Katrien de Waard/Sun Staff Photographer

Students exit Goldwin Smith Hall on Nov. 7 after police notify students of a potential explosive threat in the building.

November 8, 2021

After Five Hours of Waiting, Campus Sighs in Relief After Bomb Threat Lifts

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Cornellians were bombarded with a combined 22 alerts — over text, email and phone — throughout Sunday afternoon, urging students to evacuate Central Campus following a bomb threat that authorities found “not credible.”

An hour and a half following the first alert — when Cornellians, shocked and panicked, scrambled home — the University confirmed that the earlier calls to evacuate and shelter in place on Central Campus were due to bomb threats. 

‘Avoid the Arts Quad’: Five hours, seven CornellALERTs 

Timeline of Cornell ALERTS sent to Cornellians on Nov. 7, from 1:57 p.m. to around 7:48 p.m. (Kathryn Stamm/Sun Editor in Chief)

The first alert notified the campus community to avoid the Arts Quad and Goldwin Smith Hall, adding that those in the area should shelter in place, offering no explanation. Before sending the official CornellALERT at 1:57 p.m., the University sent two blank crime alerts, with the subject line “Crime Alert – [INSERT subject here].” 

A frantic second alert arrived just 15 minutes later in all caps, urging Cornellians to evacuate and avoid the Law School, Goldwin Smith Hall, Upson Hall and Kennedy Hall: “PLEASE DO NOT CALL THE CORNELL POLICE UNLESS YOU HAVE AN EMERGENCY,” the text alert read. 

By 3 p.m., the University told students, faculty and staff once again to avoid Central Campus and to evacuate areas in or nearby the four buildings. Police blocked off Feeney Way and multiple other sidewalks with caution tape, and stationed cars from multiple statewide agencies across Central Campus.  

In a Sunday evening campus-wide email, Joel Malina, vice president for University relations, clarified that Tompkins County 911 received an anonymous call from someone threatening with automatic weapons and explosives just before 2 p.m. 

Authorities from Cornell University Police Department immediately responded, later joined by the Ithaca Police Department, the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office, Cortland Police Department, SUNY Cortland Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and New York State Police, according to Malina. 

About an hour and a half after the first alert Cornell officially said the evacuations were due to bomb threats at 3:23 p.m. By approximately 4:06 p.m., the latest CornellALERT notified the Ithaca campus that Cornell police, along with other law enforcement agencies, were investigating the bomb threat — and by 5:30 p.m., law enforcement agencies were sweeping buildings, as Cornellians awaited updates on when they could leave shelter.

Five and a half hours later, the seventh and final CornellALERT announced that law enforcement found no credible threats after concluding a search of the Ithaca campus — saying that “it is safe to resume all normal activities.”

University messages sow shock, confusion across campus  

For the hour and a half after the first alert, rumors swirled online and among Cornellians huddled together — without further information that the evacuations were due to a bomb threat. People remained in their dorms and apartments, unsure if they were under active threat or safe away from key buildings. 

Some sheltered in The Statler Hotel and Olin Library, unable to leave given the uncertainty of the alerts. Bingying Liu grad found herself sheltered in The Statler after working a shift at the hotel — without clear guidance on what to do.  

“At 2:30, students started calling their parents panicked, and there were a lot of rumors on the internet,” she said. “We were hoping that we can get clearer messages from the police or from the alerts, so that we don’t have to listen to those rumors.”

Others hurried away from popular study spots on Central Campus, like Olin and Uris libraries. After the first wave of alerts went out, a flurry of students walked down Libe Slope to West Campus. 

Pratiwi Ridwa grad was one of the students leaving Central Campus. While studying on the fifth floor of Olin Library, she saw the CornellALERTs on her phone but said she did not see anything “suspicious” as she peered out the window. 

“I saw a couple of Cornell police cars trying to corner that area, and I think they cleared out the area, and then they put up the police line or something,” she said. 

Students leave Olin and Uris library shortly after 2 p.m., following the first CornellALERTs on Nov. 7. (Anil Oza/Sun Assistant Managing Editor)

Audrey Liu ’25 also received the series of alerts while in Olin, studying for her Psychology 2230: Intro to Behavioral Neuroscience prelim. 

