Our Historic Commitment

New York State's leadership for individual equality was ahead of its time.

At a time when the American Equal Rights Association was being formed as a coalition between women's rights and anti-slavery organizations (1866)—and prior to the adoption of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1868)—university co-founders Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White were committed to creating a university that was open to all individuals, regardless of race or gender.

In a letter dated February 17, 1867, Ezra Cornell stated young women should be educated in the university as well as young men so that both would have the same opportunities. In 1874, Andrew Dickson White confirmed the university would accept students of color even if the 500 enrolled white students “asked for dismissal on this account.”


  • Commitment to Indigenous Communities and Nations in North America supported in new website.



  • Cornell's first incoming class to the College of Engineering achieves gender parity.


  • Cornell recognizes undocumented students as eligible for domestic need-based financial aid.


  • First Female President, Elizabeth Garrett


  • Cornell’s first official LGBT Reunion for Alumni, Parents, and Allies.


  • Cornell joins in founding 1vyG, the pan-Ivy League association for first generation college students.

  • College of Arts & Sciences launches Africana Ph.D. program.

  • University Diversity Council begins Toward New Destinations grant competition designed to support new or existing small initiatives.


  • “Toward New Destinations” institutional diversity planning initiative established.

  • Office of Faculty Development and Diversity established.

  • McNair Scholars Program begins. This federally sponsored program prepares underrepresented juniors and seniors for graduate school.

  • The POSSE Scholars Program begins.  Annual cohorts of ten high school graduates from Chicago are admitted to Cornell.

  • The Intergroup Dialogue Project begins, a peer-facilitated course aiming to raise undergraduate awareness of social justice issues.

  • Cornell joins the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities with over 1000 Latinx students.


  • Diversity Programs in Engineering is presented with the U.S. Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring.

  • The Graduate School Office of Professional Development and Inclusion is established.

  • OMEA re-organized and renamed to the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives (OADI) and the Center for Intercultural Dialogue (6-2-6).


  • The Disability Access Management Strategic Plan created and its work evolves through 2011.

  • Asian & Asian American Center (A3C) founded to support students of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage.


  • The Fall entering undergraduates report less than 50% being white U.S. citizens.

  • Cornell University is recognized by seven organizations for its "best employer" workplace programs.

  • Cornell Faculty Institute for Diversity is established.

  • The Business Leadership Network of Central/Western NY is inaugurated with support of 10 local business representatives.


  • Cornell fully funds undergraduate students from families with incomes under $60,000 and caps student tuition obligations annually for those with incomes up to $120,000. By 2012, the university's financial aid budget doubles and Cornell is in the top ten most economically diverse research universities.

  • The University ADA Coordination Team is established and charged with implementing the university’s annual disability access plan.

  • Cornell is one of five organizations nationwide to be recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor for its compliance efforts.


  • Cornell is awarded $3.3 million from the National Science Foundation ADVANCE directorate to increase the proportion of women faculty in the sciences and engineering.

  • The university creates an ADA Coordinator position in the facilities management area.

  • Cornell is among the first universities to establish a chapter of the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society within its Graduate School. The Bouchet Society recognizes outstanding scholarly achievement and promotes diversity and excellence in doctoral education and the professoriate. The society was founded by Yale and Howard Universities in 2005, and is named for the first African American doctoral recipient in the United States (Ph.D. from Yale University in 1876).



  • Department of Inclusion and Workforce Diversity takes responsibility for EEO compliance, including handling all complaints of discrimination based on protected status, including disability.

  • The needs of individuals with disabilities are identified as part of a broader diversity effort.



  • University Diversity Council is established.


  • A Vice Provost for Diversity and Faculty Development is appointed for the first time.


  • Student Disability Services is created within the Center for Learning and Teaching in order to provide adequate resources to a growing number of students with disabilities.  This office becomes its own unit in 2008.




  • Akwe:kon Residence Hall opens, becoming the first university residence in the U.S. built to celebrate American Indian heritage.

  • ADA Steering Committee established to undertake a facility barrier-removal program.



  • The Human Relations Training Program becomes the Peer Educators in Human Relations Program.


  • Cornell is one of eight universities to receive the inaugural Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows Program, which prepares underrepresented students in the humanities, arts and social sciences for doctoral study.

  • Latinas Promoviendo Comunidad/Lambda Pi Chi Sorority, Inc. becomes the first Latina focused sorority in the Ivy League.


  • Asian American Studies and Latino Studies Programs are founded.

  • Joycelyn Hart, an African American woman, is appointed Associate Vice President for Human Relations and Chief Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunities Officer, reporting to the President and the Provost.



  • La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc. becomes the first Latino focused fraternity in the Ivy League.


