When the outgoing Editor-in-Chief of the Cornell Review pronounces that he will be writing his last article about diversity, it can raise a few eyebrows. For whatever reason, people do not trust conservatives with the subject.
But I love this school, and I would not be able to sleep at night if I felt that I was not contributing to its excellence.
The conversation about diversity and inclusion has been of the utmost importance on campus this semester, with divestment and immigration being similarly compelling. President David J. Skorton’s email to the Cornell community on May 1st reminded many students that their role in the University’s diversity initiatives is not completed.
The revision to the “Toward New Destinations” campaign highlights these renewed objectives. In this document, the administration describes the next steps for diversity.
I believe that the email and revision are misguided because they do not mention the most important detail: an acknowledgement of what students have done to “increase diversity” this year.
While the administration has highlighted some of the steps that they have taken, the report neglects the work that students have done. Considering that diversity is an issue that affects the student body first and foremost, one would be wise to look towards students for a model of how to address diversity initiatives. The “Toward New Destinations” report overlooks the lessons that students have learned during the past few years.
In retrospect, 2013-2014 has been another revolutionary year for diversity initiatives on the Hill.
For starters, the Student Assembly created a Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion this year. Whether you agree with the ideology behind the position or not, even “conservatives” must admit that it is in line with Cornell’s diversity initiatives. The position formalizes that the student body is interested in taking part in the discussion – a big step for diversity initiatives. However, the Student Assembly Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion does not yet have a seat at the table of the University Diversity Council.
Part of the role of the student government is the responsibility to represent us in discussions with the administration. What is the purpose of the extra Student Assembly position if the administration will overlook it? Having a seat on this administrative task force would increase the students’ voice and lead to more optimal solutions for the University.
Next, students analyzed the pros and cons of enacting an additional curriculum requirement that dealt with diversity, inclusion, and social justice. Again, whether you agree with the ideology behind the requirement or not, the conversation that the proposal spurred highlights what is so great about diversity: students with different ideologies and different backgrounds discussing the optimal solution to the diversity question. The honorable discourse from both sides gave me great hope for our generation.
Finally, one of the most traditionalist-minded institutions at Cornell, the Greek System, has shown just how accepting of change they are. The Inter-Fraternity Council executive board is currently spearheading the return of the “Delta Series” – an interactive speaker series that would bring all New Members of the Greek Life into a room together in order to engage in presentations from diverse Cornell communities. Potential speakers include professional fraternities, minority organizations, sexual health groups, and entrepreneurs. If done correctly, this series is an effective, concrete way to bridge communities at Cornell and promote a culture of inclusion, without compromising the inherit goodness of the Greek System.
One need not agree with each of these policies, but it is necessary to recognize our fellow students’ willingness to find outside-of-the-box solutions. When conservatives and liberals, blacks and whites, rich and poor, and males and females, take part in the discussion, our society can reach the most optimal results. That is the beauty of our democracy. Conservatives must not be afraid to address the diversity question, and this year we have not.
Why, then, does the University’s renewed diversity initiative fail to recognize the work that has already been done?
The reason can be found in the Section II(4) of the March 2013 update to the “Toward New Destinations” campaign: measurement and context.
As with any initiative, a form of measurement and accountability is necessary; however, the measures in this report miss the mark, because they contradict the integrity of the initiatives laid out in the rest of the report. Instead, these measurements assess diversity with numbers.
“Assessment should rely primarily on data from or about constituent populations,” reads Section II(4). It goes on to argue that “wherever possible, the efficacy of diversity initiatives should be assessed in light of centrally-maintained institutional data and widely-accepted definitions of key concepts,” because “this practice facilitates internal comparisons (such as across units at Cornell) and external bench-marking (such as with peer universities).” The success of Cornell’s diversity initiatives depend on how our data compares to the data of other colleges. Furthermore, the success of individual colleges depends on how they compare to other colleges at Cornell.
At the end of the day, according the report, diversity is a numbers game.
This model of self-evaluation is far different than what the student body has explored this year. While student leaders plan to execute the idea of diversity and inclusion by bringing various interests into the room together, the University is calling for data to be taken, compared, and used to motivate target groups to do more.
The problem lies in that when diversity is measured by comparable numbers, incentives to have better numbers will always exist. Acting in their best economic interests, individual colleges will then continually push after a non-existing line.
What kind of precedent does this set for the student body, whose leaders have been more than willing to answer the University’s call?
After nine months of memorable experiences and invaluable lessons, I find that my message is not all too different than it was back in August. For love of self, of school, and of country, it is necessary to question those who govern you. For when every viewpoint is heard, society can reach its optimal solutions.
In terms of the diversity question at Cornell, that means realizing the flaws in the University’s plan to measure diversity.
Alfonse Muglia is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org