Student Diversity In America: A Case Study Of Cornell


One important aspect of many American colleges and universities is the diversity one finds among the students on their campuses. In some regions of the country, there are universities where there is little diversity, but in many regions — and especially at all of the top-ranked universities — the racial, cultural and national diversity of the student body is considered a critical asset and a source of pride. 

The Ivy League universities and other elite, prestigious schools like Standford or M.I.T. make a great effort in their promotional materials to advertise how diverse their student bodies are. They know that if they want to attract the best students, they have to persuade those students — even the white, American students — that their college experience will include the chance to meet and study with fellow students from many racial backgrounds, many different cultural backgrounds ….. and from many different nations, as well. 

There are many Americans whose ancestors came from other continents, including not only Europe but also Africa, Asia and Latin America. As a result, the ethnic and cultural identities of young students arriving at a college campus can be a source of division and distancing or instead a source of mutual appreciation, learning and cross-cultural friendship. It is not always easy for universities, or for their students, to find the right balance between, on the one hand, the different, separate cultural identities or backgrounds of different student groups (valuing their own culture, treasuring it, sharing it with fellow students of the same culture)  and, on the other hand, promoting a feeling among all students that they are united in a common goal, common sense of belonging to the university, common social life and common values and interests.

Cornell University is one example of an Ivy League school where these issues have been tackled by Asian students on campus (who have come to study at Cornell from nations ranging from Cambodia and Japan to India and Indonesia), together with Asian American students (whose families are American, but with Asian ancestry). Ten years ago, there were many students at Cornell who felt there were not enough resources and support dedicated to Asian and Asian American student groups on campus. Through student activism and lobbying, the administration of the university was encouraged to help create a center called the Cornell Asian and Asian American Center: the A3C.
Below is a history of the creation of Cornell’s A3C, drawn from the Cornell A3C web site. It offers a picture of what cultural “identity politics” has been like on American college campuses in general, since many other U.S. colleges and universities have seen similar developments over the past decade.

The History of the A3C (Asian and Asian American Center at Cornell)


Cornell Administration charged a task force to confront issues confronting the Asian and Asian American student community: JANUARY 2003 CORNELL NEWS


The ASIAN AND ASIAN-AMERICAN CAMPUS CLIMATE TASK FORCE REPORT (3ATF) was released by the Cornell Administration. Salient findings included: over-representation of suicides from students of Asian descent, high dissatisfaction of Cornell experience compared to other ethnic groups, feelings of belonging to Cornell community commonly absent. Two of the main recommendations addressed by this task force were:

  1. Hiring of a paid staff position to serve the Asian/Asian-American student community
  2. Implementation of an Asian/Asian American center to unify the AAA population


Members of ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICANS FOR ACTION (APAA) strove for an Asian American program house on campus. Nota bene: There is a current moratorium on constructing new program houses at Cornell University (i.e. no new ones are allowed)

2008 ECAASU Planning Committee Members


Spring – a group of passionate student leaders met with the Vice President of Student and Academic Affairs, Susan Murphy, to lobby for an Assistant Dean for Asian and Asian American students

September – Vice President Murphy announced the creation of an Assistant Dean for Asian and Asian American students

November – RESOLUTION 8 was passed with an overwhelming majority in the Student Assembly. It called for the creation of an Asian and Asian American community center.


Spring – Asian & Asian American Center(A3C) was formed under the Office of Student Support and Diversity Education, Dean of Students, and members of APAA started meeting to lobby for the center

February – At the EAST COAST ASIAN AMERICAN STUDENT UNION (ECAASU 2008) CONFERENCE, held at Cornell that year, Remarks made by administration upset the 1500+ attendees. Administration’s remarks, were posted on numerous blogs, including nationally renowned WWW.ANGRYASIANMAN.COM, and lead many to start campaigns pushing Cornell to support Asian and Asian American students from across college campuses.

March – The ECAASU co-directors and other student leaders met with President Skorton and Vice President Murphy about ECAASU 2008 and Resolution 8. Skorton verbally agreed to a space designated for Asian and Asian American students on campus. Vice President Murphy started assembling a committee to figure out the details of the center.

March 31 – An Asian and Asian American Community Forum was held and Skorton publicly announces his support for an Asian and Asian American center and announces the committee.

October – The A3C Committee held a series of information sessions in order to update and inform students of A3C’s progress.


February – Patricia Châu Nguyễn was hired to fill the position of both Assistant Dean of Students for Asian & Asian American Outreach and Director of Asian & Asian American Center.


May – Sophie Sidhu is hired as the new Director of the Asian and Asian American Center and an Associate Dean of Students.

For more information, go to the student-created and managed A3C COMMITTEE’S BLOG to read more about how the A3C was created at Cornell.

Photo credits: Flickr picture of a statue at Cornell campus by Doug Kerr; A3C Cornell’s website: