Steve Tarcan '20 is no stranger to campus politics and community activism

By: Elia Morelos '21,  Latinx Student Success Office Intern
May 1, 2019

Steve Tarcan '20 is no stranger to campus politics and community activism. Whether you find him leading an event hosted by La Asociación Latina (LAL), organizing the political events for the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA), or demonstrating support for other Cornellian communities, it will be in activities that strive to make Cornell a better place for students of all kinds.

Steve is a junior in the College of Art and Sciences, majoring in French and minoring in Business. He is the current Vice President of Administrative Affairs for LAL and political chair of MEChA. As a first-generation, low-income student, the transition from Sleepy Hollow, NY – his hometown – to Ithaca would have seemed daunting had he not had the support of the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) scholarship. HEOP’s supportive staff allowed Steve to feel comfortable in the new environment he was joining.

In his transition from high school to college, Steve found himself gravitating towards his passion for language learning, specifically French, which began in middle school. The decision to follow his passion rather than succumb to an undesired major solely on the premise that it would ‘lock down’ a job post-graduation has made his experience at Cornell a bit more bearable. He states that his major “does not define [him or] what [he] will do in the future.” While it’s perhaps not obvious at first glance, Steve believes that the skills he has gained studying French at Cornell are sure to help guide him through the different challenges the business world will throw at him as he pursues a career in business marketing and sales.

Like many students early on, Steve faced a lot of difficulty in securing a summer internship his first two summers at Cornell, and ended up working long hours as a waiter at a local Sleepy Hollow restaurant. However, this upcoming summer he is saying goodbye to his restaurant gig in favor of a marketing and sales internship in New York City that brings him a step closer to his career goal. After graduation, Steve hopes to enter the marketing world in his dream industry - product management. While these types of jobs require technical experience with marketing and sales, Steve hopes to leverage his sales skills gained as a manager at the Cornell Annual Fund, where he began working his first year. He is also considering enrolling in business school after a few years of working – if he can get funding from his company post-grad.

Racial tensions that the campus dealt with during the 2017-18 academic year catapulted Steve into the Latinx community. That year, a black student was physically and verbally attacked by a white student, anti-Semitic posters were found on campus statues, and a fraternity hurled offensive chants at the Latino Living Center, echoing the xenophobic and racist language invoked by President Trump. He believed his campus community was failing to make students feel safe and comfortable, and his frustration motivated him to get involved with LAL and MEChA – in his view, the cultural and political arms of the Latinx community, respectively. Since then, Steve’s experience at Cornell has been heavily influenced by his involvement in MEChA. Likewise, the community he found within MEChA has motivated him to improve the student experience at Cornell.

His involvement with these two Latinx organizations has allowed him to reflect on his experiences at Cornell as both a student and a community leader. As Steve puts it, there is a lot of fault to be had with Cornell’s motto of “Any person, any study.” While Cornell prides itself on a diverse and inclusive campus, he states that Cornell is “a far and long way from achieving those standards and achieving these values we try to uphold.” According to him, while buzz words such as diversity and inclusion are thrown around to make students feel represented and safe on campus, there is not a direct line to address the needs and concerns of students. Instead, a handful of student leaders must oversee large student communities – thus inevitably failing to address many important concerns. Likewise, while Cornell seems to base its diversity and inclusion initiatives on racial diversity, Steve argues that there is a strong need for Cornell to focus on socioeconomic diversity as well.

As he reflects on his time spent at Cornell, he urges underclassmen to take advantage of the vast number of communities and organizations on campus, to find their place at Cornell sooner than later. “You find a sense of community, you find a sense of belonging,” he says. When he thinks of home, after Sleepy Hollow, Steve’s second thought is of his MEChA family at Cornell – an organization he would not have found had he not sought it out. When thinking about his final year at Cornell, Steve hopes to improve the general disconnect that he finds in the Latinx Cornellian community. He hopes to push for more unity between Latinx organizations on campus, citing a large divide currently between LAL and the rest of the Latinx community. He hopes to work alongside the Latino Living Center, Latinx Student Success Office, and other programs. As he neatly puts it: “Because we represent the Latinx voice, we should be working in unison more so, instead of separate from each other.”

Steve Tarcan