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Spurring interaction: Cornell is counting on outreach programs to spur cross-racial and cross-ethnic interaction – Cornell University

Cornell University officials are hoping that student
residential-housing outreach programs being launched this school year
will help the upstate New York institution avoid the problems it
experienced last spring when a conservative student publication
offended many university students with an Ebonics parody.

Cornell officials say the outreach programs are expected to
increase interaction and multicultural understanding among students at
the Ivy League university. Although just 45 percent of the entire
undergraduate student body lives in campus housing, the outreach
initiatives are intended to reach all undergraduates, according to
Susan Murphy, Cornell’s vice-president for student and academic

“Residential programs are one part of the way you reach students,”
said Murphy. “There’s always hope that you can use outreach programs to
help prevent the type of incidents that happened last spring.”

Last spring’s controversy, which roiled the campus, began with an
article published in the April 17, 1997, edition of The Cornell Review,
a publication that touts itself as the “conservative voice at Cornell”.
The article — titled “So, You Be Wantin’ To Take Dis Class?”, a piece
editors described as a spoof of Ebonics-offered an Ebonics translation
of course offerings at Cornell’s Africana Studies and Research Center.

Students angered by the article held a demonstration eleven days
later on the Cornell campus to denounce the publication’s editors for
what was considered a racist attack on African American studies and
culture. Protesting students disrupted traffic on public streets and
burned several copies of The Cornell Review to symbolize their
disapproval of the offensive article. They also demanded that
university administrators end funding of the publication and mandate
racial sensitivity training for Cornell students.

The article’s publication and the subsequent protest by angry
students drew strong response from Cornell President Hunter Rawlings.

“Several articles in The Cornell Review, divisive in their intent,
have hurt the spirits of many on campus. Race-baiting, stereotyping,
and intentionally degrading attacks on Cornell’s African American
community have no place in our campus discourse,” Rawlings said.

However, student protest activities also drew condemnation from
Rawlings, who bemoaned “intemperate and abusive treatment of guest
speakers and the illegal blocking of public streets.” He said that the
protests only served “to inflame passions and inevitably to shift
attention away from the original purpose of the protest. They also have
no place in our campus discourse.”

John Ford, Cornell’s dean of students, said school officials,
including himself, had extensive discussions with students from both
sides of the controversy and no disciplinary sanctions resulted from
the incidents.

“The approach was not punitive,” Ford said. “I think our talks were productive.”

Ford also said that the university is neither considering adopting
a campus speech code nor mandating racial sensitivity courses as some
students have demanded.

“There’s been no groundswell of support among the administration and faculty for such measures,” he says.

Planning for the housing outreach programs, however, has been
underway for the past two years, according to Murphy. The planning grew
out of interest by the Cornell board of trustees to improve student
life and experiences.

She says expansion of undergraduate student housing is also planned by the university.

According to Murphy, one part of the outreach plan involves having
Cornell’s ten theme residential halls increase their educational
efforts for students around campus — especially those who do not live
in a particular hall. Themes of the ten residential halls revolve
largely around special interests, such as art, music, and
environmentalism. Three of the ten, however, are based on ethnic and
racial group affiliation — the Ujamaa Residential College, which
houses mostly African American students; Akwe:kon, which has a large
Native American population; and the Latino Living Center, which is
populated largely by Hispanic students.

Murphy said funds will be available to students to develop projects
which will spur interaction among students from different parts of the
campus. She said guidelines will stipulate that projects ensure
participation from as diverse a group as possible.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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