Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Uche Chukwukere ’21, vice president of finance, speaks at the "Constituents Not Cops" rally outside Barton Hall on Nov. 20.

November 20, 2020

After Failed CUPD Disarmament Vote, Students Rally to Have Reps Recalled

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Dozens of Cornellians rallied Friday to decry the Student Assembly’s rejection of a resolution to disarm the Cornell University Police Department, in a lengthy and procedurally muddy session Thursday night.

The rally, organized by the Cornell Abolitionist Revolutionary Society, met the police at its headquarters outside Barton Hall just after 1 p.m. On the walls of the building, organizers hung banners spray painted with black lettering that read “People Over Property” and “Cops Off Cayuga Land.”

While the protest occurred at the CUPD headquarters, the other target of organizers was clear: Recalling the 15 Student Assembly voting members who voted against the resolution. 

From the bullhorn, organizers asked: “How do you spell racist?” The crowd replied, “S.A.” 

“Constituents Not Cops” rally outside Barton Hall on Nov. 20, 2020. (Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor)

The rally’s title, “Constituents Not Cops,” conferred its goal: Uche Chukwukere ’21, sponsor of the resolution and S.A. vice president of finance, told the crowd that petitions to recall the 15 members who voted no would be released Friday evening. After the meeting, lists of these representatives’ names had been circulated widely on Twitter and Instagram. 

“With the ousting of the disgusting Trump administration and in the spirit of democracy, we must vote them out, we must recall their seats,” Chukwukere said. “Their campus careers are over.”

A voting member of the S.A. can be recalled through a process involving a petition with the support of 50 percent plus 1 of their constituency, or 1000 voters, whichever number is smaller. For at-large representatives, the threshold is 15 percent of the student body. If a representative meets either of these thresholds, then they will be put through a recall election vote. 

Voting members can also be recalled from their position by a two-thirds majority of the assembly.

A prevalent theme from Thursday’s meeting and Friday’s rally was the question of to what extent the S.A. represents the student body. Eighteen of the current voting members of the Student Assembly ran in uncontested races this past cycle, and those who were elected ran in elections that saw anywhere from 16 to 25 percent voter turnout.  

Laura Holland ’22, an industrial and labor relations student, said she didn’t feel her representative, Lucas Zumpano ’22 took her view into account. Zumpano voted “no.”

“S.A., I don’t feel like it necessarily represents me,” Holland said.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor
Student Assembly president Cat Huang ’21, center left, and vice president of internal operations Laila Abd Elmagid ’21, center right, were in attendance at the rally. (Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor)

Several S.A. members — both who voted for and against the resolution — were present at the rally.

Standing to the side, S.A. President Cat Huang ’21 was surprised to learn that the rally was calling for the recall of 15 members. She declined to comment on whether she supported the potential petitions. 

Organizer and resolution co-sponsor Selam Woldai ’23, who is also the S.A. minority students representative, said she was “exhausted and disheartened” after Thursday’s vote.

“We had to unpack our trauma for a two, three hour long meeting, and none of that was really taken into consideration,” she said. 

But on the other side of the vote, and in the traffic circle of the Statler Hotel, S.A. first-year representative Kayla Butler ’24 and international students liaison at-large Youhan Yuan ’21sat watching the rally. 

Butler was adamant in her support for disarming the Cornell University Police Department, but was concerned that she was unable to provide any input in drafting the resolution. 

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor
International students liaison at-large Youhan Yuan ’21, center, and first-year representative Kayla Butler ’24, center left, speak with resolution sponsors in the traffic circle of the Statler Hotel. (Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor)

“I want the process to be careful, I want it to be thought out, I don’t want it to be hasty and preemptive,” she said, stating that the resolution “ignores a lot of the work that Cornell has done to ensure the safety of its students.” 

Of particular outcry was Yuan’s behavior in the aftermath of the resolution failing. Many at the meeting observed him “dancing” on his Zoom screen in celebration. He said his behavior was “inappropriate,” but that it “[came] from a reason.” 

Yuan declined to comment further at the rally. On a call later Friday evening, Yuan said that he voted “no” because he wanted there to be an armed force available on campus.

Rally-goers eventually confronted Butler and Yuan in the traffic circle, questioning their votes and motivations. Huang eventually pulled Butler to the side to talk, and Yuan left the rally. 

After the widespread dissent became clear, at least one S.A. representative has now come out saying they would vote differently — CALS representative Carlo Castillo, who voted no, wrote in an email to The Sun that they would vote yes, and was “demanding the Student Assembly to withdraw my vote and have a recount.” 

The resolution failed 14-15-1, meaning Castillo’s support would likely flip the vote 15-14-1. Additionally, Huang, who can break a tie, is a co-sponsor of the resolution. 

Sean O’Connell ’21 contributed reporting.