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Cornell students protest against national and local racism

by Shelby Toth - Copy Editor
Tue, Oct 3rd 2017 09:00 pm

Cornell University students, faculty and community members took a stand, or rather, a knee, in a rally to protest racism on Wednesday, Sept. 27. The rally dubbed “Take a Knee,” was held on Cornell’s campus, where several hundreds of people came together in unity. According to The Ithaca Voice, the protest was in response to “two major national and local events.”

While the national event is quite obviously the NFL players taking a knee in protest of police brutality against people of color, the local event involved the assault of a Cornell student.

 According to HuffPost, a black student was walking home early in the morning when he noticed a group of roughly five men shoving his friend around. While trying to break up the fight, the men turned on the student and started attacking him, shouting “expletives and racial slurs.”

The only man arrested for the assault was John Greenwood, a 19-year-old student and, unsurprisingly, a member of an unrecognized fraternity on campus. HuffPost reports that he has been charged with “misdemeanor third-degree assault.” 

The fraternity, Psi Epsilon, has already been in deep water recently. According to The New York Times, the fraternity was suspended in 2016, when its president was accused of sexual assault. 

The fraternity was banned at the university after members threw a party during that suspension. Psi Epsilon was trying to become reinstated, all hopes for that have been crushed due to this incident. 

According to HuffPost, Cornell University President Martha E. Pollard stated, “based on what we know, and pending final investigation, Cornell will not consider Psi Upsilon’s reinstatement as an affiliated fraternity.”

As reported by the same article, this wasn’t the first racially charged incident at Cornell this academic year. Two weeks before the assault, student members of a different fraternity at Cornell chanted “build a wall, build a wall” outside the Latino Living Center on campus.

College campuses, while also promoting huge amounts of diversity, seem to be breeding grounds for racist thoughts, among other hateful rhetoric. Even on a campuse such as ours, we see hateful acts, such as last year when a racial slur coupled with a death threat was written on a student’s whiteboard outside his dorm. Terrible people find like-minded terrible people, and share outdated opinions that have no place in 2017.

As I previously stated, though, colleges can be the best place for students to be introduced to diversity and to be taught how how to handle their potential privilege. 

Schools all over the nation have various programs or events in place to bring awareness to high-profile issues, like the rally at Cornell.

 “Our society is steeped in white supremacy. Why should we expect Cornell, an enterprise built on stolen land, to be any different,” Professor of History at Cornell University Russel Rickford said. “Cornell University is a white supremacist entity because its daily functions reproduce the functions of privilege.”

Earlier in his speech, Rickford also addressed the commonly misguided notion that taking a knee is a pointless act.

“Some will say that the kneeling today by Cornell faculty and staff is an empty gesture... the participants, they will say, are climbing on the bandwagon,” Rickford said. “If a few minutes of gentle disruption can pierce our facade of neutrality, then today's exercise has served its purpose. If it unmasks hypocrisy, then it is a welcome intervention.”

According to The Ithaca Voice, professor of comparative literature Tracy McNulty asked everyone in attendance to take a knee for two minutes following the speech, roughly the length of the National Anthem. 

Afterward, Aziz Rana, a law professor at Cornell said, “There's a single act of taking a knee, which is a symbolic act. But that single act is meaningless unless it goes hand-in-hand with a commitment to say that everybody here now is accountable for what it means to create justice in this community and justice in this country.” Rana also said, “If we don't see every single act of that dehumanization as an affront to our own humanity, then we are part of that problem.”

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