Déjà Vu All Over Again at Cornell

People versed in the campus upheavals of the 1960s will recall its nadir at Cornell University in 1969, when black students armed with shotguns occupied the president’s office, and issued demands to which the university largely capitulated. (See Donald Alexander Downs’s copious account of this shameful episode in his book, Cornell ‘69: Liberalism and the Crisis of the American University.)

Something of a sequel (minus the shotguns—for now) seems to be taking place at Cornell in recent weeks. William A. Jacobson of Cornell Law School, proprietor of the invaluable Legal Insurrection, reports that the Black Students Union at Cornell has issued a six-page list of demands that includes some predictable items, especially Maoist-style re-education camps for everyone:

We demand that all students, undergraduate and graduate, to have appropriate, ongoing, and mandatory coursework that deals with issues of identity (such as race, class, religion, ability status, sexual/romantic orientation, gender, citizenship status, etc.). We want this coursework to be explicitly focused on systems of power and privilege in the United States and centering the voices of oppressed people, assembled by professional diversity consultants and student leaders. Every Dean of every college should implement this requirement, and hire faculty to teach this work who are well equipped to do so.

But there was also this passage, which suggests that not all “people of color” are created equal, or at least not equally oppressed:

We demand that Cornell Admissions to 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.

Talk about a crash at the four-way intersectionality! Cornell admits too many Africans! The backlash has been amusing to take in, to say the least. One student wrote in the Cornell Sun:

While advocating for increases in admissions of African American students is pertinent and should be a priority for all universities, insinuating that Cornell is overrun with foreign and first generation black students and that they are taking away the spots of American black students suggests that there are only a set number of spots for folks with melanin, a quota that should only be filled by a certain kind of black person. The kind of black students who should be here, as per BSU’s definition, are “Black Americans who have several generations (more than two) in this country.” Limiting the definition of “black” to only American students is treading xenophobic waters and unwittingly bolsters the misconception that black students are only admitted into Cornell because they are black. It implies that those not “black enough” have no right to be here, even if they have the qualifications to earn their admission.

In a follow up post Jacobson notes in droll fashion: “I doubt the administration and the campus have the courage to seriously consider whether the quasi-religious obsession with diversity initiatives actually produces more harm than good.”

I’m sure this current Cornell job listing, posted just last week, will help a lot:

Tenure Track Assistant Professor Position

The Africana Studies & Research Center (ASRC) and Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program (FGSS) at Cornell University invite applicants for a joint tenure-track position for scholars working at the intersection of gender, race, and environmental studies at the rank of assistant professor. We seek a candidate whose research and teaching focuses on some configuration of the following areas of inquiry: cultural geography, social and political theory, environmental inequality, eco-feminism and queer ecologies, biotechnology, bioethics, environmental sustainability (broadly and creatively defined) and/or histories of science. We are seeking interdisciplinary scholars whose work highlights methodologies and themes associated with environmental humanities with a focus on race, gender, sexuality and/or inequality as categories of analysis in the African diaspora.

How long before “green” becomes a protected class category of human being?