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Youthcast Hits Up Cornell

I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Podcasts. Podcasts, people, podcasts! Invest in podcasts: they're the wave of the future. Podcasts, I tell you!

I literally just murdered the most famous film quote of the 1960s, but my lack of tact is surely fodder for another post, or another blog altogether. What my uncalled-for revision alludes to, friends, is the excitement and possibly warranted (or not) confidence in a medium that only just came into its own this past year. Already, though, there are literally millions of these little things teeming around the Internet, bits of sonic wisdom stashed among steaming piles of aural wreckage in the vast online hinterlands. Subscriptions to content that don't involve annoying CDs dumped into your mailbox or postcard-sized ads covering the floor.

All of this is entirely unrelated to my place of daytime employ, naturally.

But not so unrelated to our fair Cornell. One of my periodic duties -- I mean, uh, I stumbled upon this little gem called Youthcast, a podcast hosted by National Public Radio, featuring weekly stories actually reported and hosted by teens. As one can imagine, the results are mixed, but always interesting. (Ah, for the stunning technological wizardry that is the podcast medium! --ed.) The latest episode in this curious little series actually begins with a high school senior opening his acceptance letter to a land-grant institution in upstate New York. (You even hear the envelope ripping. Yep, that sound takes me back ... kind of.) For the next week, you can listen to the episode here, or you can just subscribe to it yourself. I know you want to.

So the story is actually about this student's decisionmaking process over whether to go to Cornell, or to an HBCU, Xavier (which was kind of devastated by Katrina, but that's not mentioned as a factor). The host takes us to the Hill, in fact, and interviews students at Ujamaa. The main dilemma for the prospective student is: Should he go for the Ivy and the name recognition, or a place where mentoring is a priority and the term "minority retention" is irrelevant? One of the people interviewed, incidentally, certainly sounds familiar.

This conflict, surely felt by many other prospective minority freshmen, often seems to me to be a false dilemma. What the story doesn't mention is Cornell's massive support and mentoring apparatus, as well as its relative superiority in -- that phrase again -- minority retention when compared to other Ivies. But what bothers me the most, I guess, is the idea that mentoring and retention are (a) only minority concerns and (b) concerns of all minority students. If Cornell began advertising and directing its support services to all students who needed them -- not just those the administration assumes can't cope -- the result could be a more unified and harmonious student body.

And count this as yet more anecdotal evidence that Cornell has a serious P.R. problem (as I've discussed here). When minority students have to contact each other in order to get the word on the street (Is Cornell minority-friendly?), before Cornell-assigned minority outreach coordinators reach them first, the wrong message has already been sent. Because the most outspoken people are the ones who are going to have a bone to pick. Administrators have to ask themselves: Is Cornell considered friendly to minorities? Friendly to gays? Friendly to [insert group here]? Because the answer will surely affect those cherished minority retention figures further on down the road.

To find out where this particular student decided to go in the end, though, you'll have to listen for yourself.

Andy Guess | Posted on July 27, 2006 (#)

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