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Pollack, August give update on racial justice initiatives

President Martha E. Pollack and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Chair of the Presidential Advisors on Diversity and Equity Avery August sent the following message Sept. 4:

In June, as the nation reeled over racial injustice following the killings of Black Americans, we announced a number of actions that we would take to support and strengthen our community and to create a more just and equitable Cornell. We are writing to update you on some of the progress we have made to date on these actions.

Strengthening Community Involvement in Public Safety

As previously announced, the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) now reports directly to Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Joanne DeStefano. Its role is to make recommendations to improve campus security policies and procedures and to review issues that affect the overall safety and well-being of Cornell’s diverse community. This month, we are working to identify new student, staff and faculty members to serve on the committee. Interested students are being sought with input from the Student Assembly and Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, faculty with input from the Faculty Senate, and staff with input from the Employee Assembly. The first meeting of the reconstituted PSAC will take place in October.

Strengthening Relations with Regional Law Enforcement Agencies

On July 29, we hosted the second in a series of meetings with representatives of regional law enforcement agencies, with a focus on understanding and sharing best practices around law enforcement interactions with communities of color. Cornell participants included students, staff and faculty as well as Cornell University Police Department representatives. The conversation touched on hiring practices, accountability protocols, 21st-century policing and civil discourse. A third meeting will be scheduled in the near future.  

Perspectives of Indigenous Peoples

Last week, members of my leadership team and I had an opportunity to meet with faculty from our American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program (AIISP). It was an important and productive discussion, during which we committed to working with them to advance a number of initiatives, including a public institutional statement acknowledging our land-grant history, engagement with the indigenous peoples impacted by our land grant and by Cornell’s New York campuses, and a more overt and robust inclusion of the perspectives of Native American peoples in our ongoing work. 

Faculty-led Initiatives 

Under the leadership of Dean of the Faculty Charlie Van Loan and Associate Dean of Faculty Neema Kudva, the Faculty Senate is developing frameworks for three of the announced faculty-led initiatives: the creation of a center that will promote research and teaching in matters that relate to systemic racism, colonialism, bias and inequity, a required educational program for faculty, and a for-credit educational requirement for all Cornell students that covers the same. The Senate has met with students from DoBetterCornell to become better informed about their goals for these programs. Now that the semester has begun, conversations with faculty have started and committees will be formed for each initiative over the next few weeks with significant opportunities for one-on-one interactions among faculty, under the auspices of the Senate.

Staff Initiatives

A required training course for Cornell staff on equity and cultural competency will be available this month. The course, “Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Cornell,” will consist of six modules, each with a required online component and voluntary community chats to deepen engagement with the material. The first module will be available mid-month through CULearn. Subsequent modules will be released monthly, and all required components must be completed by every staff member by September 2021. Furthermore, in response to a forum for staff of color on issues of concern to the BIPOC staff community hosted by the Men of Color and Women of Color Colleague Network Groups, three subcommittees were formed to focus on high-priority issues of work-life and wellness needs, the employment life cycle and elevating the voices and successes of staff of color. The subcommittees will be meeting regularly, with the first meeting this month.

There, of course, continue to be many other relevant initiatives and programs underway at Cornell, including significant work being done within many of our colleges and other academic and administrative units. We will provide you with an update on these important, unit-specific programs and initiatives over the next few weeks.

Media Contact

Abby Butler