by a sorry friend
According to Christopher Dunn, whose was hired to be the Director of the Cornell Plantations, “there is one key element that all botanic gardens have in common: celebrating, displaying and studying the rich diversity of the world’s plants. Yet to be truly effective, this celebration of natural diversity must also embrace human diversity.”
The word plantations did not embrace human diversity.
Black Students United demanded in a November 17, 2015 letter to President Elizabeth Garrett and Vice President Ryan Lombardi, “[w]e want the administration to change the name of the Cornell Plantations as soon as possible.”
John Carberry, senior director of media relations said, “President Garrett, vice president Lombardi and the University’s senior leadership are reviewing the letter from Black Students United and expect to reply early this week.”
“A botanic garden is all about showcasing the rich diversity of the plant kingdom. How can you have a plantation that is a botanic garden? It’s a non sequitur,” said Christopher Dunn, the Elizabeth Newman Wilds Director of Cornell Plantations, who said he has spent the last two years exploring the possibility of a name change.
Renee Alexander ’74 associate dean and director of intercultural programs, student and academic services and advisor to BSU called Dunn a “change agent” and praised his collaborative work with members of the Cornell community in pursuing a change at the plantations.
Black Student Union President Emerita Samari Gilbert ’17 said “[a] name change has been a long time coming and generations of Cornellians will benefit from a more accessible space.”
In her book, Words Matter, linguist Sally McConnell-Ginet wrote, “[o]f course the botanic diversity Dunn celebrates is driven mainly by the huge stock of different plant species, whereas human diversity, which he also applauds, exists within a single species and has minimal connection to biology. Nonetheless, his marriage of the two issues was rhetorically brilliant.”
Rhetorically brilliant, but not written in stone!
This fall, I was showing a friend of mine around the Botanic Gardens’ F.R. Newman Arboretum— which was ranked the most beautiful college arboretum in the country. My friend is a third generation poet, and thus very sensitive. As we walked around waxing poetically about the changing colors of leaves–what Edwin Matzke called, “The Finest Show on Earth“, we came across a rock with a plaque that had the words (trigger warning)–CORNELL PLANTATIONS–in all capitals–a clear sign of racism and white supremacy, as well as a finger in the eye to the lowercase movement.
My friend was verklempt! He was so weakened by the realization that the Cornell Botanic Gardens, which is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ (the Cayuga Nation), and has a painful history of dispossession, was not a safe space at all. I had to help him back to the car, and when we got back to my house, he just sat in a soft chair and dreuled.
The next morning, when he felt a little better, he talked with a lawyer with experience with safe spaces. Then he felt much better.
Here (rtigger warning) is a picture of the plaque.