[News] Cornell racist hate crime

Anti-Imperialist News News at freedomarchives.org
Tue Feb 28 14:15:59 EST 2006

Article about recent racist hate crime and response at Cornell with 
good quotes from Tony Marks-Block.

20 student groups issue joint 'statement of demands' to Interim Pres. 
Hunter Rawlings

By Suzy Gustafson
Sun Staff Writer

Yesterday on Ho Plaza at a rally protesting "violence and 
institutional racism at Cornell," Interim President Hunter Rawlings 
III stepped through the crowd of over 200 to receive a "statement of 
demands" signed by 20 student organizations.

The demands were made in the wake of the alleged recent stabbing of a 
visiting African-American Union College student by a white Cornell 
student on West Campus. They include the incorporation of Student 
Assembly resolution number 11 - which calls for a zero-tolerance 
policy towards bias-related violent crimes and sexual assault - into 
the Campus Code of Conduct, an improvement in the University's 
communications and emergency response procedure following violent 
crimes and the addition of a new required course on issues of race, 
power and gender.

Organizers expect a response by Friday.

A series of student leaders and activists, Cornell and Ithaca College 
faculty and staff and two members of the Ithaca Common Council spoke 
at the rally. One of the organizers, Stacy King '06, kicked off the 
rally by addressing the audience. "Thank you for seeing the absolute 
necessity of being here today," she said. "What happened to [stabbing 
victim] Charles Holiday is merely a microcosm of the problems that 
exist here on our campus."

Multiple speakers challenged or directly denied the notion that the 
West Campus stabbing was an isolated event. Prof. James Turner, one 
of the founders of the Africana Studies department, was among several 
who addressed the shock and disbelief on campus.

"I am here to share your concerns," he said. "What took place was 
horrible. It took place here at Cornell, here in Ithaca, where it is 
'not supposed to happen.' Although this was a terrible incident, it 
was not incidental. It causes us to ask whether [alleged attacker] 
Nathan Poffenbarger '08 is an anomaly." Turner proceeded to give 
examples of bias-related incidents that have occurred at Cornell in 
the past few years.

Prof. Ken Reardon, director of City and Regional Planning, spoke 
early in the rally.

"So many have expressed shock," he said. "The question is, 'Should we 
be surprised?'"

Reardon, a self-proclaimed "white guy from the Bronx," tried to 
illustrate modern racism by impersonating comedian Chris Rock saying, 
"Ain't no white man in this room who'd trade places with me. And I'm rich?"

Reardon also addressed his "white colleagues," stressing the 
importance that white faculty, students and staff show their outrage 
over racism and violence on campus. In support of the proposal for a 
new course requirement, he asked, "If we can't imagine sending our 
graduates out into the world without a literacy in math, sciences and 
the humanities, how can we imagine sending them out fundamentally 
unprepared and illiterate in issues of race and prejudice?"

Others challenged the reality of Cornell's "Open Doors, Open Hearts, 
and Open Minds" motto and the campus presence of the conservative 
publication The Cornell American. Speakers critiqued the perceived 
apathy within the student body and called for serious campus 
discourse and immediate student engagement in pursuing change at Cornell.

Rev. Ken Clark, director of Cornell University Religious Works, said 
"Somnambulism - the denial of bias such as racism - does not make 
[these issues] less real ? Now is not the time for cynicism about the 
present or romanticism about the past. Now is not the time for passivity."

Among the more pointed critics speaking at the rally were student 
activists, including Tony Marks-Block '07, of the Farm Workers 
Advocacy Coalition and Student Advocates for Palestine, and Justin 
Davis '07, president of Black Students United. Marks-Block noted that 
"in this country, there are more people of color in prison than in 
institutions of higher learning like Cornell." He elicited strong 
audience applause following his remark that "it is profitable to be 
racist in this country."

Speaking with The Sun before the rally, Davis said, "Let it be known 
that this is a rally to kick off a whole campaign of events. First we 
want to raise awareness ? Most students are not immediately affected, 
[so] it's easy to brush it off your shoulders. Secondly, we want to 
create tangible, thorough solutions to a problem that encompasses 
much more than basic racism."

The event drew a diverse crowd from both the Cornell and Ithaca 
community, some carrying signs that read, "I'm prejudiced, I 
discriminate, but I'm working on it," or "Face it, Racism is Here." 
In addition to the planned speakers, the rally incorporated a 
"speak-out" period, during which members of the rally's audience 
could express themselves at the podium, as well as a reading of 
student testimonials about personal experiences involving bias on campus.

One testimonial was from a female student working at a library 
security desk who, after telling a man he could not come behind the 
desk, was told, "nigra girls don't tell white folks what to do."

Anasstassia Baichorova '05, second year fellow at the Cornell 
Institute for Public Affairs and one of the rally's main organizers, 
spoke afterwards to The Sun about "what comes next." She said that 
although the turnout was good and more diverse than other forums held 
so far on campus, she would like to have seen a greater presence from 
powerful student communities like the Interfraternity Council and the 
Panhellenic Association. She said, "We have a large student 
population here that feels like outsiders, like Cornell is not their 
home. As a student body, we have to volunteer to change that."

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