Community at Cornell


Community at Cornell is a required program for new Cornellians to engage with fellow incoming students and practice skills for meaningful and collaborative communication. This program is an opportunity to explore how learning from your own and others’ lived experiences can help you maximize what you gain from your time in college and prepare you for your future in an increasingly interconnected world. Through reading, written reflection, and experiential activities, you will have an opportunity to learn and practice intentional communication strategies and reflect on how you might use them in your time at Cornell.

This program has two parts:

Part 1: To prepare for Part 2, students complete a short reading, followed by a brief reflection assignment

Part 2: Students attend a 2-hour interactive and peer-led, virtual session

(Almost all of) the 64 facilitators who led our August 2019 Create Community Across Difference Sessions (plus Finn the dog). We had 32 undergraduate students, 19 recent IDP alum, 9 graduate students, and 4 staff facilitate 185 sessions in 4 days!


The experience of being a Cornellian extends far beyond what is learned in lectures. As incoming students start this new chapter of learning and growth, their identities and personal experiences shape how they interact with others and form new relationships on campus. The ability to communicate and collaborate across difference, as well as to learn from someone else’s lived experiences will enable them to maximize what they gain from their time here. It will also allow them to actively contribute to making Cornell a more open and supportive community and better prepare them for their future in an increasingly interconnected world.

Our goal is for participants to feel challenged in a positive way by new perspectives. We hope to spark the desire and the confidence in participants so that they are compelled to learn more about and reflect upon their own identities and experiences, as well as the identities and experiences of others.


Learn how to use intentional communication strategies to:

  • connect with fellow incoming students
  • identify opportunities and challenges associated with the transition to Cornell
  • explore the potential of collaborating across differences in views and experiences


This program was first implemented in 2018 following a recommendation from the Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate. During their outreach efforts, the task force repeatedly received feedback highlighting the effective impact of the Intergroup Dialogue Project (IDP) on campus culture and recommended its inclusion in orientation. President Pollack endorsed and provided funding for the task force’s recommendation of an IDP-led required program for incoming students. 

Initially integrated into New Student Orientation, Community at Cornell shifted to a virtual format during the Covid-19 pandemic, enabling students to complete the program before Orientation. Assessment results indicated that offering the sessions before Orientation enabled IDP to best meet incoming students’ needs, equipping participants with skills for communicating and collaborating across difference that could then be used in their earliest interactions once their first semester began. 

The Community at Cornell program continues to play a pivotal role in acquainting new students with the university’s commitment to diversity, dialogue, and inclusivity. The ongoing success of this initiative reinforces Cornell’s commitment to its founding principle of “…any person … any study.”


Over the years, we have seen the program’s profound impact on students and the broader Cornell community, with comprehensive assessments highlighting the need for ongoing reinforcement of these crucial skills throughout the academic journey.

The quantitative and qualitative data we collect from participants and facilitators demonstrate that, throughout their Community at Cornell experience, incoming students use intentional communication strategies to:

  1. Connect with fellow incoming students
  2. Identify opportunities and challenges associated with the transition to Cornell
  3. Explore the potential of collaborating across differences in views and experiences

Connecting with fellow incoming students

Since 2019 IDP has offered a post-survey for participants to complete at the end of their Community at Cornell session. Each year, a majority of respondents have reported that their experience in Community at Cornell made them feel more connected to others: “One important thing I learned was how even if, at first glance, it seems like someone cannot relate or empathize with you, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I met many people who related to what I had to say despite seeming like they couldn’t.”

Identifying opportunities and challenges associated with the transition to Cornell

Community at Cornell participants have conversations related to what they’re looking forward to and what they’re nervous about as they transition to Cornell. Over 83% of post-survey respondents each year indicate that they felt able to share their honest perspective during the session. This suggests that Community at Cornell provides an opportunity for candid conversations about becoming a member of the Cornell community, even among students who don’t yet know each other: I “learned about how everyone’s hopes and fears were really similar. This was really validating and made me feel like though we were from such different backgrounds we had a lot in common.”

Exploring the potential of collaborating across differences in views and experiences

Cornell’s community includes members who have different backgrounds, different experiences, and different perspectives. This presents a profound learning opportunity for those who are willing to be curious about and learn from those with different ideas, values, and beliefs. Community at Cornell helps incoming students prepare for the potential in such a diverse learning community, with a majority of participants reporting that the skills they practice in session will help them communicate more effectively with people whose perspectives differ from their own: “I learned how to use LARA, but more importantly why it’s important to practice this kind of conversation. Everyone is quite divided, and using LARA allows for better understanding and connection despite differences in beliefs.”

Here’s what students have said about the program…

One important thing I learned was the aspect that all incoming freshmen are going to be primed with this information when I am first meeting them. This will make it easier to open up, and listen to new people.

I plan to use LARA at orientation and all the events to expand my social environment and meet people of all backgrounds. I will welcome discomfort and vulnerability to meet and connect with new people I may not have expected to relate to.

I've learned that while everyone comes from a different background, you can still connect with others and learn from them despite your differences. You might even learn that you are able to understand each other and are more similar than you originally thought.

I learned that Cornell gathers students from all sorts of backgrounds and identities so it would be a good place for me to teach and learn with my peers in order to broaden my perspectives.

I definitely hope to take space for myself and make space for others as I meet new people in classes, clubs, and other places.

I learned that being uncomfortable in a conversation is not necessarily a bad thing, and you can actually learn from discomfort.

[I learned to] disagree with the statements, not the person - give recognition to people’s opinions, even if you disagree.

[I learned] that i'm not alone in my fears for this upcoming year and that there's tons of people who feel the exact same way. it really helped me believe i belong here.

I realized that we all have similar worries and fears about taking this new step in our lives. I feel like this makes it easier to reach out, knowing that my anxieties aren't so strange, and also being aware that the people around me will be able to listen and talk to me about them in a respectful manner.

I learned that all of us are in this together. When sharing our hopes and concerns, a common thread was that a lot of us were scared of starting over in a new environment, and just knowing that there are other people who are feeling the way I was was reassuring.

I learned that Cornell’s diversity is truly its strength. I met so many people from various backgrounds, but also learned that we shared so much - like our shared anxieties about starting college and our passion for learning.

[I] Learned about how everyone's hopes and fears were really similar. This was really validating and made me feel like though we were from such different backgrounds we had a lot in common

I plan to intentionally place myself in environments where I differ from others so it is more of a challenge to affirm. Affirming can very quickly default to "I relate" so I think I will make more meaningful, intentional, and interesting connections with those I don't easily just relate to.

One crucial thing I learned from this session is how much LARA can facilitate student connection and foster friendships easily. Whenever I find myself in a new, unfamiliar environment, I tend to have difficulties with breaking the ice and establishing meaningful discussions. With LARA, I found it significantly easier to talk with the other members of my group as well as feel like I was contributing enough to the conversation. I felt heard, respected and welcomed

I think that these skills are very valuable. One thing I realized over the course of this session was that it is important to take advantage of diverse settings. My high school was pretty diverse, but I felt that everyone, including myself, stuck to a certain group of people. In college, using LARA, I hope to expand my social skills.

I learned about LARA and how helpful it can be when talking with someone, especially when the conversation is about something you disagree on. It makes it easier to acknowledge and respect them while also allowing everyone to get their points across and understood.