Daniel Ra / Sun Staff Photographer

On Thursday, as snow fell on a quiet campus in the middle of finals, three Student Assembly members were hit by a storm of online harassment.

December 18, 2020

Racist, Misogynistic Harassment Strikes Cornell S.A. Members After Disarmament Resolution Gains Traction Among Right-Wing Groups

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Over a day of silence after Cornell students became the subject of online doxxing, Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi wrote a message condemning the backlash. 

On Thursday, the Young America’s Foundation — on the heels of a report by the Washington Free Beacon earlier this week — highlighted three individuals in the Cornell Student Assembly in a story that offered commentary alongside audio from the Nov. 19 disarmament vote that roiled campus. The YAF used racist language and stereotypes, and singled out only Cat Huang ’21, Moriah Adeghe ’21 and Uche Chukwukere ’21, all of whom are members of marginalized groups. Huang is of Taiwanese descent, and Adeghe and Chukwukere are both Black.

Over the course of Thursday evening and into Friday — the first two days of a finals season devoid of a study period  — Adeghe and Huang shared in-depth Instagram posts, showing the racism, xenophobia, homophobia and misogyny in the hate speech they received in a barrage of messages and comments online. 

“I condemn these comments in the strongest possible terms, and hope that every Cornellian will stand firm against them,” Lombardi wrote. The vice president’s statement came after calls on social media from hordes of students, ranging from student organizations like the Cornell Abolitionist Revolutionary Society and the S.A. Black Caucus along with the three student leaders themselves. 

The Student Assembly Black caucus’s statement in support of Moriah Adeghe ’21 and Uche Chukwukere ’21, both founding members of the caucus.

“Throughout the course of this debate, many passionate and personal feelings were shared. Strong perspectives on all sides of the issue emerged,” Lombardi wrote Friday, alluding to the recently-passed resolution on disarmament that prompted a rally, social media campaigns and petitions to recall representatives. “The intensity of feelings led the dialogue to devolve into an unproductive, and at times, disrespectful space.”

Lombardi added that the resulting escalation to the national stage had generated comments “rife with racism and misogyny, among other deplorable forms of attempted degradation.”

Since the publishing of the YAF report, the three students have been bombarded with an overwhelming influx of violent messages and slurs from right-wing accounts. 

“I’ve been called everything from a bitch, to aggressive, to violent, by strangers on the internet for speaking up against the violence that police officers often incite against Black people and calling for my own campus police to not have arms when they interact with students,” Adeghe posted on social media Friday morning. 

“These attacks are persistent and will continue,” Huang wrote in a statement to The Sun. “They’ve spilled over from instagram and twitter to my email accounts,” she continued, calling it “absolutely terrifying.”

Cornell Republicans, a student organization, retweeted the YAF posts Thursday, prompting preliminary backlash. Frustration ballooned when screenshots showed Weston Barker ’21, the president of the campus group, and other members celebrating the posts in a group chat. 

“Thankfully, I think this situation is one where they will be too busy defending themselves from a national tsunami to substantively attack our organization,” Barker wrote to a Cornell Republicans group chat Thursday, adding that the members were “reaping what they’ve sown.” 

Earlier this week, Barker commented to the Washington Free Beacon for a Dec. 15 story about the assembly’s actions. Barker called the proponents of CUPD disarmament “career harassers,” saying they “continue to use fear, defamation, and their social status to put down any form of dissent.” 

“When those tools fail, they will go to any lengths to achieve their ideologically singular Cornell, without any regard for statute, bylaws, or morality,” he said to the Free Beacon.

On Friday, Barker told The Sun he “unequivocally” condemned the ensuing harassment, calling it “entirely heinous.” He also said his group chat comments were not encouraging the harassment of his peers and that he had no knowledge they would result from YAF’s coverage. 

Barker clarified that the Free Beacon reached out to him, and that, as far as he knew, no member of the Cornell Republicans had pitched the story to YAF. The Cornell Republicans executive board made the decision to retweet YAF’s post as “news coverage” of past weeks’ events and publicly available S.A. meeting minutes, Barker said. 

The report itself attributed information to an unnamed source on the S.A.; Huang said she spoke to all members and all disputed speaking to the YAF for the article. The story spliced quotes and audio from Huang, Adeghe and Chukwukere, with the author saying Chukwukere “goes full SJW, attacking a student,” and calling them “tyrants-in-training.” It quickly garnered traction in conservative circles, with Ben Shapiro and former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker tweeting the story. 

This attention catalyzed the rush of online hate messages, which Lombardi — and many students — then condemned. Adeghe and Huang acknowledged the good intent of the email and the show of public support, but Adeghe pointed out that it can’t change much now, especially as many of the comments are coming from people outside Cornell. 

“The rhetoric used by YAF and by the Cornell Republicans was violent and the consequences of their actions are not negligible,” Adeghe wrote in social media posts. 

“[Their] opinions were in support of this article, which was the reason we were getting harassed,” Adeghe told The Sun on Friday. “Even if you say, ‘I wasn’t responsible,’ the fact that you agree at all means that you are supporting our harassment.”