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Cornell University

Commentary from Wendy Wolford


Wendy Wolford, Cornell University's vice provost for international affairs, sets the context for the campus-wide Migrations initiative.

At Cornell, we have the expertise to think about migrations in the plural—migrations of people, of plants and animals, and the context in which those have migrated over time and over space. With a little bit of work, we really can understand migrations from a holistic perspective where we think about the way that lives are being lived on the move.

Once you start to think about migrations in a more holistic way, you understand that you can't talk about migration just as a human action. People are migrating out of places, in part, because they can't farm any longer on land that they farmed for generations, or they're migrating because they're following other sorts of income or food sources that we have to be able to map in order to understand. We have to understand how trade between countries affects the way that people can live on the land and in cities. One of the largest streams of migration in this past century has been rural to urban migration. So we have to understand those environmental or agricultural underpinnings of migration in order to understand where we are today.

Migrations is an initiative that's inherently multidisciplinary, it's inherently multi-species, and it will require bringing the whole university together. I think that's exactly the same that you could say of the world's biggest challenges today. We can't understand those challenges unless we come at it from multiple disciplines, unless we think about it in terms of all of the different species that are concerned—and unless we pull together as One Cornell to study them.