March 17, 2016

Multiethnic student group Mixed receives 2016 Perkins Prize

Perkins Prize group
Jason Koski/University Photography
From left, Provost and Acting President Michael Kotlikoff, Dean of Students Kent Hubbell, Mixed at Cornell members Erika Axe, Marissa Bray, Katie Dao, Tyler Neace, Amanda Connell, Associate Dean of Students Sophie Sidhu and Trustee Emeritus Thomas Jones '69 at the ceremony for the James A. Perkins Prize for Interracial and Intercultural Peace and Harmony.

In 2015 members of the student club Mixed at Cornell created the print and digital Cornell Hapa Book Facebook page, featuring photographs and stories of 60 self-identified multiracial students, staff and faculty who answered the question, “What does being mixed mean to you?” The book received more than 8,000 views.

On March 16 in Willard Straight Hall, Mixed was awarded the recently renamed James A. Perkins Prize for Interracial and Intercultural Peace and Harmony by Michael Kotlikoff, provost and acting president, “for its role in supporting and exploring the experience of multiracial/multiethnic individuals.”

The Perkins Prize is given annually to the individual or program making the most significant contribution to furthering the ideal of university community while respecting the values of racial and cultural diversity. The award, administered through Cornell’s Office of the Dean of Students, was created and endowed by Cornell Trustee Emeritus Thomas W. Jones ’69, in 1994 to honor Cornell President Emeritus James A. Perkins, the university’s seventh president, who died in 1998.

Originally the prize was called the James A. Perkins Prize for Interracial Understanding and Harmony. With the support of Jones, who attended the ceremony, the prize was renamed to broaden its mission, according to Dean of Students Kent Hubbell. David Perkins, son of the late President Perkins, said his father would applaud this broadened mission.

Led by a small group of undergraduates and represented by its president, Amanda Connell ’16, Mixed fosters a safe space for students who identify as multiracial, multiethnic or multicultural to share their experiences and create a community. Calling itself the “most ethnically diverse club on campus,” Mixed has more than 50 active members.

The club will hold the inaugural Blend Conference April 15-16 to increase awareness of multiracial experience and marginalization of identity. It will feature a variety of speakers, interactive group activities and discussions designed to give conference participants an increased awareness of self and the expanding multiracial world.

“Mixed truly offers something for everyone: an inclusive organization that honors the multiple perspectives and identities of mixed race students; a space for relationship-building and self-empowerment; a platform for student activism; and a creative outlet for identity expression and social justice building,” wrote Sophie Sidhu, associate dean of students and director of the Asian and Asian American Center, in her nomination letter.

The prize includes a $5,000 award, which will be used to support the conference and other Mixed programs.

Three organizations received honorable mention: the Colleague Network Groups, Cornell Cinema and the International Student Union.

Created by Cassandre Joseph, director of staff retention, the Colleague Network Groups – people of color, LGBT, disability, veterans and young professionals – “play an important role on campus by bringing people together to socialize and to support and mentor each other,” Kotlikoff said.

Kotlikoff also recognized Cornell Cinema, represented by its director, Mary Fessenden, for consulting with a broad range of groups to bring films and discussions to Cornell that inform viewers about a variety of cultures, countries and viewpoints.

Formed three years ago, the International Student Union (ISU) promotes dialogue and awareness about world events, cultures and issues, and is developing a mentorship program that will pair students from different cultural or religious backgrounds. Akhilesh Issur ’17 received the recognition on behalf of the ISU.

“Respect for diversity and inclusion is integral to the character of Cornell, but it is always a work in progress,” said Kotlikoff. “Thank you all for helping to bring us closer to an ideally welcoming community for students, faculty, staff and visitors alike.”