuss complex issues of identity and belonging, Pollack said.

“I strongly believe that while each of us is very different, and each of us should honor and celebrate our individual experiences and understanding, there is also at core a commonality to us – and that is what will allow us to communicate, to come together as a community, and continue to push for equity and justice,” Pollack said.

For instance, Pollack noted, at a recent Chai and Chat gathering, the South Asian Council collaborated with the LGBTQ group HAVEN to focus on the implications of identifying as queer or questioning. Upcoming gatherings will focus on other issues relevant to the South Asian student community: anti-blackness in the South Asian community; divisions rooted in the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh; and the “model minority” myth.

Pollack also highlighted recent initiatives that demonstrate Cornell’s ongoing commitment to addressing issues of racism and bigotry and working toward a more harmonious, inclusive and equitable campus. These include providing diversity programming for all Greek organizations, increasing staffing to address diversity issues, and – in development – creating an alternative dispute resolution program. Pollack also touched on the progress of the Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate and Cornell’s support for students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status.

Dean of Students Vijay Pendakur and Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi spoke of the need for Cornell to promote a welcoming, supportive environment for all members of the Cornell community.

The two student organizations that were runners-up for this year’s Perkins Prize contribute to that environment, Lombardi said. The first, Empathy and Referral Services (EARS), has provided peer-to-peer support to Cornellians for about 45 years and continues to be responsive to the community, including being sensitive to a variety of cultures, he said.

The other, Guac Magazine, is a new travel magazine with about 40 student contributors. Its editors created the magazine to promote the values of cultural exchange and respect for diversity, hoping to inspire people to immerse themselves in different cultures and places, Lombardi said.

Administered through Cornell’s Office of the Dean of Students, the Perkins Prize was created and endowed in 1994 by Cornell Trustee Emeritus Thomas W. Jones ’69 to honor Cornell President Emeritus James A. Perkins, the university’s seventh president. Jones, who also spoke at the reception, was appointed a Cornell presidential councillor in 2017.

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