Tension Tied to Race Percolates in Ithaca

David Staba:

Nestled in the hills near Cayuga Lake’s southern tip, surrounded by creeks, waterfalls and two of the Northeast’s more prestigious colleges, this city of about 30,000 has long prided itself on its cultural diversity.
In 1997, the Utne Reader put Ithaca — where students from Cornell University and Ithaca College boost the population to about 50,000 — atop its list of “America’s Most Enlightened Towns,” trumpeting an environment-friendly business community and a local currency system intended to support city merchants.
A popular bumper sticker here reads, “Ithaca: 10 square miles surrounded by reality.”
But as reality encroaches, residents and community leaders now concede that racial tensions have long simmered at Ithaca High School, a volatile mix of blue-collar youths from the city, children of the farms in the surrounding countryside and the sons and daughters of professors.
“This community is at the boiling point, because not only students are frustrated, so are parents,” said James Turner, founder of the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell. “There’s a broad-based lack of confidence in the leadership of the district. I’m watching this go from bad to worse.”