  • The Human Relations Training Group is formed by students, faculty, and staff. Thirty-five trained discussion facilitators conduct workshops and discussions with a variety of student groups and departments to discuss attitudes and perceptions of racism and sexism in a supportive environment.


  • The Committee on Special Educational Projects is reorganized and named the Office of Minority Educational Affairs (OMEA).


  • Jewish Studies Program is founded.

  • Office for Equal Opportunity is created to provide services for students and employees with disabilities.




  • Employment & Disability Institute is created.

  • Wari House Cooperative is established to house women of the African diaspora.

  • Cornell is among the first eight university sites for the New York State Education Opportunity Program. The program supports low income, first generation, and under-represented students in university admissions, financial aid, and academic success.


  • Elmwood House is established to house men of the African diaspora.



  • First convened in 1963, the Committee on Special Educational Projects (COSEP) is officially launched by Dr. James Perkins, the seventh president of Cornell.  The first program of its kind at a major American university, it is designed to increase the enrollment of African American students at Cornell and to provide them with support services. The number of Black students enrolled increases from 8 to over 250 during his presidency.

  • Cornell is one of the first universities to host the Upward Bound program, launched in 1964 by President Johnson.






  • Elbert Cox becomes the first Black person in the world to receive a PhD in mathematics, just 39 years after Cornell awarded its first Ph.D. in Mathematics (1886).


  • Mary Honor Donlon becomes the first woman editor-in-chief of any law review in the U.S. and edits three issues of the Cornell Law Quarterly: November 1919, January 1920, and March 1920.


  • The Rho Psi Society is established and is the first Asian American-based student society and the first club with Greek letters for Asian and Asian American students in the Ivy League. Rho Psi became national in 1925 and international in 1929.


  • Cornell chapter of the NAACP established.


  • Tomás Bautista Mapúa is the first Filipino to earn a degree in Architecture in the United States and the first registered architect in the Philippines.



  • Alpha Phi Alpha, the first Black Greek-lettered fraternity in the nation, is founded at Cornell University.


  • The Cosmopolitan Club is founded and is the first international students’ organization in this U.S., giving many foreign students a home at the university.


  • Sao-Ke Alfred Sze, Cornell’s first Chinese student, graduates. He later becomes the longest-term Chinese minister, China's first ambassador to the U.S., and a founding member of the World Bank.


  • Charles Chauveau Cook and Jane Eleanor Datcher become the first African Americans to graduate from Cornell after a four-year course of study.

  • George Washington Fields, a former slave, becomes the first African American graduate of the department of Law at Cornell (now known as the Cornell Law School). Fields is one of three African American students to graduate from Cornell University that year.


  • Latin American students from Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Honduras and Brazil create Alpha Zeta, a “foreigner’s fraternity.” 


  • Suffragist May Gorslin Preston Slosson earns her Ph.D. in Philosophy at Cornell, becoming the first woman in the U.S. to do so and Cornell’s first female Ph.D.



  • Ryokichi Yatabe becomes the first Japanese student to graduate from Cornell University.


  • Elias Fausto Pacheco Jordão, from Brazil, becomes Cornell’s first South American student to graduate and the first Brazilian to earn a degree in the U.S.

  • Sage College opens to house undergraduate women.


  • Andrew Dickson White, co-founder of Cornell University, writes to C.H. McCormick of Newburgh, Indiana regarding the university’s admission of African American students, stating that the university would be “very glad to receive any who are prepared to enter, […] even if all our 500 white students were to ask for dismissal on that account.”


  • Emma Sheffield Eastman becomes Cornell’s first female graduate.

  • Dr. Estevan Fuertes, originally from Puerto Rico, becomes Cornell’s first dean and professor of civil engineering. He leads the construction of Cornell’s first observatory (located on the Arts Quad) and is the namesake of the current (and fourth) Fuertes Observatory built in 1917 on North Campus.

  • Club Brasileiro, Cornell’s earliest known student cultural organization, is founded by Brazilian students. Comprised of over 20 members, the organization publishes a monthly newsletter in Portuguese. 


  • Cornell admits Jennie Spencer, becoming the first co-educational school in the Ivy League, but according to the story, with no lodging available near the campus, she had to withdraw.

  • Kanaye Nagasawa becomes the first Japanese student to enroll at Cornell. 

  • Cornell begins offering Chinese and Japanese language courses.


  • William Bowler, from Haiti, becomes Cornell’s first student of African descent.


  • Ezra Cornell states that he wants to "have girls educated in the university as well as boys so that they may have the same opportunity [sic] to become wise and useful to society that the boys are [sic]."


  • Cornell University is founded.