Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

The Student Assembly passed a resolution calling for Cornell Police disarmament during its last meeting of the semester on Thursday. The conversation about campus police reform has been ongoing all year, propelled in the fall by votes over disarmament.

December 12, 2020

Reversing Stances, S.A. Approves Cornell Police Disarmament in 3-Hour Meeting Marred by Procedural Debates

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The Student Assembly passed a resolution calling for Cornell Police disarmament during its last meeting of the semester on Thursday, signifying a reversal in positions from when disarmament failed to pass almost one month ago. 

Under the resolution, which will now go to President Martha Pollack, disarmament would mean revoking the Cornell University Police Department’s access to lethal weapons. 

The resolution further requested that the University create other committees to respond to incidents that would normally require the police. Specifically, the resolution proposed that Cornell expand its mental health services and require CUPD to not act as first responders to alcohol and drug violations, arguing that decriminalization of such activity leads to a reduction in crime. 

Calls for disarmament followed nationwide protests decrying pervasive police brutality and discussions over disarming and defunding police departments across the country, through a summer that saw numerous Black people killed by police officers. At Cornell, the S.A. proposed a resolution that called for a CUPD oversight committee in March; in June, activists demanded further reforms to the department and to improve the conditions of BIPOC on campus.

The fall’s debate further propelled disarmament into the forefront of campus discourse. 

The Thursday meeting continued the weeks of contention that started after the first vote on Nov. 19, carrying much of the same friction. In the weeks leading up to the revote, S.A. members endured an onslaught of online attacks. S.A. members and constituents filed recall petitions to remove those who voted “no” on disarmament from the assembly, all of which ultimately failed to garner enough signatures to spark a recall process.

On Tuesday, the S.A. hosted a town hall in which students shared their experiences with the police — many of them BIPOC offering stories of trauma — and thoughts on the issue. An overwhelming majority of attendees spoke in favor of disarmament. 

Within the same week, four S.A. members were either removed from the assembly or committees; all four members had previously voted “no” on disarmament. Undesignated at-large representative Dillon Anadkat ’21 was removed from the S.A.; College of Engineering representative Annie Gleiberman’s ’22 executive position as Vice President of Research and Accountability was revoked; transfer representative Kate Santacruz ’22 and students with disabilities representative at-large Raquel Zohar ’23 were removed from the diversity and inclusion committee.  

Under the resolution, which will now go to President Martha Pollack, disarmament would mean revoking the Cornell University Police Department’s access to lethal weapons.

Resolution 30: The CUPD disarmament revote

Ultimately, the resolution — which narrowly failed when it was brought to the floor on Nov. 19 as Resolution 11 — passed 15-1-13. The new version, Resolution 30, similarly urged the University to disarm the Cornell University Police Department.

Initially, there were 29 voting members present at the meeting, but by around 6:55 p.m., the time the disarmament resolution came to a vote, only 17 were present — after 12 walked out of the meeting in what proponents of the resolution said appeared to be a coordinated and “undemocratic” attempt to prevent a vote. 

But the majority of representatives who left the meeting said they did so for reasons unrelated to the resolution. Zohar and Gleiberman said they left to celebrate Hanukkah. Vice President of External Affairs Morgan Baker ’23 said she left in a show of solidarity for Jewish representatives, many of whom had to leave by 6:30 p.m. to celebrate the holiday. 

However, Baker added that she did not want to take part in voting for the resolution after the string of S.A. member removals that occurred within the past week, rebuking the removal procedures as “illegitimate.”

Undesignated at-large representative Valentina Xu ’22 wrote to The Sun she had to leave the meeting because she had a final. Freshman representatives Kayla Butler ’24, Claire Templeman ’24, College of Engineering representative Sonu Kapoor ’21 and Santacruz all wrote that they had outside commitments after 6:30 p.m. that prevented them from staying to vote on disarmament, and said they had communicated these commitments to S.A. leadership before the meeting.

But freshman representative Andreas Miramontes Serrano ’24 wrote that she left the meeting due to feeling blindsided by the disarmament resolution, which was not listed on the original Dec. 10 meeting agenda, even though disarmament proponents urged community members on social media to attend the last meeting in support of a motion for a revote. 

