Alumni, Faculty, Graduate Students and Staff for an Anti-Racist Cornell University to sign, please add your name to the Google Form.
Dear President Pollack, Provost Kotlikoff, Deans and members of the Cornell University community,
As a university founded in 1865 upon an egalitarian vision of education, Cornell has set for itself high standards of social responsibility. It is easy to recite the motto “any person… any study,” but easier to forget that the price of that vision of equal educational opportunity was the legacy of forcible Indigenous dispossession and African enslavement, compounded by increasing imperialist expansion and interventionism in the Americas and beyond. The institution has fallen far short of its democratic ideals in the past and must pursue them much more aggressively in the present and future, particularly in the arena of racial justice. We can no longer ignore the land and the labor at the core of the foundation of Cornell University’s endowment. The Ithaca campus occupies the traditional homelands of the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ (the Cayuga Nation), and Cornell’s other campuses and properties are in the traditional territories of likely every Indigenous Nation in the state. Moreover, the Morrill Act of 1862 provided almost a million acres of formerly Indigenous lands to Cornell in 15 other states. The wealth of the university, an institution founded at the close of the U.S. Civil War but by no means the end of white supremacy, is in no small part derived from Indigenous dispossession and the afterlife of racial slavery. It is not enough to continue to cite the legacy of abolition (Underground Railroad) and suffrage (Seneca Falls Convention) in Upstate New York without upholding the values of ongoing struggles toward freedom.
Cornell remains a site of entrenched racial disparities, mirroring, in many ways, the larger failings of the nation as an interracial democracy. While the university faithfully performs the liberal rituals of “diversity,” such practices have proved to be largely symbolic and therefore empty; they long ago became alibis for the maintenance of an unjust social order. The intellectual, social and emotional effects of that order have contributed to Cornell’s failure to retain many faculty of color. President Pollack’s recent announcement of plans for a Center for Anti-Racism in response to student demands is promising. However, in this moment of national reckoning prompted by the horrific murder of George Floyd, Cornell as an institution must do much more.