See, Trump, I said it. Just like you wanted me to. Radical. Administrative. Changism. Well, it wasn’t really you, Trump, but rather the laughable “changes” we see at Cornell that made me say it. Let me explain:
Students typically stay at Cornell for four years to study. Over the course of those years, we are expected to undergo formative change. Not experience. We, as students, enter college with the expectations placed on us that we will actively and fundamentally change. College is supposed to be like that box on middle school pre-algebra problems—in goes a number, or student, and out comes something completely different.
And that is not an unreasonable expectation. College is a breeding ground for all things new. It is the romance mystery novel that tried to do too much—several intersecting plots and subplots, with an end that perhaps leaves one more confused than one was at the start. As frustrating as college, and Cornell, might be, I cannot deny that it has changed me in irreversible ways.
Yet, this begs the question: if we students are expected to, and most likely will, change so drastically in four years, why should we not expect and see the same thing of the school we attend?
Undergraduate colleges go through these four-year cycles, as incoming freshman finally spend enough time in Ithaca to receive a degree and move on. In these years, however, as there is much turnover in the student body, the number of students who remember each year’s changes shrinks gradually. A recent Daily Sun article titled “Black Students United’s Demands in Hand, Cornell President Faces First Big Test” describes some of Martha Pollack’s moves in her first year in office: cutting ties with Nike, “[decrying] white supremacists,” and “[pledging] to stand with students affected by” Trump’s decision to end DACA. In a few years, though, the Class of 2021 will be the only ones who will truly remember Pollack’s actions in her first year as President. They will fade quickly into the background.
Hence, it becomes easy for the administration to move slowly. To inch towards changes students demand. Because the administration knows we, the students, will be gone soon, and when that happens, Cornell can remain essentially the same with few consequences and little opposition.
The aforementioned article goes on to talk about Pollack’s background as an administrator. She “served as the University of Michigan’s No. 2 official” during a similar period of racial tension. Pollack has been here before. She has been on a campus with trends of racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic action. She has been on a campus with protests calling for culture changes and more inclusivity. Though not in the same position, as she is now President, Pollack knows the storyline from beginning to end.
At Michigan, racism bared its fangs in the weeks after Trump’s election, so she knows that significant moves by the far right give confidence to those who hold those same values on college campuses. Furthermore, Trump’s killing DACA was a blow against the minorities of this school. It brought renewed confidence to those who felt their opinions unwelcome on such a liberal campus. The attack on a black man in Collegetown should have been foreseen. How could Pollack, with her experience in similar situations on a similarly liberal campus, not have seen this coming?
Students are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Organizations cannot submit lists of demands unless it seems to the administration that the campus climate is hostile enough to merit them. Yet, this lack of consistent forceful demands is a point that the administration can use to defend the status quo. “If campus culture has always been this uncomfortable for our students, why has this not come up before?” is the logic that seems to define our administration’s position.
This year’s seniors will be gone soon, and the juniors not too long after that. Perhaps a strong reaction to the assault in Collegetown will placate them until they leave. The administration is reactive because it knows it can be. It knows it can get away with simply trying to ride out the student body’s highs and lows, until a new cycle of students finally makes its way to campus.
So as much as we all have to make noise while we are on campus, and as much as each student who feels strongly about changing campus culture must stand with others who feel the same way, I am calling on the administration to step up and make radical changes—like accepting every single one of BSU’s demands, for example—that will make for a better campus, even after I am gone.