GUEST ROOM | Where’s ‘Free Expression’ for Pro-Palestinian Cornellians?

The Cornell Alumni for Palestine firmly oppose Cornell University’s Interim Expressive Activity Policy, which inhibits free expression and goes against the University’s self-ascribed values of free speech, debate and protest. 

Cornell follows in the footsteps of other U.S. institutions that are on the warpath to silence and suppress pro-Palestine speech on campus. In response to students rising up to defend Palestinian lives, University administrations have introduced “interim policies,” or defined new ones, aimed at policing political speech on campus. These policies are being used disproportionately against SJP chapters and other Palestinian solidarity organizations. According to the interim policy, outdoor events and demonstrations with over 50 participants must be registered in advance. Even candles — often used in vigils and other peaceful gatherings — are no longer permitted without prior approval. The policy goes on to list all the barriers that Cornell has placed on students, limiting the ways in which they can express their political opinions. 

On Feb. 11, Israel launched yet another attack in its genocide in Gaza, massacring over 100 Palestinians and injuring dozens in just under 24 hours. Palestinians from all over Gaza were shepherded to Rafah, the southernmost region of Gaza which has been deemed the “safe zone” by Israel and is currently the densest refugee camp in the world. These last five months are but another chapter in the 75 year campaign of violence against the Palestinian people — a campaign funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars, and further enabled by financial investments made by institutions like Cornell University. 

As an effort to hold Cornell accountable and take action against these atrocities, students at Cornell are rightfully exercising their First Amendment right to protest Cornell’s complicity in this genocide. Yet, during this monumental time, Cornell is choosing to abandon its reputation as a bastion for free expression in favor of new policies that inhibit the rights of its students, faculty and staff.  

Student-led protests deemed radical and disruptive have long been a part of Cornell’s history. This includes the 1993 Takeover of Day Hall by underrepresented Latino students, Vietnam War protests in the 1960s and the 36-hour occupation of Willard Straight Hall by members of the Afro-American Society seeking racial justice. Multiple professors have spoken out against this policy, including Prof. Livingston, government, who mentioned other disruptive protests and noted, “The University administration did not simply tolerate these disruptive actions; they listened to students and responded. All three protests played a role in changing University policy.” Cornell now looks back on these moments proudly, using them as examples of brave student activism to bolster their reputation as an institution that embraces free expression and social progress. 

After this policy was instituted, Cornell’s police force removed demonstrators participating in the “Walk Out To a Die In” in Mann Library, as reported by The Cornell Daily Sun. This demonstration, led by the Coalition for Mutual Liberation, saw protestors peacefully gather in Mann Library and read the names of Palestinians who have been killed by Israel in Gaza, while chanting, “Cornell is complicit in genocide.” Police looked on as the protestors were allegedly screamed at, threatened and even assaulted by a man stating pro-Israel sentiments. In accordance with the new policy, several students may face disciplinary action. It’s shameful to see that the values that Cornell claims to hold don’t align with the policies they choose to enforce.

The protests that CML has held, and will continue to hold, are a product of the highly sought after Ivy League education that Cornell provides its students. At Cornell, we were taught to critically examine issues and freely express our beliefs. So it should come as no surprise when that education is manifested into direct action. Instead of weaponizing policy to silence students organizing for Palestine, Cornell should be proud to harbor individuals who are courageous enough to lead and organize for justice, even under the threat of disciplinary action and heavy institutional and governmental repression. 

Even as the Director-General of the World Health Organization has noted that a Palestinian child is killed every 10 minutes in Gaza, it still may not be clear to the Cornell administration and other institutional governing bodies as to why students all across the country are urgently mobilizing to defend Gaza. The genocidal project, which has slaughtered more than 29,000 Palestinians in the last five months, is reaching its apex as Israel continues to violate international law by indiscriminately bombing civilians. Students cannot take action to use their voices and stop further atrocities if authoritative bodies at the University stifle their message. Students at Cornell are compelled to act now, because if they wait, there may not be a Gaza left to defend. Unfortunately, it usually takes institutions like Cornell years and years to embrace movements like these. 

Maybe Cornell should learn from its own history and, instead of suppressing student activists, choose to protect its students, creating a safe and supportive environment in which they can freely advocate for Palestine. 

Signed, 

Cornell Alumni for Palestine

List of Signatories

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