February 27, 2006

C.U. Provides Answers About Recent Stabbing

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Still concerned about the recent stabbing incident, students, staff, faculty and community members came together last night to ask questions about the administration’s and police departments’ responses at a community forum on North Campus in a packed room at the Robert Purcell Community Center.

“The reason for this forum is give the students an opportunity to address what happened last week,” said Kalina Black ’07, a sister in Omega Phi Beta Sorority Inc. and resident advisor in Ujamaa, which helped organize the event. She said that the goals of the evening were to allow audience members to ask questions directed at the administration, police and judiciary representatives of a six-person panel.

First, Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson gave a brief summary of the events of Friday, Feb. 17, when Nathan Poffenbarger ’08 allegedly stabbed Union College student Charles Holiday by Baker Tower in West Campus. She confirmed that Poffenbarger is out on bail and that his case will be presented to a grand jury composed of 23 citizens to determine whether or not there is sufficient evidence to indict him and bring him to trial. She added that Charles Holiday, currently in Schenectady, N.Y., is physically unable to appear before the court, although his condition has improved. He was hospitalized again but is now with his parents. Wilkinson read a statement by Holiday which said, “I greatly appreciate the love and support of everyone at Cornell.”

According to Wilkinson, Poffenbarger is currently being charged with a Class D violent felony but this could be upgraded to a Class B violent felony or even assault in the first degree depending on medical evidence. Wilkinson advised caution in judging what happened after audience members suggested that the policeman on the scene told Holiday “not to get angry every time someone says a racial comment to you.”

According to Judicial Administrator Mary Beth Grant J.D. ’88, Poffenbarger, who is currently under indefinite suspension, will be brought before the University Hearing Board to determine his status, be it suspension, expulsion or continuation as a student.

Another student said that there has been a request for a required course on diversity for every Cornell student.

According to Susan Murphy ’73, vice president of student and academic services, the faculty of each college would the ones to make such a decision.

“I believe that all students on campus deserve to feel safe and feel at home here. We should have no tolerance for physical violence on or off campus,” said Kent Hubbell ’67, the Robert W. and Elizabeth C. Staley Dean of Students.

Justin Davis ’07, president of Black Student United, asked the panel about the effects of the student publication last semester urging students to “arm themselves.”

“I don’t think we can ever draw a direct connection,” Murphy said.

Murphy said that the issue of these papers being able to print should be a topic of conversation related to funding sources and holding separate forums to discuss their content.

Curtis Ostrander, chief of the Cornell Police Department, said that crime reports are sent to the student body if the danger is still present on campus after a crime has been committed. Murphy added that the policy of three administrators being required to discuss the situation prior to sending out a crime report has been changed.

“When it’s deemed urgent to send an alert, we will forgo the three person approval and send out the report,” she said.

“Cornell and Ithaca College should join to make a strong statement that this won’t be tolerated,” said Michelle Berry M.P.S. ’92 (D-2nd Ward).

Whether or not alcohol was involved in the incident was another question posed to the panel. Wilkinson replied that voluntary intoxication is not a defense for any crime and therefore no testing was done.

Later in the forum, a student asked why it was consistently the same group of people who attend these meetings. Hubbell responded that having meetings in multiple locations was an attempt to attract different members of the community. One audience member stressed that resident advisors should be more involved in getting students to attend meetings like this.

When one student asked how students can get involved, Murphy suggested being a resident advisor, getting involved in student government and writing for student publications.

Another student asked the panel what Cornell plans to do and stressed that this incident is a red alert for the campus and asked why the meeting was held in the RPCC multipurpose room instead of one big meeting on central campus.

“We chose to do a variety of forums on campus instead of one big one,” Murphy said.

“It is important to engage the community in a dialogue about this; what happened was very troubling and it is important to show concern and zero tolerance,” said Prof. Salah Hassan, director of the Africana Studies and Research Center.

Natalie Hooper ’06 said, “I think a lot of important issues were raised but I don’t think they’ll be addressed with the seriousness necessary.”

Archived article by Vanessa Hoffman
Sun Senior Writer