Resolution: SA R7: Support for Native American and Indigenous Students at Cornell’s Demands
|Action||Acknowledged by the President|
Thank you for conveying to me Student Assembly Resolution #7: Support for Native American and Indigenous Students at Cornell’s Demands, and Student Assembly Resolution #8: Cayuga Land Acknowledgement.
As you know, Cornell sits on the traditional homelands of the Cayuga (Gayogohó:no') Nation, whose lands were expropriated in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War. The American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program (AIISP) has a draft of a statement of land acknowledgement and is in consultation with the Cayuga Nation as to the final language, consistent with best practices. Similar to Resolution #8, programs and units throughout the university currently either use this draft or a version of this draft land acknowledgment.
With regard to Resolution #7, recent scholarship, including by AIISP faculty, has revealed that the laudable ideals of the Morrill Land Grant Act were accompanied by a history of dispossession of indigenous nations by the federal government during the 19th century. New York state and Cornell University represent a distinct aspect of this history in that the state received the most land (scrip) from the federal government in proportion to its population at the time, and Cornell generated the most revenue due in large part to its financial management practices. I look forward to learning more as this new historical research continues.
As you may know, Cornell has long welcomed Native American students to campus and worked with tribal communities on issues such as land management and language preservation. We are looking for additional ways to acknowledge the history between Cornell and American Indian and Indigenous peoples, not only with the Cayuga Nation, but also across the country with other Indian nations and tribes, and to ensure that, as part of our land grant mission, we continue to serve members of all communities through research, teaching, and public engagement.
I am looking forward to working with the Native American and Indigenous community at Cornell on these issues. I have asked Avery August, Vice Provost and chair of the Presidential Advisors on Diversity and Equity to provide additional detail below.
Martha E. Pollack
President, Cornell University
300 Day Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
Thank you for the opportunity to provide additional information on the university’s ongoing relationships with Indigenous people and related academic and programmatic efforts.
Cornell has a long history of engaging with Indigenous peoples. Soon after its founding in 1865 to provide a college education to “..any person..”, the Cornell student body included the significant presence of American Indian students. In addition, it was one of the few universities with a prominent program of outreach to the American Indian community, with the American Indian Extension program which was started in the 1920s. The American Indian program established at Cornell in 1983 (renamed the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program (AIISP) in 2016) was also a major milestone for Cornell. The first university residence specifically built to celebrate American Indian heritage was at Cornell, when Akwe:kon Residence Hall opened in 1991. The AIISP has provided us with the rich history of Native American students here at Cornell, including the challenges these students faced, and the changes that have been made over the years.
Information that has emerged from the critical studies of American Indian studies scholars, including those here at Cornell reveals that as President Pollack states, while there is much to be proud of in our land grant history, it is also one that is linked to these dispossessed lands that were granted to Cornell. These lands that were granted by the federal government through the Morrill Act generated the most revenue for Cornell among the land grant institutions, due in large part to Cornell’s financial management practices. Accordingly, staff in the President’s office and in the Provost’s office have been supporting the work of the faculty in AIISP, facilitating and prioritizing interactions with archival research on Cornell’s real estate holdings, and with the Library archivist and Real Estate office to shed additional light on this history. We are also eager to continue working with AIISP to develop a more prominent acknowledgement and understanding of this history, and to build and maintain relationships with American Indian tribes and nations whose lands have benefitted Cornell. In the President Pollack’s July 26, 2020, message to the Cornell community, she called for “…a systematic review of the curriculum in each of our colleges and schools to ensure that courses reflect, represent and include the contributions of all peoples in the curriculum and courses”, and we expect that this will result in a significant increase in the acknowledgement of Native American and Indigenous peoples in our curriculum. We are aware that a number of departments have already embarked on this process.
There are a number of other initiatives are being developed to enhance our work in this area. These include initiatives to enhance recruitment of Native American undergraduate students by the Office of the Vice Provost for Enrollment, as well as by eCornell to enhance the participation of the Native American and Indigenous community in their programs, particularly around entrepreneurship and management, and continued support for increased research in the area of American Indian and Indigenous Studies (with the support of the Mellon Foundation and work between the Office of the Vice Provost for International Programs, the Johnson Museum and AIISP) to understand and address the nature and effects of dispossession. These projects will explore the experiences and voices of dispossession and migration, host workshops with experts from tribal colleges and universities on designing syllabi, activities and modules. The university’s Office of Engagement Initiatives has also funded 18 projects that work with indigenous communities, and many of the recent projects focus on efforts to preserve indigenous languages.
With regards to faculty, such hiring is the purview of departments and colleges, and the President and Provost strongly support continued efforts to diversify faculty across the university, including those with Native American heritage. Indeed Cornell is second in the Ivy league with regards to number of Native American faculty. Cornell supports continued aggressive efforts to diversify our faculty using a number of approaches, including financial incentives using the Provost’s Faculty Bridge funding mechanism, the search accountability process, and the contribution to diversity statements, which are utilized as part of a holistic evaluation mechanism in the evaluation of candidates. However, despite our efforts, we have lost ground in the number of Native American faculty (from 8 in 2010 to 5 as of Fall 2020), largely due to retirements. We have recognized this and have worked to developed new policies for the recruitment of Native American and indigenous faculty and staff. Through these and other efforts, we are excited to welcome two new tenure track faculty members who work in American Indian and Indigenous Studies, who will be joining the Cornell faculty in 2021, as well as other American Indian faculty appointments. In addition, we have committed to expanding our support for the teaching of the Cayuga language.
Decisions to make changes in academic programs, such as transitioning from a program like AIISP to a department, originate from faculty members, and these decisions happen in consultation with the relevant college dean. We work centrally to support the approval of program changes that have been put forward by the colleges. Changes like the ones suggested in the petition have to be vetted by several units across the university and then have to receive regulatory approval, such as through New York State Education Department, so this process can take several years.
In closing, I want to reiterate that the administration shares many of the goals of the petitioners, and we hope that our entire community is passionate in doing even more towards ensuring that Cornell broadly acknowledge the relationships between Cornell and American Indian and Indigenous peoples, as this will contribute to a more equitable community.
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs
Chair, Presidential Advisors on Diversity and Equity