December 23 2013
Hearing from Students
Cornell trustee Gitlin '15 brings peer perspective to the Board
As one of 64 voting members of the Cornell Board of Trustees, Ross Gitlin '15 helps make decisions about the university's colleges, units and annual financial plan.
This month, he shared what the beginning of his two-year term has been like.
What do you do as a trustee?
I'm a member of the board, with full voting rights. I have the privilege of serving on four committees: the Committee on Student Life, the Committee on Governmental Relations, the Committee on Academic Affairs and the Trustee Community Communications Committee. As a student, I strive to bring a particular perspective to board and committee meetings. Each board member enriches the exchange of ideas as a result of personal and professional experiences.
The Committee on Student Life, in particular, addresses a range of issues concerning student life on campus. Additionally, I have been working to expand -- to an even greater extent than already exists -- opportunities for board members to hear directly from students. Students have asked me to communicate student perspectives to board members on a range of matters, including diversity and inclusion and sustainability issues.
Last year, I helped found the Know the Power of Your Words campaign. The campaign is meant to raise awareness about the profound effects that hurtful language can have on our peers, neighbors and friends. The campaign is one vehicle for raising awareness of our differences and our similarities and creating a more empathetic and compassionate community. I aim to share the ongoing work of this campaign with the Board of Trustees to highlight actions that students are engaged in to create a more sensitive and inclusive community.
Does being the only student on the board make you nervous?
The board has been so completely welcoming from the beginning of my term. The board not only is welcoming to me, but also invites student opinion on important matters occurring on campus. I have felt completely at ease in my role as student-elected trustee because of the warm reception I have received since my term started in July.
Why were you interested in being a student trustee in the first place?
I'm interested in government and policy. Serving as a student-elected trustee creates an opportunity for me to contribute to the formulation of university policy. Cornell is one of the few schools in the country that has established a position for student-elected trustee and we're the only Ivy with a student on the board. It's an incredible opportunity and I am very grateful to have the opportunity to serve in this capacity.
How did you run your election campaign?
I strived to adopt the best practices that I had learned from the political campaigns that I had worked on over the summer months and bring those practices to campus. I recruited a team of students interested in applying the tools that I had learned campaigning to the election in Ithaca. There was a series of videos, for example, documenting people I worked with over my two terms on the student assembly who chose to endorse me. Lastly, we reached out to student organizations in an attempt to obtain several endorsements.
How much time does being a trustee take up, relative to your normal schoolwork and activities?
There are four formal board meetings a year and there are committee meetings, as well. Additionally, it is continually important for me to meet with students to become informed of student perspectives, and I remain involved with the work of the student assembly.
I log dates of meetings on a Google calendar, which syncs to my phone. Also, at the beginning of each week, I write a list of all the things I will try to accomplish. As I complete the tasks, I cross them off my list.
What’s your five-year plan?
I haven't thought that far down the road yet. My parents started a not-for-profit law firm in New York City that provides free legal services to the deaf and hard of hearing communities. Seeing the work that they do has influenced me heavily. I am hoping to go to law school to gain additional skills needed to serve others, just like my parents do on a daily basis.
What do you do in your free time, for fun?
I enjoy hanging out with my friends and family and playing sports. My friends and I sometimes get enough people together to play a basketball pickup game in Barton Hall. Most recently, I gained admission to the New York City Triathlon that takes place in the summer of 2014. My brother, Adam Gitlin '13, gained admission, too, so starting next semester I'll be training hard to beat him.