Cornell University’s campus in Ithaca, NY, is in turmoil after two incidents, as I first reported in mid-September.

In one incident, a student shouted “build a wall” near the Latino Living Center. At least two reports (Campus Reform and The New American) claim the student was Hispanic and said it to mock Trump. The Cornell administration has declined to confirm or deny those reports, referring me instead to prior general statements from university officials. In a second incident, one or more students who got into a fight off campus with a black student called him the “N” word.

The campus reaction has been protests by a group calling itself Black Students United (BSU), a “Take a Knee” protest organized by a faculty group, and the formation of a presidential task force charged with exploring, among other things, “legal mechanisms [which] are available to the university to prevent, address and counter situations in which protected expression on campus is harmful to those vulnerable to its effects.”

BSU presented Cornell’s president with a six-page list of demands, a copy of which originally was obtained by the Cornell Sun. In my post, Cornell Black Students group issues 6-page list of demands, I called attention to an aspect of the demand list that had not received much attention, calling on the administration to address the alleged over-representation of African and Caribbean black students:

Most interesting, and perhaps reflecting a split in the black student community, the group demands specific extra help for non-immigrant blacks:

We demand that Cornell Admissions to come up with a plan to actively increase the presence of underrepresented Black students on this campus. We define underrepresented Black students as Black Americans who have several generations (more than two) in this country.

The Black student population at Cornell disproportionately represents international or first-generation African or Caribbean students. While these students have a right to flourish at Cornell, there is a lack of investment in Black students whose families were affected directly by the African Holocaust in America. Cornell must work to actively support students whose families have been impacted for generations by white supremacy and American fascism.”

My report on the criticism by BSU of African and Caribbean students was picked up by the Daily Caller, without crediting me or linking back, even though they used the pdf. of the Demands I posted. (They recently added a mention.) That Daily Caller story then went viral, with tens of thousands of Facebook shares and was picked up at many other websites, crediting The Daily Caller for the story.

BSU came under substantial criticism for what was perceived as an attack on other black students, including in numerous YouTube and other videos, such as these:

The attack in the Demands on African and Caribbean black students also apparently caused a great deal of turmoil among the black community at Cornell. That’s understandable.

One student at Cornell wrote a column in The Cornell Sun, Combating White Supremacy Should Not Entail Throwing Other Black Students Under The Bus:

While advocating for increases in admissions of African American students is pertinent and should be a priority for all universities, insinuating that Cornell is overrun with foreign and first generation black students and that they are taking away the spots of American black students suggests that there are only a set number of spots for folks with melanin, a quota that should only be filled by a certain kind of black person. The kind of black students who should be here, as per BSU’s definition, are “Black Americans who have several generations (more than two) in this country.” Limiting the definition of “black” to only American students is treading xenophobic waters and unwittingly bolsters the misconception that black students are only admitted into Cornell because they are black. It implies that those not “black enough” have no right to be here, even if they have the qualifications to earn their admission.

Moreover, claiming that there are a disproportionate amount of Africans at Cornell is simply inaccurate. In data published by the International Students and Scholars Office Annual Statistics for 2016-2017, African students were reported to make up less than 3.1% of the student body. This means that approximately 155 African students attend Cornell in a given year (99 undergraduate and 43 graduate, out of a total of 14,315 undergraduate and 5,265 graduate students). If someone put all the African students admitted in a given year in one room, they would not come close to reaching the carrying capacity of Baker Lab. In fact, African students are among the least represented groups at Cornell.

The prevailing narrative in America right now surrounding non-American citizens is that they are “taking all the jobs.” Has this extended to the idea that foreigners are “taking all the university spots”? ….

Another Cornell student also wrote in The Cornell Sun of the divide:

I believe African/Caribbean students are taking up a lot of space on this matter. The only public discourse that I’ve seen published are from these students. As an African American whose family has been in the Americas since the start of Transatlantic slavery, my opinion is equally valid, and so I’ll share on my experiences.

The voice of African American Black students are stifled. We are labeled as “Just Black” on campus, and our Blackness is constantly called into question. There is a clear divide in the Pan-African Black community and no one wants to talk about it….

The controversy even found its way into Inside Higher Education, which asked, Who Counts as a Black Student?

The Cornell Sun reports on the backlash:

BSU argued in the demands that although international or first generation Caribbean and African students have “a right to flourish” at the University, “Cornell must work to actively support students whose families have been impacted for generations by white supremacy and American fascism.”

“There is a lack of investment in Black students whose families were affected directly by the African Holocaust in America,” the original demand said.

This was considered contradictory by many people both on and off campus.

“Black Student Group Complains Ivy League School Is Letting In Too Many African Students” read a headline from The Daily Caller.

Similar articles critical of the demand also ran in the Atlanta Black Star and Townhall.

Here is the statement posted by Cornell Black Students United on Facebook (emphasis added):

Following a bias incident in September where a Black Cornell University student was physically assaulted by a white student and verbally attacked by others because of his race, Black Students United (BSU) at Cornell organized as a community and prepared a list of demands that we delivered to Cornell’s president Martha Pollack. One of our demands has received a lot of attention and has been the subject of ongoing debate and discussion on and off our campus. The purpose of the demand was specifically to address the need for an increased presence of underrepresented Black American students at Cornell.

However, upon further reflection and contemplation, we understand both the complexity and contentious nature of our statement, as well as the frustration and anger that was felt by our community as a consequence of our demand. We apologize for the delay in response and any conflicting feelings this demand may have garnered from the communities we represent. Our mission aims to support all members of the African Diaspora both nationally and internationally, as we are a board comprised of Africans, Caribbeans, and Black Americans. We have and continue to reach out to African and Caribbean groups on campus in the spirit of dialogue and discussion surrounding this topic.

Finally, we hope to rebuild any trust we may have lost from our community members and we will continue to fight for the expansion of opportunities for all of our communities. Please join us next weekend as our alumni return to campus for Homecoming and we host our first community discussion around this issue.

What becomes of the protests and the presidential task force remains to be seen.

There already have been the predictable responses from the administration, which is to hire more administrators. The presidential task force, based on the language in the announcements so far, appears to be more of the same verbiage we’ve seen for a long time on “diversity and inclusiveness.” I doubt the administration and the campus have the courage to seriously consider whether the quasi-religious obsession with diversity initiatives actually produces more harm than good.

The split in the Cornell black community laid bare by the Cornell Black Student United statement on African and Caribbean students suggests that a simplistic approach to campus problems will not work.


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