“I wasn’t too freaked out about it and then I saw people in the group chats saying what it was, and I got freaked out,” Liu told The Sun as she walked toward West Campus. 

As University messages urged Cornellians to avoid Central Campus, student organizations took to social media to offer shelter and support as the alerts sowed confusion and anxiety. Cornell Abolitionist Revolutionary Society posted on its Instagram story that the organization could connect those in need of shelter and housing with a safe space. 

Other organizations posted online that they canceled their Sunday events following the alerts, while students postponed their study groups and moved Monday meetings online.  

Facing morning classes, students and instructors navigate lack of information  

After Cornellians received a final notice that the bomb threats were not credible, students, faculty and staff breathed a sigh of relief. But many students found themselves shaken and unable to focus on work. Shortly after the final notice that the bomb threats were not credible, students began circulating a survey demanding a “mental health day off from classes” after the events Sunday to recover and recuperate.

“What followed could be described as fear, panic, and general uncertainty as Cornell kept students in the dark of what was occurring on our own campus,” the survey introduction reads. “Students were asked to drop everything and evacuate to a safe location with no help on where to go or how to get there.”

“Then, students began to receive emails from professors who told them that class will continue as normal and homework will still be due,” the survey continued. “This is absolutely unacceptable with both the mental strain that students have been in all day along with many students not being able to complete work as they moved off campus.”

For Youssef Aziz ’22, one of the students calling for better mental health support following Sunday’s events, Cornell’s lack of significant support for students highlights the hypocrisy of the University “claiming to increasingly prioritize mental health.” 

“We’re never given time or space to heal from the trauma we’ve experienced as a community,” Aziz wrote to The Sun. “And today was just a reiteration of that with professors sending emails about assignments/prelims with no regard to our literal lives, let alone our mental health. What is it going to take for us to pause?”

Without further guidance from the University — beyond Malina’s urging to “utilize campus resources if you would like to talk about today’s events” — instructors have had to adapt on their own, providing a range of responses before class begins Monday morning.   

Some in-person study sessions on Sunday were moved online, while other professors gave Zoom options for courses. For upcoming assignments, some professors gave blanket extensions to the class, while others sent reminders about the looming deadlines.

For Becca Harrison ’14 grad, who teaches a First-Year Writing Seminar on science and society topics called “Food-Flix and Chill,” the lack of University communication about the status of Monday classes left her turning to her students to think of ways to proceed.

“Today was really hard,” Harrison wrote in an email to her students. “In my entire time at Cornell I’ve never experienced such urgency in campus emergency alerts or uncertainty about safety … I’m feeling quite a bit of grief for losing the level of comfort I might have taken for granted.”

Harrison’s class is on Mondays at 8:05 a.m., so she solicited feedback and suggestions from her students about the best use of their class time — offering to have individual meetings, hold class but talk about non-writing topics or to cut class short. 

“Moving ahead tomorrow like everything is ‘normal’ is not an option,” she wrote. “I want to do what works best for you all, but I’m not sure what that looks like.”

Ivy League colleges face similar threats 

Cornell isn’t the only college campus shaken from evacuations and bomb threats. A similar alert went out to members of Yale University this past Friday, Nov. 5. Yale police received calls of bombs being placed in multiple Yale University buildings, prompting evacuations around campus. 

And on Sunday, three buildings at Columbia University were evacuated after bomb threats — the alert coming just 30 minutes after Cornell’s. Columbia notified its students that police had concluded their investigation at 4:44 p.m. after more than two hours of search. At Brown University, the first alert notifying the campus community of a bomb threat came at 3:50 p.m., before being cleared at 5:45 p.m.     

“As Cornell investigated this threat, we learned that several other universities around the country experienced similar hoaxes,” Malina wrote. “Cornell will work closely with local, state, and federal investigators pursuing links among these threats of campus violence.”

After a day that shook the campus community, there are few answers as of Sunday night, beyond the “not credible” designation about the bomb threats, and many are uncertain about what is to come. 

“We are relieved to report that this threat appears to have been a hoax,” Malina said in the final Cornell communication at approximately 7:48 p.m. “A cruel hoax; but, thankfully, just a hoax.”