The fact that the 12 members all left at the same time, right as the vote started, prompted disarmament proponents to doubt their reasons. Moriah Adeghe ’21, director of elections and co-sponsor of Resolution 30, called the other members’ actions “cowardly.” She pointed to undesignated at-large representative Lucas Smith ’22, who stayed on the call, as the only “no” voter with “any integrity.”

The resolution passed while the S.A. barely maintained its 16-member quorum. At the meeting, S.A. President Cat Huang ’21 commented on the lack of members present, saying she was unsure if it was fair to continue the meeting. 

“That resolution has passed,” Huang said, announcing the vote. “However, I do want to recognize that a ton of S.A. members left during this call. I want to put it up to the will of the body whether or not we should continue this without them — I don’t know if it’s fair for us to continue without them.”

By the time the vote was called, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Carlo Castillo’s ’22 switch and Andakat’s removal ensured that disarmament could pass — even if the previous “no” voters were present. There was also no discussion about the disarmament resolution, as co-sponsors cited the weeks of ongoing debate and the Tuesday town hall. 

Co-sponsors of the resolution celebrated its passing, writing on Twitter and Instagram that their hard work had paid off. 

After the vote on Resolution 30, the meeting continued, albeit with gutted attendance. 

The rest of the resolutions

Just five minutes before the scheduled end-time, the remainder of the agenda only started at 6:25 p.m., as over 300 community members listened in to debate on whether to amend the S.A.’s Standing Rules, one of the governing documents that dictate the assembly’s procedural rules.

College of Arts and Sciences representative Evan Moy ’21 called for an amendment to the standing rules: to allow for a simple majority of S.A. members to overturn executive committee decisions, rather than a two-thirds majority, in the light of the recent removals. Laila Abd Elmagid ’21, a member of the executive committee, disagreed with the amendment, arguing a two-thirds assembly vote is more powerful than a simple majority. 

“I believe that it should be two-thirds, it should stay the way it is — a majority would mean that less people would agree,” Abd Elmagid said at the meeting. “And so two-thirds means more people on the assembly can have a voice on this.” 

Eventually, after lengthy deliberation and debate, the assembly voted to table the motion indefinitely.

“[It] made us look bad, but further was disrespectful to all the people who came out to talk about all the other resolutions that were on the agenda,” Adeghe wrote in a message to The Sun.

Moy said he left the meeting early once the disarmament resolution was brought up because he felt dissatisfied with the proceedings and the debate over amending the standing rules. 

“We as student elected officials have a duty to protect the institutions of shared governance,” Moy wrote in a statement to The Sun. “These rules are in place not at the privilege of the majority, but rather to protect the minority, and throughout the last month, the executive board demonstrated their stance on dissent and pluralism.”

The Student Assembly voted on just two of its ten items on the agenda plus the added Resolution 30 in its last meeting of the semester.

Before voting on Resolution 30, the S.A. unanimously passed a resolution urging the University to reopen Anabel’s Grocery after it was shut down for the fall semester. Huang had requested a motion to move the resolution up in the agenda to accommodate the community members present to speak about the store. 

The S.A. then passed a resolution about expanding Good Samaritan laws to include any student under the influence of drugs or alcohol who needs assistance, not just at high risk levels, by a vote of 16-0-3. 

The assembly also tabled Resolution 28 — an alternative proposal to CUPD disarmament that instead advocated for police reform that faced a lot of scrutiny from disarmament proponents as a “watered down” version of Resolution 11 — with all the co-sponsors gone. 

Just before 8 p.m., following a vote on a resolution to establish a community member as chair of the research and accountability committee after Gleiberman’s removal, attendance dipped below quorum, causing the meeting to be adjourned. 

This left several resolutions undiscussed and postponed until at least February 2021, when classes resume — including resolutions to create an ad-hoc taskforce on harassment, bias and discrimination; to create a diversity and inclusion scholarship; to incorporate pronouns and phonetic name pronunciations in class rosters; to encourage diversity in professional organizations; and to extend the final exam policy to 30 hours

Sean O’Connell ’21 contributed reporting.