It’s a tumultuous time to be Cornell student. A University first founded on the principle of “any person, any study” has proven time and time again that the students themselves do not live up to these words. For the uninformed or for those who simply haven’t cared enough to inform themselves, Cornell has recently been rocked by multiple acts of overt racism towards fellow students. Last month, a fraternity member of Zeta Psi was heard chanting “let’s build a wall around the [Latino Living Community]”. Despite raised racial tension and cautionary words from the administration, that still was not enough to prevent a Cornell student from beating a fellow student and calling him the N word a week later. And finally, even with the release of the Greek Tri Council’s Diversity and Inclusion Plan, President Pollack’s statement, Black Student United’s Demands, and everyone and their mom talking about racial tensions at Cornell—last week, a West Campus resident decided it would be funny to use the N-word to answer a poll at Carl Becker House Dinner.
I remember when I first came to Cornell, I thought that all the people I met were both intelligent and kind—people who studied hard for their prelim but would also give you the shirt off their back. Yet the longer I stay here, the more I see that this is just not true. The racist undertones and centuries of white privilege that still run strong throughout this country also remain deeply embedded here. As President Pollack said in her statement, “I will not tell you ‘this is not who we are,’ as the events of the past few weeks belie that. But it is absolutely not who we want to be.”
Yet once again, here we are, and I have to ask the question: When is enough enough? Why, especially after there was physical assault to bear evidence to our racism, have students here neither learned nor cared to change?. Why, after witnessing how countless people fear for their own safety at what is purported to be a “safe university,” would anyone want to instill fear into their fellow students and fellow human beings?
I don’t have answers to these questions and I cannot even begin to fathom what must be going through people’s minds in order to think that humor at the expense of another person’s safety is okay. But there are a few things that I can think of that the student body, myself included, must strive to be better at:
It’s not my problem
I think this extends to a lot of things, but when racism occurs on campus, there are a lot of people who are fortunate enough to have the privilege to be able to ignore it, or at least not be feel threatened by it. Sometimes, even other minorities can look at racism on campus and become passive becomes it does not directly involve them. As an Asian man, I know I get fired up whenever Asian American issues are brought up, but way more times than I care to admit, the same fire and passion does not extend to my fellow brothers and sisters.
We can quote the First Amendment and say we have the freedom to say whatever we want and this is true, but we also need to be conscious of how our words, even if they’re just jokes, can affect our internal perceptions about race. Looking at the case last week at Becker House, it is obvious how someone’s “harmless” joke affected the feeling of safety of their fellow students. But this extends further than that. In our everyday conversations, we need to be more vigilant about how we talk about race. By perpetuating harmful stereotypes we support a system that allows for hate crimes to occur.
That means no, a racist joke, is not okay, even in private.
This is probably the one I am most guilty of, and what Asian Americans in general tend towards, but this is not exclusively an Asian American problem. If you truly believe what happened these last few weeks are evil, then by not involving ourselves in actively fighting racism and promoting diversity on this campus, we are complicit in allowing racism to exist here on campus. I understand, we are all incredibly busy students. But by using the excuse that we are “too busy,” our actions say that our problems of homework, projects, and prelims are bigger than the racist structures that allowed for a fellow student to be hospitalized. If you or the people you cared about were the ones being harmed, I’m sure you would drop everything to fight.
It is great that the University, the Greek system, and many other orgs are taking steps to reduce the chance of events like these happening again. But at the end of the day, education programs, more initiatives, and new policies can only do so much. If we truly want to make Cornell a place that is truly tolerant and racism free, that begins with everyone stopping their complacency. I know I’m guilty of so much just because I am afraid to challenge the status quo or claim that I’m “too busy.” But by standing up and fulfilling our collective duty, we can begin to see the beginnings of an institution that truly welcomes “any person, any study.”
Further Reading by other Daily Sun Writers about the events of the last few weeks: