John F. Kennedy Award Winner Reinvents Public Safety

know about John F. Kennedy Award Winner Reinvents Public Safety

Growing up in a multiracial family in a highly policed ​​community, Conor Hodges ’21, the 2022 winner of the award Class of 1964 John F. Kennedy Memorial Awardhas first-hand experience of the ways militarized police forces in the United States are used against low-income communities and people of color.

“To my family and neighbors, our nation didn’t seem interested in improving our lives,” Hodges said. “Instead, he seemed interested in watching us, arresting us, and making sure we didn’t cross the lines that separated us from the richer zip codes around us.”

An Army combat medic veteran from a family involved in justice, Hodges, who is black, has dedicated his academic study, campus leadership and social justice advocacy to understanding and offering alternatives to the current model of surveillance. The JFK Award, administered by Cornell’s David M. Einhorn Center for Community Engagementhonors his work at Cornell and provides $15,000 to support his further education.

“One in 291 police responses ends in unnecessary injury or death,” Hodges said. “My personal mission is to convince Americans that safety and justice are possible without relying solely on armed responders, that we can save the 1,000 dead, 2,500 hospitalized, and 50,000 injured each year by the public health and safety system. focused on the United States police. ”

This mission led Hodges to serve as a student representative on the Cornell College Senate Anti-Racism Center Task Force and Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC). Amid the national upheaval that followed the police killing of George Floyd, President Martha Pollack asked the PSAC, a state-appointed committee of students, faculty, and staff that advises Cornell University police and the administration of the university on public safety issues, to explore campus safety alternatives. measures.

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Hodges co-authored the PSAC report, which outlines an emergency response model for the university that would reserve law enforcement deployment for those situations where it is clearly necessary. He then led a successful campaign to create a task force dedicated to launching an alternative response model by 2023.

“There are many examples of communities, especially indigenous communities, exercising police power without using violence or the threat of violence. I am hopeful that programs like the one Cornell is starting and programs like the ones other cities have already piloted will help us build a non-prison and anti-violent future,” Hodges said.

In her letter of recommendation for the JFK Award, Cornell Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Joanne DeStefano, who worked closely with Hodges while serving on the PSAC, wrote: “Conor has been a great resource on anti-racist reform initiatives. and Public Safety at Cornell, and I am confident that he will continue to be a thought leader in whatever field he chooses after his time at Cornell. He will be an extraordinary representative of the university and clearly carries the fire of ‘idealism and enthusiasm’ that is the spirit of John F. Kennedy”.

As a student in the College of Arts and Sciences, Hodges’ list of accomplishments is long and includes completing four majors (government, history, American studies, and the University Scholars Program), serving as a trustee and director of the Telluride Association, and receiving a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Scholarship and the 2021 Bernard E. West Award, which is given to the most promising undergraduate research scholar specializing in United States history.

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After graduating in December, Hodges began serving as Cornell’s inaugural Racial Justice in Public Safety Fellow, co-leading the task force’s ongoing efforts to reform the university’s emergency response system. He has already helped design new dispatch procedures for the Community Response Team. In addition to his scholarship, Hodges is pursuing a Master of Public Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In the fall, he will begin a joint doctoral program in history and African-American studies at Yale University.

Hodges received the JFK Award during Cornell Leadership Week in a ceremony attended by members of the Class of 1964 and Cornell leadership, including Kraig Kayser MBA ’84, Chairman of the Board of Directors, and David Honan, Chief Executive Officer. Cornell Police. The award, which was established by the class in its final year, has been awarded to students from all universities, many of whom have dedicated their lives to public service.

EC Barrett is a freelance writer for the David M. Einhorn Center for Community Engagement.