Cornell prides itself on many things, but especially its diversity. Its founding principle of being open to “any person…any study” has opened our campus to students and faculty from all over the country and all over the world, people of different races, ethnicities, religions, creeds, and sexual orientations. But while so many of our students have overcome significant socioeconomic barriers to get here, there are still substantial burdens associated with being a minority at Cornell. If anything from the past few weeks have shown, having a community of intelligent people founded on principles of universal acceptance might be great in theory, but isn’t enough to make Cornell the inclusive and respectful place it strives to be. One step towards achieving that is to make sure the perspectives of minority students are heard and their unique stories told, so that their voices and interests aren’t drowned out through underrepresentation.
It is with this goal in mind that a group of Cornellians have come together to start IvyUntold, the first student forum devoted exclusively to telling the stories of minority students at Cornell. Launched last year, the site is the product of the collective efforts of men’s basketball seniors and co-founders Jordan Abdur-Ra’oof and Troy Whiteside, along with Editor-in-Chief Katie Kilbourne and site designer Kyle Brown.
The impetus for founding IvyUntold came from both personal experience as well as current events, including the Fisher v. University of Texas decision upholding affirmative action that came to the Supreme Court in 2016. “With an ever-changing society and strong emotions about race, gender, socioeconomic status, and LGBTQ+ rights, the time was right to create a forum where some of the brightest minorities could share their experiences,” Abdur-Ra’oof explains. “I believe that having a diverse group of people together brings out the best in people and the best in the group.”
The stories featured on the site come from students across all facets of the Cornell community. From an emotional story of a student confronting anti-LGBTQ bias in a liberal bubble, to the experience of a black student visiting a racially-homogenous Japan, to the poignant tale of a South African student reconciling his heritage with isolation from Cornell’s African-American community—each of these accounts explore the complexities underlying minority identity and the myriad experiences that have shaped their understanding of that identity. Moreover, each allows its storyteller to share how they have been able to succeed not just in spite of their minority status, but because of it, framing it as an integral part of the people he or she has become.
While the climate on college campuses helps facilitate discussions about diversity and inclusivity, they are not havens for underrepresented minorities. “There are many issues facing minority students on college campuses, and the Ivy League is not exempt from them,” says Abdur-Ra’oof, in reference to the two racially-charged incidents that have occurred on campus in recent weeks. “When you delve into these problems, the ultimate reason for the hatred we see is fear and a lack of understanding.” He hopes that through IvyUntold, Cornellians can start to “change [their] perceptions and eliminate some of the hateful stereotypes people are faced with.”
The founders of IvyUntold have plans to expand their mission to the rest of the schools in the Ivy League, as well as to other top universities like MIT and Stanford. The team is also working on launching a retail component to help build brand notoriety and further spread their message.
Ultimately, Abdur-Ra’oof and his classmates hope that if IvyUntold can communicate anything to the Cornell community, it’s a message of acceptance. “I hope that IvyUntold unravels many of the stereotypes that people hold so that we can help create a more inclusive community where minorities have a platform to speak and be heard. All Cornellians, minorities and non-minorities alike, need to take time to listen, understand, and above all be respectful of the experiences minorities have had, both individually and collectively.”