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Justine Kim / Sun Contributor

October 20, 2019

Environmentalist and Human Rights Protestors Disrupt Trustees Meeting, Demand Divestment

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Correction appended. 

Students slammed their palms and posters against the windows of the Friday afternoon Board of Trustees meeting in Myron Taylor Hall, chanting, “We won’t rest ’til you divest!”

Security guards had escorted the dissenters out of the room after their initial disruption of the meeting. At the conclusion of the meeting, the guards also blockaded the students from nearing the trustees as they exited.

Hailing from Climate Justice Cornell, Students for Justice in Palestine, Uyghur Solidarity and the Islamic Alliance for Justice, the protesters urged Cornell leaders to divest from fossil fuel companies and re-evaluate their ties with top universities complicit in the Xinjiang Conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict along with corporate elites accused of exploiting migrant workers in Qatar.

“The board of trustees doesn’t accurately represent the university well enough,” Nadia Viteck ’22, a member of Climate Justice Cornell, told The Sun in an interview. Viteck and other climate change activists wore bright orange and waved matching banners with the words “Fossil Free Endowment.”

Max Greenburg ’22, president of the Cornell Jewish Voice for Peace and treasurer of Students and Justice in Palestine accused the Board of Trustees of working for the “interests of power and corporate profit.”

At the end of the meeting, student protesters surrounded the Board of Trustee members,  shouting “No Justice, No Peace” and waved banners with red paint reading “Cornell has a moral obligation to act!”

“Free and open inquiry and expression are among Cornell’s Core Values,” said John Carberry, Senior Director of Media Relations and News. However, Carberry objected to the protestors’ method, citing a formal divestment process approved by the trustees in 2016.

Cornell will only divest from a company when its actions are “morally reprehensible,” the policy states, and when divestment would have a meaningful impact or that failure to do so would go against the principles of the University.

Cornell’s partner institution Technion – Institute of Technology in Israel has been accused of researching and developing military technology to sustain Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. Jeremy Soffin, a spokesperson for Cornell NYC Tech, said in 2013 that it was “just an academic partnership.”

Greenburg said that the Board of Trustees is going against Cornellian values of “providing an enriching, accessible education for everyone.” By fostering relations with corporations and elite universities, Greenburg argued that Cornell is complicit in human rights abuses.

“How can you say that … we’re offering the Palestinian children displaced by Technion the opportunity for an enriching education? How can we say that we are providing the children of Qatari migrant workers a chance for an enriching education?” he said.

Tarannum Sahar ’20, an organizer for Uyghur Solidarity, called for Cornell to re-evaluate their partnership with China. Other schools, like MIT and Yale University both of have been accused of contributing to Chinese artificial intelligence technology. The Chinese police used “iFlytek,” a voice recognition software, to arrest and sequester Muslim Uyghur minorities into concentration camps in North Western China.

“We don’t want Cornell to be complicit in this flagrant human rights abuses,” Sahar said, addressing fellow protesters. “We demand Cornell undertake a transparent review to make sure that no project or company ties are enabling this ongoing atrocities in Xinjiang.”

Members of the Board of Trustees declined to comment by the time of publication.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Sahar; this version has been updated.