November 20, 2018

EDITORIAL: Inconsistency and Silence: Cornell’s Lacking Response to Anti-Semitism on Campus

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Nine days. Three swastikas. And only just now, after a comprehensive report from The Sun, is there a response from Cornell.

Now tell us, what is wrong with that picture?

The appearance of three swastikas on North Campus over the past week, on dorm lounge whiteboards and in the snow, is a glaring reminder of the hate and the fear still very much alive at Cornell. This strain of ugliness has too often reared its head on campus over the past two years, but that these actions come not a month removed from the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in American history underscores their rottenness.

And yet, Cornell’s response has been woefully inadequate. The University has only just now commented officially; previously it had demurred on anything beyond confirming the existence of the three bias reports. The North Campus RAs were instructed to defer questions to the RHDs, the RHDs were instructed to defer questions to the administration, and the administration dragged their feet.

We understand that bias reports are confidential (as they should be!). But do you know what is not confidential? Swastikas drawn on whiteboards and in the snow, in full view of a disturbed North Campus population. It should not have taken a story from The Sun to prompt any sort of recognition from the administration.

Furthermore, Cornell’s handling of the incidents up until the belated statement does not inspire confidence. Following the first two reports of swastikas, it was a student organization, Hillel, that had to step in to reassure the Jewish community on campus and offer support services in a Facebook post. Unfortunately, Cornell was so tight-lipped with information — the administration did not even contact Hillel leaders in the day following the Facebook post — that the end result was an increase in confusion and worry among students.

It is unfair to students and student leaders for the University to drag its feet, as it did here. While we appreciate the sentiment in VP Ryan Lombardi’s statement that was eventually emailed to students shortly before noon today, Cornell must understand that in this fast-paced world, it must move more quickly and assertively. It took five days and a third swastika for a statement to be released. Were the first two swastikas not worthy enough of recognition?

We also note that Lombardi’s email, while strident in its denouncement of anti-Semitism and hate, said next to nothing about finding those responsible and holding them to account. Beyond a passing mention to CUPD, the email was markedly mum on that particular subject — there was not even a sentence asking anyone with relevant information to come forward to help in the investigation. Denouncements are fine and good, but unless they are followed by action, they are not worth the digital ink in which they are printed.