A glass door says in grey lettering "CIPA. Cornell Institute for Public Administration. Brooks School of Public Policy. "

Jason Wu/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

A sign marks the office for the Cornell Institute of Public Affairs (CIPA) on the second floor of Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, March 16, 2022

March 31, 2022

CIPA Community Discusses Aftermath of Walkout, Vote on CPAS President Resignation to Come

Print More

Following a March 10 event where a group of Chinese international students enrolled in Cornell’s Masters in Public Administration program walked out after their Uyghur classmate, Rizwangul NurMuhammad grad, spoke about her brother’s detention by the Chinese government, the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs community has continued to respond to the incident and its handling by the Brooks School administration. 

Many of NurMuhammad’s fellow students expressed frustration regarding the administrative action that was taken following the walkout, noting the lack of support extended to NurMuhammad while students were publically urged by a professor to reconcile with the protestors. 

Carrie Spanton grad, a first year MPA student, attended the event, which featured a Q&A with Rep. Elissa Slotkin ’98 (D-MI). Spanton noted that not all of the protestors walked out quietly. 

“Some of them were laughing and some of them were taunting,” Spanton said. “Many of them were saying things that were directed at [NurMuhammad]”

Spanton said that at the event’s conclusion, there was no immediate reaction or show of support for NurMuhammad. 

“Nothing was mentioned about [Rizwangul] at all, and I thought that was a huge vacuum,” Spanton said. 

NurMuhammad is a current citizen of New Zealand studying on a Fulbright scholarship at Cornell, and has been an outspoken advocate for Uyghur rights for years. Guled Farah Mire grad is a second-year MPA candidate, and like NurMuhammad, is a Fulbright scholar from New Zealand.  

“[Rizwangul] is a prominent Uyghur advocate in that part of the world,” Mire said. “She’s very widely known in New Zealand and Australia because of the work that she’s done….[Cornell] knew about the vulnerability of having somebody like her on campus.”

Mire noted that educational institutions should be spaces that are conducive to discussions of human rights issues, which he believes the walkout and immediate administrative reaction failed to reflect. 

“If we cannot discuss genocide at universities, where else are we supposed to discuss it?” Mire said. 

Following the dissatisfaction expressed by students at the school’s initial response, the director of CIPA, Prof. Matthew Hall, policy analysis and management, sent another email to the CIPA community on March 17, which was obtained by the Sun. 

“I was not at the event, but I have spent the days since watching and re-watching the video, and talking to many who attended,” Hall wrote in his email. “I now have a clearer understanding of the behavior exhibited by a small number of students, which appears to include laughter following the walkout that many interpreted as dismissive. This behavior is disappointing and inconsistent with CIPA’s values and principles.” 

Hall then addressed the vulnerable position that NurMuhammad was put in, apologizing for both the incident on the March 10 event and the administrative response. 

“I apologize for the hurt you have experienced and regret if my previous message did not reflect a full appreciation for the complicated dynamics that impact you so personally. No CIPA student should feel unsafe or unwelcome,” Hall wrote.

Hall also noted that his office has reached out to the students directly involved to offer assistance and university resources to support well-being.

The walkout has sparked concern among students. On March 22, the CIPA student body moved to conduct a vote to remove William Wang grad — the president of CIPA’s peer-led governing body, the Cornell Public Affairs Society — from his position.

Later on March 10 after the walkout, Wang had drafted a letter to Hall, which was signed by more than 80 Chinese students, claiming that NurMuhammad’s remarks had created a hostile environment. In a separate March 19 letter to the CIPA community that was obtained by the Sun, Wang stated his decision to refuse to step down after the CPAS body requested his resignation, and that his previous communications — including his letter to Hall — were taken out of context by individuals who he claimed intended to politicize the discussion and escalate the situation.

“I urge [CPAS] to set aside our differences and do everything in its power to provide equal and sufficient representation for every single CIPA student — no more tokenism,” Wang wrote, referring to his argument that removing him from office would reduce representation for the Chinese and Asian community at CIPA. 

Wang did not respond to a request for comment. 

The removal process, according to Pedro Jose Fernandez grad, would require a two-thirds majority vote to change CPAS bylaws to allow the board to directly vote to remove Wang from his position as president.

Currently, six board members are in favor of the bylaw change, with one additional vote needed to proceed with the amendment. 

In addition to changing the bylaws and subsequently voting on Wang’s removal, Fernandez told the Sun that students have organized a signature campaign, which could remove Wang from office if the petition is signed by two-thirds of the CIPA student body. 

According to Fernandez, students opposed to the backlash NurMuhammad has faced have also told CIPA administrators that they would walk out if Wang were to be given a speaking role at the CIPA graduation ceremony — something Wang would customarily be granted as the president of CPAS.

Correction, April 1, 5:05 p.m.: A previous version of this article inaccurately mentioned that William Wang drafted the letter the day after the walkout. Wang drafted and sent the letter on the same day. This error has been corrected.