A group of students at Cornell University, Black Students United, put out a statement last month that criticized the administration for counting international students who happen to be black towards the university’s statistics for black and/or African American students. This student group asserts that international black students should not be lumped in with underrepresented African American students, that doing so is to the detriment of the latter group. In a piece published yesterday by Harry Trustman in the newspaper of the University of Pennsylvania, “The Daily Pennsylvanian,” Ivy Coach is cited on this very topic. So is the admission of international black students to the detriment of underrepresented African American students on campuses such as Cornell?
Statement of Cornell’s ‘Black Students United’ Group
Let’s first share with our readers the demand of the Black Students United group. Part of their statement reads as follows: “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.”
Great Idea, Wrong Approach to Increasing African American Representation at Cornell
We absolutely agree that our nation’s top colleges need to do more in order to encourage more African American students to apply to these institutions. As Trustman writes, “Brian Taylor, the managing director of Ivy Coach, a college counseling service, agreed that colleges should do more to reach out to the African-American community. ‘Should colleges like Cornell and Penn be doing more to encourage underrepresented African-American students to apply?’ Taylor asked. ‘Yes, they could do more; they should do more, they must do more.'”
But while we’re all for increasing the number of underrepresented African American students on college campuses like Cornell, why did these students have to pit themselves against international black applicants? By lumping these students together (on the Common App., the option is Black / African American so that includes international black applicants), does it provide some cover to the university if the school’s not able to secure a certain number of African American students in their incoming class? You bet. And perhaps without that cover, colleges would do more to increase their numbers of underrepresented African American students (and international black students too!). But the approach of this student group is the wrong one. For starters, while American slavery was one of the great atrocities committed in human history, the Holocaust was a specific atrocity in the history of the Jewish people in which six million people of the Jewish faith were murdered. The usage of this word in the statement of Black Students United is wrong.
Additionally, as Trustman writes — and as we argue — in his piece for “The Daily Pennsylvanian,” “Taylor found it ironic that a politically left-leaning student group would express beliefs that are anti-immigrant in nature. ‘Presumably, these are not supporters of our president,’ Taylor said. ‘And yet, some of their sentiment is also anti-international students. They’re espousing ideals that are anti-foreigner.'” Cornell’s Black Student’s United should hope to unite — not to divide. We’ve got enough divisions in our country right now. This approach of Cornell’s Black Students United seems like an approach out of the playbook of the very presidential administration this group likely doesn’t support.