The Ithaca College Student Governance Council (SGC) spoke with President La Jerne Cornish at its Nov. 28 meeting about diversity, equity and inclusion.
Cornish began by speaking about her time as the president of the college since her inauguration Oct. 1.
“If someone told me when I started teaching sixth grade 39 years ago that I would end up a college president, I would have said, ‘No way,’” Cornish said. “It was a weekend of gratitude as the culmination of a life spent in education.”
Cornish gave a summary of what the college has accomplished since her inauguration, including increased enrollment. According to the Office of Analytics and Institutional Research, enrollment has increased from 992 new first-year students and 64 new transfer students in Fall 2020 to 1,311 new first-year students and 103 new transfer students in Fall 2022. Cornish also spoke about the IC in the City event, which included the Cortaca Jug Game and the Ithaca Forever tour, in which Cornish plans to visit 25 cities in the span of a year to meet with alumni. Cornish plans to complete her tour in London in October 2023.
“I have been talking to [alumni] about the ways that they can be engaged and connected, and I dream of a mentoring model for students,” Cornish said.
Cornish said her mentoring model would be developmental, spanning over several years, beginning during a student’s first year at the college. She said the mentor, a recent alumni, would support the student in their academic goals, and that the program would be created with the purpose to increase retention rates.
Sophomores Noah Richardson and Hannah Ahmed, Class of 2025 senators, brought up concerns and questions about improving diversity on campus.
“I have also felt like there’s not really a community or space for me here,” Ahmed said. “I know a bunch of the community [of people of color], and I feel like the only reason why I do know them is because we’ve been able to connect on levels of why we don’t feel like there’s a community here. I’ve always been interested in opening up a space for [people of color].”
In response to the questions from Ahmed, Richardson and the other council members regarding diversity on campus, Cornish talked about improving diversity in curriculum. Cornish said there are more students of color at the college than faculty members of color and that increased diversity is a work in progress. Cornish said the President’s Cabinet plans to do a deep dive on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at its meeting Nov. 29.
Cornish also informed the SGC on racial identity and how different individuals interact based on race. Racial identity formation is a model of how white people and people of color develop socially, respectively. Both models have five stages that relate to a person’s identity and how they interact with race.
“What I’m offering is that on this campus, we’ve got people in every one of those stages [of the racial identity formation] every day who are trying to find their way, and this is a beautiful place for us to be able to work that out,” Cornish said.
Members of the SGC also brought up concerns regarding the recent incidents of swastikas and other hate symbols drawn across campus, namely in the James J. Whalen Center for Music. Cornish said that while the college is making preventative efforts against the hate symbols, one of the best ways to address the issue would be for people to speak up if they know someone who has drawn these hate symbols on campus.
“Our hands are really tied, so we are getting cameras,” Cornish said. “But you’re not going to have a camera in every room in every space on this campus. … There’s not much I can do to stop it, but I will condemn it every time.”
First-year student Asata Rothblatt, Class of 2026 senator, asked Cornish what the hardest part of her job is and how the SGC could potentially alleviate any struggles.
“The hardest part about being the president is doing that hard work that people won’t do,” Cornish said. “But 50 years from now when I’m done, many of you will still be alive and so will this college. … Say good things about this place because great things happen here.”
After Cornish’s conversation with the council, the SGC heard senator and officer reports. Senior Grace Madeya, president of the student body, said she is working on a new bill that — if passed — would add two seats to the senate. The SGC will also continue to work on the bill to make an amendment to the SGC Code of Conduct that was not passed at the previous meeting Nov. 14.
The SGC is the sole representative body for the Ithaca College student community. The SGC can be contacted at email@example.com.