Cornell grad students seek 'sympathy' with strident ultimatum

Graduate students at Cornell University have joined their undergraduate peers in issuing a list of demands to the school’s president in response to recent racial unrest on campus.

As Campus Reform recently reported, undergraduate student protesters issued a similar list of 12 demands directly to President Martha Pollack prior to hosting a sit-in on campus.

[RELATED: Cornell student gov demand ‘repercussions’ for ‘hate speech’]

Now, in response to what they call “several recent social injustices” on campus, the Graduate School Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement (OISE) and its Student Leadership Council, comprised of several graduate student groups, issued a five-page list of demands to Pollack.

“We begin first by acknowledging that we stand in agreement and solidarity with the list of demands presented to President Martha Pollack by Black Students United on September 20, 2017,” the letter begins, referencing the aforementioned protest in which students complained about the ratio of African and Caribbean students to African-American students.

The ultimatum, which specifies deadlines for several items, begins by calling for “increased funding towards programs for recruitment and retention of graduate and professional students from underrepresented backgrounds,” requesting an “action plan” for doing so by March 2018.

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The demands, which are numerous, also include a request for a “restructuring of the Graduate School grievance process” to enhance the “protections provided to aggrieved graduate students throughout the process.”

The document goes on to demand that grad students be given input on a faculty task force designed to increase “diversity,” as well as that “each department have [its] own committee to ensure that faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students in the department are held accountable to the recommendations of the university task force.”

Along the same lines, the graduate students demand “a policy that standardizes and requires all teaching assistants, research assistants, and postdoctoral associates” to “go through bias and sensitivity training.”

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“It is imperative to build a community where all graduate students who work for Cornell as researchers and educators begin to dismantle their internalized bias towards marginalized groups,” it continues, setting a deadline of the beginning of the “2018-2019” academic year for the school to double the funding, staff, and space allocated to both the OISE and the Intergroup Dialogue Project (IDP).

The list of demands concludes with a call for a “clear avenue for recourse included in any policies written to address bias, harassment, and oppression on campus,” complaining that Cornell “has many unenforced, under-enforced, or unenforceable policies that are not designed to protect graduate students,” though it fails to explain why the graduate students are concerned about enforcement of policies that are not designed to protect them.

[RELATED: Protesters storm UVM’s president’s office with list of demands]

Monet Roberts, a member of the Student Leadership Council, told The Cornell Daily Sun that incidents of social injustice “are showing that this list of demands is needed, from Black Students United and from graduate students who are marginalized,” adding that the students are hoping to “evoke sympathy with the university” with the ultimatum.

“We wouldn’t ask them to do these things and demand that they do it if we didn’t feel that they weren’t capable of doing it,” added fellow council member Theresa Rocha Beardall, who presumably intended to communicate that she and her peers do believe the university is capable of meeting their demands.

“At some point, it becomes ridiculous to continue to articulate that the sky is blue,” Beardall said, later adding that “There are grad students here who experience several layers of marginalization that often go unheard and it’s our job to remind them of what those experiences are.”

Graduate student John McMullen even threatened to “raise hell, send emails, and protest” if the administration does not acquiesce to the demands, while Beardall remarked that it is “very disappointing” that such a response was not immediately forthcoming.

Campus Reform reached out to the university for additional comment on the matter, but it declined to comment at this time.

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