The scheme to enact a universal social justice requirement at Cornell University was first proposed in May 2012. A group of protestors, referring to themselves publically as the “Assembly for Justice”, led the cause. Throughout the semester, they solicited the support of the campus’s staunchest student lobbyist organizations, and they were getting respectable attention by November.
Their idea was to add an additional distribution requirement to the Cornell curriculum. This slew of courses, broadly referred to as the Social Justice Requirement, would be mandatory for all colleges. They believed that such a requirement was necessary in response to allegations of bigotry on campus.
The demonstrators have since pushed their idea to the top of the Student Assembly’s agenda. At the moment, campus leaders are responding by dedicating a considerable amount of resources toward this initiative.
Ulysses Smith, the former Architecture & Art Planning Rep that has now been given the title of Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, is currently leading the effort. Even he, however, has expressed disbelieve that the idea is still being discussed.
“I actually didn’t think there was any way we would get that done this year or anytime in the near future,” remarked Smith. “Then again [the idea] kept coming up at a lot of different discussions with different administrators, so we decided to see what this should look like if we execute it.”
According to a report compiled by Smith and Chelsea Cheng, clerk of the Student Assembly, the requirement could be an additional distribution requirement for each of the individual schools, or it could be a universal requirement through the University, like the swim test.
“We met with a lot of the different assistant deans, just to get an understanding of the various processes these colleges have in order to bring about curriculum changes,” he remarked.
At the first Student Assembly meeting of the semester on January 31st, it was decided that college representatives should reach out to their respective college Deans.
While student representatives meet with these administrators, there exists very little knowledge as to what this requirement would entail or why the Assembly has put it so high on its agenda. There is also no explanation for why last semester’s calls for diversity initiatives have transformed into the loosely defined social justice initiatives, causing many to question the intentions of the activists.
The Student Assembly’s efforts thus far have not been focused on addressing this question of intent. Rather than addressing why the curriculum must be changes, their efforts have been focused on learned how to change the curriculum.
This top-down effort demonstrates that amending the curriculum is no longer an initiative of a select group of radical activists. Rather, this initiative is part of discussions between numerous campus leaders and will be a significant issue in Student Assembly elections later this semester.
Meanwhile, members of Student Assembly executive board are talking about plans to make headway on this issue immediately. In their weekly meeting, they have established a two-year timeframe for enactment.
Because of the lack of understanding as to what the requirement actually is, the considerable amount of effort being put toward it has come as a surprise to many. Some are arguing that amending professor syllabi does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Student Assembly. Others argue that their leaders are wasting their time with an initiative that will ultimate prove futile. Still other students point to the fact that many schools already have a similar requirement, and that trying to bring them under a universal rule would actually decrease diversity, not encourage it.
It should be noted that the 2012-2013 Assembly has made substantial strides in improving communication with students. They have shown a willingness to hear student feedback on all of their initiatives. Knowing that the student justice requirement will be high on the group’s agenda for the spring, students now have the opportunity to share their opinions and affect the potential policy through conversation.
General student body negligence could allow this initiative, which began in the hands of a small group of activists and was pushed by select campus lobbyist, to find its way to the desk of President Skorton.
Alfonse Muglia is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org