The Black Students United at Cornell University protested Sept. 20 outside Day Hall on Cornell University’s campus in reaction to the alleged physical assault of a black student Sept. 15.
The organization created a list of demands for the administration and delivered them to Cornell University President Martha E. Pollack before beginning its three–hour occupation of Willard Straight Hall. The demonstration was in response to a series of racially charged incidents that occurred on or near Cornell University’s campus. On Sept.15, a black student was allegedly assaulted by a group of white males, who also yelled racial slurs at him, according to the Ithaca Police Department.
Police arrested a Cornell student, sophomore John Greenwood, and charged him with third-degree assault. The IPD is still investigating the incident and whether the assault “was based on racial bias.”
This incident follows a previous one where a member of Zeta Psi allegedly chanted “build a wall around the LLC” at the Latino Living Center at the college Sept. 6, according to a statement released by the Cornell University Student Assembly.
Juniors Traci Celestin and Delmar Fears, co-chairs of the Black Students United, listed the group’s demands in front of about 50 students in front of Day Hall on Sept. 20. Then, the BSU silently marched into Pollack’s office to hand over a list of demands. Afterward, they marched to Willard Straight Hall to begin their three-hour occupation, chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, racism’s got to go,” “No justice, no peace,” and “We won’t stand down, so we got to stand up.”
The demands included that all students should have mandatory coursework dealing with issues of identity, systems of power and privilege in the U.S. to center the voice of the oppressed. It also demanded that all employees at the university have ongoing training dealing with identity issues like race, sexuality, class and citizenship status.
The BSU also demanded that the Chi Chapter of Psi Upsilon fraternity be permanently banned from campus and that the students involved with the hate crime be expelled from Cornell. After the incident, Pollack stated in an announcement Sept. 17 that the fraternity will no longer be affiliated with Cornell University.
Also in the demands is a request for a space for students of the African diaspora to use for programs. The group said it would like the space to be at the Psi Upsilon Fraternity house. It also demanded that the Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic Council and Multicultural Greek Letter Council should have required diversity and inclusion race–based training before becoming a member of a sorority or fraternity.
Pollack also stated the Interfraternity and Panhellenic councils will create a diversity education program for all members before spring recruitment begins.
The BSU also demanded that there be a minority liaison–at–large position for the University Assembly. The group wants at least two more psychologists and psychiatrists of color to be added to the staff within the next two years, and one more physician of color within the next four years.
The BSU also demanded that the university’s Undergraduate Admissions Office create policies to increase the number of black students admitted. Another demand was the creation of an anti-racism community, intended to educate the university population about the dangers of white supremacy and other political issues.
Once students arrived at Willard Straight Hall, they began their occupation. Students gathered in the entrance of the building, spreading themselves out across the space and blocking other students from walking through the building. They began chanting “our campus, our space.”
Celestin said the delivery of the demands to Pollack is a way for the BSU to hold the administration accountable and make sure they are working with the BSU to tackle racial injustice experienced by students.
“We felt like one of our own was attacked, and this wasn’t the first time,” she said.
Fears said students have to be held accountable for their words and actions in order for the administration to be held accountable.
“This demonstration is not against the administration, but the administration is probably the biggest player in making change,” she said.
Sophomore Martha Williams said she wants students to understand why the issues the BSU is presenting are important, and encourages students to analyze the issues from a lens different from their own.
“We are human and we should be as appreciated and as important and as heard as everybody else,” she said. “There is no way to really tolerate or support violence and hate in any fashion because it destroys the very fabric of what we’re supposed to be and what we’re about.”