The Department of Communication at Cornell University has a three-part mission: (1) to enhance understanding of communication processes, institutions, systems, and practices; (2) to inform and educate a wide range of constituencies; and (3) to foster communication competencies. Achieving this mission requires the full participation of a diverse community of students, faculty, and staff who have had a variety of experiences that can contribute to insights into how our social world operates. The Department can sustain excellence in research only if we have access to all critical lenses and perspectives on the questions that are important to ask, and on the methods that should be employed to examine those questions. The Department can sustain excellence in teaching only if we incorporate the perspectives of those from across our global community, as well as the marginalized communities that are often overlooked within the United States.
Fostering a diverse community is more than simple numerical representation. To live up to Cornell’s founding principle as a place where “any person can find instruction in any study,” the Communication Department makes persistent and proactive efforts to ensure that all are welcomed and treated with respect so that they truly can instruct, or find instruction. The goal is to create a culture that encourages and emboldens every member of the community to engage, particularly those who have historically been on the margins of the society.
Achieving these goals requires consistent self-examination to assess the progress, strategic planning to set targets for improvement, and most importantly, strategic actions to work toward the Department’s goals. Below is a partial list of current initiatives to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in our community.
Previous research - including projects by our own faculty - has documented that first-generation college students and students from other backgrounds that are historically underrepresented on college campuses, often benefit from learning communities. Such communities provide platforms to share tacit knowledge, reduce barriers, and create earlier and more equitable access to resources. Putting that research into action, the Communication Department recently developed and implemented an undergraduate peer mentor program to help all students thrive.
Syllabus and Curriculum Review
To have a broad and rich understanding of the world, it is imperative that students encounter the work of a diverse array of scholars. Faculty members are currently engaged in a holistic review of the entire curriculum and each course’s syllabus to identify and correct blind spots and biases in teaching and to ensure that the course content is representative of the broader global population, especially minority groups that are too often overlooked.
Research and Community Engagement
Cornell University’s land grant mission is of significant value. Cornell University was built on land taken from indigenous peoples. While this dark history cannot be changed, the Department is sensitive to this and many faculty conduct research and community-engaged projects that focus on understanding and addressing social inequality in its many forms and explore ways to increase mutual understanding and success of collaboration across cultural boundaries. Here is a list of the Department’s current projects in this area and ways to get involved.
Enhanced Efforts to Recruit Black, Indigenous and other POC Students for Graduate Studies
The Department’s Graduate Program Committee is developing a strategic plan to enhance efforts to recruit outstanding candidates from historically underrepresented populations to join the Communication graduate program. These efforts are being conducted in coordination with the Graduate School’s Director of Recruitment and will require a significant investment of resources to offset broader patterns of systemic oppression in current educational, economic, and social systems.
Holistic Review of Graduate Program Applications
The Communication Department recognizes that increasing diversity and inclusion requires not only a larger pool of students from diverse backgrounds but also a review process that reduces implicit or explicit biases. To that end, the Department’s Graduate Program Committee spent the 2019-2020 academic year overhauling the review process for graduate program applications. Notable changes include a revision of materials requested in applications, a more holistic approach to the review of applications, new rubrics for evaluation, and a broader set of criteria for evaluation. In response to national discussions of potential bias in standardized testing, as well as the impact of the pandemic on students’ abilities to take standardized tests such as the GRE, the Communication Department has suspended the use of the GRE in graduate program applications for students matriculating in 2021, and will evaluate the impact and revisit this decision in future cycles.
The Communication Department has initiated a reading club on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Faculty and other interested parties meet regularly to expand knowledge, awareness, and understanding of the obstacles, challenges, and institutional discrimination due to systemic racism. The goal is to put this understanding to use so that everyone in our community might flourish personally, that the Department can grow and thrive collectively, and that the Department can provide the infrastructure, support, and climate to support a diverse community of scholars.