For the first time in 12 years, the High Road Fellowship program was unable to bring Cornell students to Buffalo. Instead, the Cornell ILR Buffalo Co-Lab modified its summer projects, panels, tours, and activities so it could bring Buffalo to its Fellows.
Each year, High Road Fellowships give undergraduate students an opportunity to participate in research, engaged learning and service in community-based economic development in Buffalo.
Work that is even more essential during this time of turmoil.
“Just as communities come together in times of crisis, the 2020 High Road Fellows have exemplified solidarity through their work with Buffalo grassroots organizations this summer,” said Lou Jean Fleron, Buffalo Co-Lab director. “From actual locations as distant as the Carolinas, Idaho, Wisconsin, California, and Seoul, Korea, our 23 High Roaders have utilized every available tool for remote work on the historic health, economic, and civil rights challenges of summer 2020.”
Students' projects were coordinated through the Partnership for the Public Good, a community-based think tank with over 300 networked partners, and fall under the categories of mapping spaces’ equitability, frontline arts, new economy, community justice, and engaged research.
“Our High Roaders literally helped make progress in Buffalo this summer,” said Fleron. “As of June 1, ours was a community suffering the third largest job loss in the nation, losing 23% of private sector jobs from the same time a year ago. High Roaders went to work tackling the toughest problems with compassion and determination. Starting with securing the most fundamental needs for housing and food.”
Two students that undertook the challenge of providing safe housing and adequate food were Aliyah Kilpatrick ’23 and Leo Cardoza CALS ’22.
Kilpatrick’s project centered on housing in the COVID-19 era, as she assisted Partnership for the Public Good with research for a Tenants’ Bill of Rights, as well as a Clean Hands Eviction law.
“In researching the Tenants’ Bill of Rights, we’re specifically looking at the right to know who owns a building,” she said. “I have found that 26 of 50 states have disclosure laws, but N.Y. isn’t one of them. So oftentimes tenants don’t know who their landlord is and that makes it more difficult to ask about rent and repairs.”
The Clean Hands Eviction Act was implemented in Cleveland and states that property owners with outstanding housing code violations may not file eviction actions. The premise of the law is that use of the court system to evict tenants is a public benefit that should not be offered to owners who are failing in their public duties to keep their properties in good repair.
With widespread unemployment due to Covid-19, experts fear that mass evictions could be in the near future for many New Yorkers. Kilpatrick is optimistic that her work can help make a difference.
“I’m hoping the Tenants’ Bill of Rights gets passed,” she said. “It’s something that has been in the works for a while, but I’ve tried to get it in the public eye so it can gain more community support. If it passes more people can know their rights as tenants. It’s such a small thing, but it can greatly affect a family.”
Cardoza worked with Massachusetts Avenue Project, a nonprofit urban farm located on Buffalo's West Side that builds youth leaders, provides greater access to nutritious food, and advocates for change towards a just economy.
Additionally, the Massachusetts Avenue Project fostered the development of the Good Food Buffalo Coalition, a group comprised of organizations representing food, farming, labor, environmental and animal welfare sectors that was instrumental in having the Buffalo Pubic School District adopt the Good Food Purchasing Program.
“Now we’re working on spreading it throughout Buffalo and local areas and institutions,” said Cardoza.
To do that, Cardoza has been tasked with writing three documents that will be used in different ways to promote the Good Food Purchasing Program.
The first is an Op-Ed for the local Buffalo News that describes the program and the benefits of values-based food procurement.
“It’s a really important topic,” she said, “and it involves taxpayer dollars so it should be something that taxpayers are aware of.”
The second paper is a fact sheet created to assist the Buffalo Public School System in efficiently purchasing food with values and ethics.
The final document is a policy brief that looks at food purchasing from a state level and offers solutions to convert those systems from cost-based to more values-based.
“The impact that I see all of this having is largely within the Good Food Buffalo Coalition, because I know that they're going to use the documents that I'm writing to then create a policy committee,” said Cardoza. “Personally, this has opened me up a lot to how financial and economic sectors have a really big impact in how food systems function. I’ve really gained a more nuanced perspective of how food systems work.”
The High Roads Fellowships Program began on June 1 and ran through July 24. In total, 23 students from across the University participated, including 17 from ILR, and two each from the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Human Ecology.
2020 High Road and Democracy Summer Fellows Roster
• Ryan Aguilar, ILR ’22
• Leo Cardoza, CALS ’22
• Ketchel Carey, ILR ’23
• Elijah Emery, ILR ’23
• James Granata, ILR ’22
• Rachel Hidek, ILR ’21
• Daniel James, ILR ’22
• Aliyah Kilpatrick , ILR ’23
• Nathan Lamm, ILR ’22
• Melissa Lau, ILR ’23
• Ivana Letayf Lazo de la Vega, ILR ’23
• Eric Lee , ILR ’21
• Asher Lipman, Arts & Sciences ’23
• Ashton O'Connor, CALS ’23
• Tyler Pearce, ILR ’22
• Nate Reilly, Human Ecology ’23
• Jackson Ross-Pilkington, ILR ’21
• Ethan Rubin, ILR ’23
• Milena Saakyan, CALS ’22
• Joanna Sowa, ILR ’21
• Libby Willkomm, ILR ’23
• Leanna Zilles, ILR ’21
• Helen Zhou, Human Ecology '22