Jaron’s Blog

Unionization and Harassment

The New York Times came under fire recently when, in an article about the post-election climate on campuses, they described:

Bias incidents on both sides have been reported. A student walking near campus was threatened with being lit on fire because she wore a hijab. Other students were accused of being racist for supporting Mr. Trump, according to a campuswide message from Mark Schlissel, the university’s president.

By virtue of its organization, the statement seems to imply that being called racist is ‘as bad’ as a direct death threat. Media commentators have noted that this constructs a dangerous false equivalency. “Both sides have it bad,” it says, “we should all end this divisiveness and come together in the middle.” Pardon me, but I’ll excuse any hijabi for refusing to step even halfway into the fire.

Today, two Cornell grads wrote a letter to the Daily Sun expressing their concern that our unionization effort is causing “divisiveness and emotional distress.” It describes behavior they call “harassment” and “emotional abuse.” I have collected every example they indirectly supply.

Hard conversations are unpleasant, and building a local organization takes persistence and convincing. Though many graduate students do have problems with their advisers, acknowledging this and reaching out to potential victims is apparently “too polarizing.” One might have thought that a University with such a prestigious business school would be more accommodating to “salesmen.”

Last year, between July 2015 and April 2016, Cornell’s Office of Inclusion & Workforce Diversity recorded 95 bias incidents made by faculty, staff, students, and visitors to Cornell’s campuses. Nearly half involve the victim’s race; another quarter their gender. We can surely assume that many more incidents have gone unreported. Here are some excerpts from the report.

Cornell students report harassment that is vicious and regular. The union has been accused of being annoying salespeople whose arguments appeal to emotion. To casually use epithets like “harassment” and “emotional abuse” to describe this is disrespectful to people who actually experience that abuse. It’s sad that some students have had bad union conversations—with so many volunteers untrained in activism and outreach, it can be difficult to make a consistent presentation. But no example provided has approached the severity of the rhetoric used. I’m disappointed in both the letter writers and the Sun for printing such an alarmist piece.

This post originally appeared in the Cornell Daily Sun.