Activists from Students for Justice in Palestine faced resistance when, as they were chalking outside of Bailey Hall on Sept. 18, a Bailey Hall worker reportedly asked them to stop and then erased the chalkings.
The activists were first approached by a Bailey Hall staff member when they were chalking on the steps outside the hall, according to Hadiyah Chowdhury ’18, an SJP member.
“He didn’t really tell us to go away outright, but he said to ‘be kind,’” Chowdhury said. “We told him we had a right to be there … but afterwards, we moved closer to the fountain area [and off the steps.]”
In a statement to The Sun, SJP activists said their chalkings addressed the “inhumane working conditions forced upon Qatari laborers” at Cornell’s Qatar campus, the University’s “refusal to engage in effective solidarity with those who have suffered sexual assault on campus” and Cornell Tech, which they said “cements [Cornell’s] position as a national leader in partnering with the genocidal practices of the Israeli regime.”
After they were done with their chalking, Chowdhury said the SJP activists went off to take a break for lunch. When they came back at 2:30 p.m., cleaners were washing away their chalk.
“It was just our chalk … there were other [organizations’] chalk there, but they didn’t clean those,” Chowdhury said. “I’m honestly surprised that this happened.”
Chowdhury said the activists had wanted the chalk to be visible to attendees of President Elizabeth Garrett’s inaugural panel discussion, “Democracy and Inequality,” which took place at 3 p.m. in Bailey Hall that afternoon.
Joel Malina, vice president for University relations, said the Bailey Hall staff acted at their own discretion during this incident. He added that the SJP activists had used crude language in their chalk.
“Some [chalk] messages included language that many might find profane,” Malina said. “Out of respect for the century-old campus landmark and the celebratory nature of the day, staff members at Bailey Hall, on their own initiative, chose to remove the chalk messages prior to a late afternoon event at that location.”
Matthew Battaglia ’16, chair of the University Assembly, said the SJP activists’ actions were compliant with the Campus Code of Conduct, despite their coarse language.
“As far as the code is concerned, crude speech is protected, like anything else. And [after] speaking with people throughout the administration as well as people in the assembly, [we all agreed] that what [SJP] did was considered protected,” Battaglia said. “They were peaceful, they were simply chalking — they did not break any of the rules about chalking.”
Malina said the actions of the Bailey Hall staff were not representative of the University. He also promised to communicate with Cornell staff so that future incidents like this can be avoided.
“No one within the Cornell Administration directed this action, nor do we support this action,” Malina said. “Among the highest values that must be honored at any academic institution, and throughout any free society, is the open and active exchange of ideas. Political ideas, even if expressed crudely, must receive our highest level of protection.”
Battaglia agreed with this viewpoint and added that the erasure of the chalkings was the result of an unfortunate miscommunication between administration and staff.
“I think it really was an accident. I think the staff at Bailey Hall didn’t know that what [SJP] was doing was protected. I know for a fact that they have been since told that what was being done was permissible,” he said. “But [this incident] was valuable in that the staff at Bailey now understand what is permissible and what is not, so that moving forward, they’ll be fine.”