Update on diversity and inclusion initiatives at Cornell

Provost Michael Kotlikoff, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Chair of the Presidential Advisors on Diversity and Equity Avery August, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Joanne DeStefano, Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi and Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Mary Opperman sent the following message Jan. 26:

Last semester, our campus community came together as never before to enable a successful, in-person campus experience. It was also a time of vigorous activity and debate on our campus, with faculty, staff and students investing significant time and effort towards the critical, long-term goal of changing societal structures and systems that inherently privilege some more than others. We are writing to update you on these efforts.

Campus Safety Initiatives

The Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) provides recommendations to the Cornell University Police Department (CUPD) on its policies, procedures and training on the Ithaca campus. During this academic year, CUPD oversight transitioned to the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer and a new committee membership of students, staff and faculty was constituted. The group expects to provide its reimagined university safety and security recommendations to the President by May 25. Input on the recommendations will come from the committee’s work; a campus-wide survey (forthcoming the week of February 8), and multiple focus group discussions to be held throughout the spring semester. 

The Division of Student and Campus Life has created, and will commence hiring for, a new Community Response Team, which will respond to issues of wellness, crisis or distress within campus living environments and will collaborate with the broader campus system of care that attends to the needs of community members. CUPD will continue to focus on acts of violence, addressing traffic offenses and investigating crimes and unlawful behavior, which are appropriately reserved for highly trained law enforcement professionals.

Faculty Senate Antiracism Initiative

As we have reiterated in multiple messages, if we are to build a truly diverse and inclusive university, we must embed an anti-racism and anti-bias stance across our teaching, research and public engagement. The Faculty Senate has responded to this call through its ongoing work on an Antiracism Initiative that is proceeding on schedule, following a robust sequence of weekly meetings over the fall semester. Led by the Dean and Associate Dean of Faculty, a group of over 30 students and faculty in three working groups have been developing recommendations for Senate consideration:

Once finalized, the three reports will be assessed by the Faculty Senate and final recommendations will be forwarded to the President by early March.

College and School Initiatives

Many of our colleges, schools and departments are systematically evaluating their offerings and curricula to ensure that students have a rich menu of courses that accurately reflect, represent and include the contributions of all people, particularly those of Black and Indigenous peoples.

A sampling of the initiatives currently underway across Cornell includes the College of Human Ecology’s launch of a college-wide faculty cohort hire in social justice, called Pathways to Social Justice; the Diversity Entrepreneurship Program organized by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, which will welcome its first cohort of students in June 2021; courses such as Diversity and Inclusion: Emerging Trends - Recalibrating Diversity and Inclusion offered by the ILR School; and ONEComposer, supported by the Office of Engagement Initiatives and featuring ongoing performances celebrating musicians whose contributions have been historically erased; and the Cornell Orchestras BLM Speaker Series. These and other initiatives join our annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Lecture to be held on March 1, with speaker Ijeoma Oluo.

Another initiative is being led by our American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program (AIISP) faculty, with ongoing research on Cornell’s land-grant history, in which Cornell received appropriated Indigenous land from the federal government under the Morrill Act and accrued significant financial benefit from that land. We are eager to continue working with AIISP to develop a deeper understanding of this history. A number of other initiatives are being developed to enhance our work in this area, including advancing recruitment of Native American undergraduate students and efforts by eCornell to increase the participation of the Native American and Indigenous community in their programs, particularly around entrepreneurship and management. Furthermore, this coming July we will welcome several additional new faculty who work in Native American and Indigenous issues.

Staff Initiatives

A number of initiatives for staff have been launched to advance equity in our workplace. A six-part certificate course, Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Cornell, is underway and will be taken by all benefits eligible staff on campus. Developed by the Department of Inclusion and Workforce Diversity and Organizational Development and Effectiveness in partnership with eCornell, this course provides staff with an understanding of how diversity, equity and inclusion tie to our mission, core values and the skills for success; how social identity, unequal power and privilege can manifest in the workplace; and how each individual has a responsibility to develop the skills to communicate across difference, interrupt bias when it occurs and to advance equity and inclusion in their functional work duties. Supplemental programming and resources to support and reinforce this course will be explored and developed in the months to come.

In addition, the Division of Human Resources (HR) has launched an in-depth assessment of its hiring and professional development processes and systems in order to identify and address any practices that hinder attraction and retention of a broadly diverse workforce. This review will impact how HR modifies its existing services and programs as well as how it develops new or needed services and programs. An equity lens is being applied throughout each element of the review process and three separate work teams have been established to focus on the needs and perspectives of the Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) community, traditionally underserved populations, including those with marginalized identities. Program developments in these areas also are being informed by the work, recommendations and feedback from the joint subcommittees formed by the Men and Women of Color Colleague Network Groups, which have undertaken efforts to help identify systemic barriers and potential solutions.

Last summer, the Belonging at Cornell survey results were released, revealing that, among those who responded, 86% recommend Cornell as a good place to work and 77% recommend their department as a good place to work. In addition, under the Belonging at Cornell framework, three innovative and collaborative projects were funded that align with institutional objectives of fostering a sense of belonging, promoting fair treatment and supporting the environment of Cornell as a great place to study and work.

As President Pollack communicated in an earlier message, “This will be a continuous journey, and I implore every member of the Cornell community to look deep within yourself and take active, regular and courageous steps to help create new systems and structures that move us towards a more just and equitable Cornell — and that will become part of our contribution to a different, more just and more equitable world.” Her words remain ever more relevant as we continue on this journey.

Media Contact

Abby Butler