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Pro-Palestinian student protesters create encampment on Cornell’s campus

Cornell University students raised an encampment on their school’s Arts Quad Thursday to protest their university’s response to the war in Gaza and call for institutional reform.

This follows protests and encampments at universities across the country, including Columbia and New York University. Pro-Palestinian, anti-war protests have occurred almost weekly at Cornell since the semester began.

Demonstrators set up the encampment before dawn. The encampment consists of around 10 tents and a short wall made of tarp that serves as a border for what protesters are calling a “liberated zone”.

The Cornell Coalition for Mutual Liberation, an umbrella organization of student groups that share political goals, organized the encampment.

University representatives said the students inside the encampment will be suspended. Demonstrators were offered an alternative location for the encampment. But after speaking with administrators, they did not move.

“They were then told that if the tents were not taken down promptly, they would be subject to disciplinary action. They did not comply, and suspensions, for students, and HR referrals, for faculty and staff, will be issued,” said Joel Malina, vice president for university relations, in a statement.

A statement on the encampment from Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina.
Cornell University
A statement on the encampment from Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina.

The demonstrators say they won’t move until material action has been taken on their demands.

The group’s list of demands, which includes eight action items, calls for a number of drastic shifts in Cornell’s current policy and financial system.

That includes divestment from the Jacobs-Technion Cornell Institute, a Cornell campus located in New York City, which was created in partnership with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

The group is also demanding the university call for a ceasefire, as well as amnesty for the protesters inside the encampment.

Last week, undergraduate studentsvoted for Cornell to divest from weapons manufacturers and call for a ceasefire in Gaza in a non-binding referendum.

Demands from the C
The Cornell Coalition for Mutual Liberation
Demands from the Cornell Coalition for Mutual Liberation.

The university is only required to consider the results of the divestment vote and accept or reject the proposals within 30 days.

Nick Wilson is one of the students in the encampment.

Wilson believes Cornell has failed its students by not listening to calls for action on Palestine and that the encampment, referred to throughout the day as “the people’s university” is a response to that failure.

“I think we've created something that's maybe more legitimate than Cornell itself for the moment,” he said.

Malak, who did not want to give her last name, is president of Students for Justice in Palestine at Cornell.

She said she joined the encampment and is risking suspension out of concern for her own family in Gaza.

“My cousins have described how they wish they had been killed so they don’t have to go through the torture of every day in Gaza,” she said. “And watching my family die, watching my family survive all of this, and having to wait in line for basic things such as water, and to risk dying every single day, I think it's hard for me not to do anything.”

Hundreds of people gathered at the encampment for a rally. Demonstrations remained peaceful throughout the day. Protesters returned to familiar chants of “free Palestine” and “no justice, no peace.”

Administrators told protesters to vacate the encampment before 1 p.m. or risk suspension. However, there was no visible police or administration interaction with the camp at that time or afterwards.

After the rally, the crowd dwindled to around 100. Demonstrators at the encampment held lectures, danced and did homework.

Ithaca Alderperson Phoebe Brown spoke in front of the assembled crowd later in the afternoon.

“I want to remind you that most of our changes have happened because students like you have stepped up,” she said.

As of 6 p.m. on Thursday, the encampment was still up and demonstrators have yet to announce any plans to leave the area.

Updated: April 26, 2024 at 7:17 PM EDT
In a statement Friday, the Cornell Coalition for Mutual Liberation said that four students involved in demonstrations had been "temporarily suspended." Cornell confirmed that suspensions were issued but declined to give any more information.