Update on diversity and inclusion initiatives

Dear Ithaca Campus Community,

As virtually all Cornellians know, our university has a founding commitment to being equitable, inclusive and welcoming: This is our “… any person …” ethos. Last fall, I convened the Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate and charged it with developing actionable recommendations to enhance campus climate. At about the same time, the provost created a Task Force to Enhance Faculty Diversity. The reports of both task forces are available online (Campus Climate; Diversifying the Faculty), and I deeply appreciate the important work done by both groups.

I am writing today to provide you with an update on these efforts, as well as additional initiatives developed and implemented over the past year to further advance climate, diversity, inclusion and equity. Over the summer, I met regularly with senior leadership to review the task forces’ recommendations and to determine next steps. The reports identify significant areas of opportunity, many of which we can address immediately, some of which will take more time, and others that are aspirational. We have established a website that will enable the community to track our progress, and we will update it regularly. I encourage you to review it.

While the list on the website is long, I would like to share just a few examples of actions already taken in response to the task forces’ recommendations:

  • All new incoming first-year students participated in a three-hour Intergroup Dialogue Project (IDP) session during New Student Orientation a couple of weeks ago. IDP helps meet an identified need for education in communicating across difference. We have already seen a significant uptick in the number of first-year students who are interested in enrolling in the full-semester version of the IDP course.
  • Cornell’s Center for Teaching Innovation has developed an online course on Teaching and Learning in the Diverse Classroom, which will be made available to all faculty and teaching assistants. This course provides training for teachers to teach more effectively in multicultural classrooms and to address difficult topics more directly in class.
  • The provost has committed to increase support for the hiring of diverse faculty through enhanced central funding for hiring, retentions and postdoctoral positions; over the next five years, we will dedicate $60 million to hiring and retaining a diverse faculty.
  • The Department of Inclusion and Workforce Diversity has revamped its Inclusive Excellence Network of Programs to increase staff participation in diversity training programs, especially among those who don’t already participate.
  • Last academic year, Cornell Health embarked on multiple national searches, increasing the number of therapists available to students. The searches were successful in recruiting talented therapists with experience supporting a diverse student community. Additionally, new staffing has been provided to support “Let’s Talk” events at sites around campus.

As mentioned above, while the task forces were engaged in their work, the campus concurrently moved forward with key initiatives to enhance a culture of inclusion and equity. These are also listed on the website and include:

  • The Active Learning Initiative (ALI) has been expanded to the whole campus. Early evidence suggests that the ALI, piloted in the College of Arts and Sciences, not only enhanced student satisfaction but also reduced and even eliminated the performance gap within the student community. This year, funding for new ALI projects will be available campuswide.
  • The Office of the Dean of Students created a First Generation and Low-Income (FGLI) Student Support office and hired an inaugural director. This new office will help create an academic and social community for Cornell students who identify as first-generation college and/or low income and will serve as a resource and advocate for them. This office will complement the long-standing academic support that has been offered by the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives (OADI).
  • The Equity & Engagement Living Learning Community (EEC) at 2 Forest Park Lane opened this fall. It will offer a variety of programs, discussions and training opportunities on topics such as race, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, ability status and religion to engage it residents and the campus community in dialogue grounded in social justice principles.

Work to enhance campus climate is taking place on all of our campuses. In April, Weill Cornell Medicine hosted its inaugural Diversity Week, which featured a keynote address, diversity grand rounds, workshops and awards. It has also established a Mentoring Academy to reimagine the training of physician-scientists, including a focus on diversity and inclusion. And Cornell Tech hired a new executive-in-residence, Denise Young Smith, who formerly served as Apple’s vice president of inclusion and diversity.

These are just a few examples of what has already been done, and each one of the initiatives we are advancing is meant to complement the many excellent programs already in place both centrally and in the colleges and schools, overseen by so many Cornellians who have been working and leading in this space. I encourage you to look at the website for further information. And, of course, this is only the start: Achieving and maintaining the kind of inclusive campus climate we seek will require ongoing, collective work.

Our plans for the coming year are ambitious. Of particular note, both task forces recommended the creation of a campuswide statement reaffirming our core values, which can serve as a critical foundation for everything we do. The development of this statement will be a major focus of this academic semester.

I am also asking the University Assembly to address the set of recommendations from the Presidential Task Force Subcommittee on Speech and Harassment, which suggest significant modifications to our Campus Code of Conduct.

As we welcome one of the most diverse incoming classes in our history, we must continue the work to make Cornell a truly inclusive and just community. Our campus leadership is committed to that work, but we cannot do it alone. Creating an inclusive community requires a community effort.

I ask every one of you to rise to the challenge: to act respectfully in all your interactions, to seek equity and understanding across differences both inside and outside of the classroom, and to strive every day to take actions that help to realize Ezra Cornell’s vision of a university for “… any person …”


Martha E. Pollack