Black Students at Cornell Reconsider Demand on Admissions

Group says it understands the reactions of those concerned over request for a focus on black students who are not the children of recent immigrants.

October 16, 2017
 
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Cornell's Black Students United group has pulled back from a controversial policy position -- part of a series of demands made to the New York private university's administration -- about the admission of black students. The group posted a message on Facebook indicating that it understood the anger created by the demand, which many viewed as an insult to those whose parents are recent immigrants from Africa or the Caribbean.

The demand that set off the debate was the following: “We demand that Cornell admissions 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.”

The Cornell students were not the first to ask questions about who makes up the black population of American's elite colleges. But the issue is a sensitive one for many. And the demand drew criticism both from conservative websites and from students at Cornell whose parents are from the Caribbean.

After about 10 days of discussion, Black Students United posted a new comment on its Facebook page. The new comment said the following:

"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."

Whether the new statement will resolve the dispute remains to be seen. Some on social media are praising the group for pulling back from the original statement.

But some still back the original demand. One Cornell alumnus posted this comment on the new statement: "Your initial demand was fine. It shed light on a very real issue and required a lot of courage. I was extremely proud of you all. It is unfortunate that you have recanted. The descendants of black American slaves will continue to become an ever decreasing portion of the Cornell student body. But at least you're working not to upset anyone."

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