Hundreds of professors, staff, students and locals took to the Arts Quad on Wednesday to kneel in solidarity with professional athletes and Cornell students who have been protesting brutality against black Americans around the country and in Ithaca.
The protest, organized by the Cornell Coalition for Inclusive Democracy, was in part a response to the recent assault of a black student in Collegetown, who said he was called the N-word multiple times and punched in the face by a group of four or five white men. Ithaca Police arrested a white student, John Greenwood ’20, whose lawyer denies he engaged in any physical altercation, and a grand jury may charge him with a hate crime in the next two weeks.
The rally, attended by more than 300, was also meant to support professional athletes like former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick who have kneeled during the national anthem to bring attention to police brutality against black people. President Donald Trump this weekend entered into the debate regarding the protest, saying that the NFL should fire or suspend players who refuse to stand for the anthem.
Prof. Russell Rickford, history, one of the original members of the coalition, said at the protest that symbols, such as kneeling during the national anthem, “can become genuine resistance.”
“A band of thugs, you know those thugs, battered a black student in Collegetown while hurling racial epithets,” he said. “Later, they described another person as a ‘sand-nigger.’ How well we have learned the lessons of empire. The truth is, Cornell is a bastion of white supremacy.”
“Our society is steeped in white supremacy,” he said. “Why should we expect Cornell, an enterprise built on stolen land, to be any different?”
Prof. Tracy McNulty, French and comparative literature, is a member of CCID and organized the rally. She said that it was time for faculty members to “participate in this fight” and actively push for Cornell to enact Black Students United’s 12 demands.
“We have to be willing to learn and take a responsibility for the role we play in a campus environment where students of color do not feel valued or even welcome,” she said of faculty. “BSU has thrown down a gauntlet, and we need to pick it up.”
Provost Michael Kotlikoff attended the protest — although he appeared to leave before rally-goers took a knee around 1 p.m. — and a University photographer snapped pictures of the scene.
“The rhetoric of equity and inclusion will not redeem us and kneeling certainly will not redeem us,” Rickford said. “Those boys in Collegetown did not bash that kid because they failed to understand his culture. They did so because they believed they could get away with it.”
Rickford led the crowd in chants of “I believe that we will win” and “Free Palestine.”
The event was a moment, professors said, where they could show that they support students who for years have been on the forefront of efforts to make Cornell a so-called sanctuary campus, to implement the demands of black students and more. The CCID formed in the week after the election of Trump in November.
Prof. Ella Maria Diaz, English and Latina/o studies, an original member of CCID, said it was “fantastic” to see “such a broad crowd” at Wednesday’s rally, adding that she hoped the professors who attended the “Take a Knee” event continue to support and advocate with student groups.
“I think the question is, will I see all these folks at the next student rally for undocumented students’ rights or support?” Diaz said in an interview following the rally. “Will I see them at the next occupation?”
“People have been sounding the alarms for quite some time and it’s up to others now [to decide] if they’re going to hear them,” Diaz said.
Hundreds of rally-goers took a knee during a moment of silence, while others remained standing with their fists raised in the air.
Prof. Aziz Rana, law, toward the end of the protest, said taking a knee is meaningless “unless it comes with a commitment that everyone here now is accountable for what it means to impose justice on our community.”
“If we don’t start with an institution like Cornell, what will happen?” he asked.