A Black Lives Matter march June 2 from campus to a rally on the Ithaca Commons included students from member organizations of Cornell Students for Black Lives.

Student groups come together to support black lives

A group of Cornell undergraduates has formed a broad coalition of student organizations to amplify black voices on campus and promote activism and education to fight explicit and implicit racism.

Motivated by recent demonstrations in support of racial justice and police reform, Cornell Students for Black Lives (C4BL) now includes more than 280 cultural and professional student organizations and affinity groups, with a goal “to end systemic oppression and racial injustice as a united campus,” according to the organization’s mission statement.

Basirat Owe

Ashley Bishop

Sherell Farmer

“The unjust treatment of our black community members can’t and won’t be ignored,” their statement reads. “We condemn racism in all forms, no matter their scale or manifestation. We seek to support change by raising funds for groups working against the oppression of black Americans.”

The effort began at the end of May with “an ally who saw an initiative at Rice University for a campus fundraiser. She wanted to bring this to Cornell and she reached out to a few of her friends,” said Basirat Owe ’21, a policy analysis and management major and human development minor in the College of Human Ecology.

A committee of students began to organize “to include a larger range of voices” from within the black community at Cornell, Owe said.

Ashley Bishop ’22, a government major in the College of Arts and Sciences, was among the first students the ally contacted. “The growth from that first day she reached out to me, from Monday to the Thursday night we had our first meeting, we had about 26 members,” and more than 50 student groups had signed on, Bishop said.

Utilizing student groups’ member networks to spread the word, the committee invited organizations and community members to join the cause. The number of groups actively supporting the initiative has continued to grow.

“C4BL was the first tangible action in response to the national protests [and] unrest we saw, and the first campuswide student-led effort as well,” Owe said.

The coalition launched a campaign June 5 to raise funds through Venmo (@cornellstudents4blacklives) and GoFundMe for local, regional and national racial and social justice organizations, including Black Lives Matter of Greater New York; Communities United for Police Reform; the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Ithaca’s Southside Community Center; and Tompkins County Showing Up for Racial Justice.

“The initial goal was $5,000 when we launched and we surpassed $5,000 within four hours and $10,000 within seven hours,” said Sherell Farmer ’22, an industrial and labor relations major.

To date, the campaign has raised more than $60,000 for those groups, she said. The fundraising effort will continue to accept donations through June 19.

After this initial fundraising campaign, the coalition will focus on becoming an ongoing sustainable entity bringing black voices together for education and advocacy around racial and social justice issues.

“There has been a large outpouring of support from faculty,” Farmer said. “It’s wonderful to see everybody coming together to support students.”

The student leaders also credited the Division of Student and Campus Life with helping to spread the word.

“We’re seeing what happens when we tap into faculty and staff and alumni and people around campus,” said Owe, who co-chairs Black Students United on campus. “It’s been pretty powerful to see people really step up as people. That’s why I’m really adamant about outreach. You don’t really know until you ask.”

Vijay Pendakur, the Robert W. and Elizabeth C. Staley Dean of Students, said the students are at the vanguard of a recent movement.

“As America continues to struggle with enduring structural racism and anti-blackness, it gives me hope to see Cornell student leaders use their intellect, passion and networks to further movements for racial justice,” Pendakur said.

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Abby Butler