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February 9, 2024

Protesters Face Potential Disciplinary Action for Divestment Die-In

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Students participating in Thursday’s Coalition for Mutual Liberation “Walk Out To a Die In” divestment protest have been referred to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards for disciplinary action.

Approximately one hundred students walked out of their classes at noon and gathered in the Ag Quad before sprawling within Mann Library, where they read the names of Palestinians who have died throughout the Israel-Hamas War and chanted “Cornell is complicit in genocide,” referring to the University’s investments.

Police were called to the library to remove and collect identification from the students “to refer [them] for disciplinary action,” according to Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina. Students left Mann Library about 10 minutes after the police officers’ arrival but continued to occupy other libraries and academic buildings including Klarman Hall and the Cocktail Lounge in Uris Library, propelling further police intervention.

In a statement to The Sun, Malina said the protest broke the University’s Interim Expressive Activity Policy which was announced on Jan. 24. The policy states that “organizers should plan the time, place and conduct of demonstrations wisely to avoid disrupting classrooms, libraries, auditoriums, laboratories, living units, administrative offices and special event venues.”

The policy also stipulates that outdoor events, including those on the Ag Quad, involving more than 50 people are expected to be registered. Registration is also expected for all “indoor demonstrations, tabling or other expressive activity.” The policy specifies that “living units, private laboratories and offices, dining halls and libraries are never appropriate locations for indoor demonstrations.”

“While Cornell values and protects students’ right to free expression, including the right to protest, those protests must comply with our time, place and manner guidelines to ensure the ability of our faculty and students to teach and learn without disruption,” Malina’s statement read.

Some student protesters believe the interim policies are an attack on students’ rights to protest freely.

“[The new rules are] absolutely absurd and draconian, especially in the light of it being the free speech year,” said Nick Wilson ’26, a member of The People’s Organizing Collective who participated in Thursday’s protest. “Cracking down on students’ right to protest prevents us from holding the University accountable and obligating it to act ethically.”

The protest follows the Student Assembly’s Feb. 1 rejection of Resolution 51 which advocated for Cornell to halt investment in companies that “through their ‘action or inaction,’ partake in ‘morally reprehensible activities’” in Gaza. Approximately 70 protestors gathered outside of Day Hall on Feb. 2 condemning the 16-4 vote, while utilizing controversial language. The University did not discipline protestors for this demonstration. 

When asked if Thursday’s demonstrations were intentionally meant to defy the University’s new policy, Wilson declined to comment. 

Wilson said that the policy restricts peaceful demonstrations, referring to the restrictions on the use of tea lights and candles. The policy states: “Candles, lamps, and other open flame sources are generally not permitted, but may be approved on a case-by-case basis after review by health and safety personnel.”

“The restriction of things like candles and tea lights to me feels like a direct retaliation to students who came together during vigils as the genocide in Gaza began,” Wilson said. “[Restricting] the use of candles on the grounds of safety when it’s tiny tea lights that people are using to mourn the loss of civilian lives strikes me as absurd.”

Thursday’s protests did see a physical altercation. In a video acquired by The Sun from attendee Sara Abouchaaoua ’27, a man is seen having an altercation with a protester in Mann Library. During the protest, the man shouted at protestors and attempted to grab a protestor’s phone from their hand.

Aaron-Onuigbo Kingsley ’27, a protestor at the event, witnessed the man’s behavior.

Kingsley alleged that the man “was screaming at us, telling us that we were the ones killing the Palestinians, Hamas hates homosexuals and lesbians and gays, and that we are at fault, we are wasting our parent’s money.”

A person who showed up at the die-in tried to take a protestor’s phone. (Courtesy of Sara Abouchaaoua ’27)

Kingsley said that despite the man’s words, protestors were brought together. 

“It was really cool. We banded together and ensured our chants were louder than his words,” Kingsley said.

Kingsley also witnessed the altercation and subsequent alleged police response.

“[The man] became an issue,” Kingsley said. “I raised up my head and I saw him reaching out to grab somebody.”

Kingsley said he did not perceive bias in CUPD’s response to the altercation.

“Police had to come and restrain him,” Kingsley said. “So yeah, I don’t think the police were there against us … They were just doing their work.”

Wilson said he felt the incident would have garnered more public sympathy had the protesters not been pro-Palestine.

“[If it] were someone affiliated with CML, or a Palestinian student, to approach another person — a student of the University or someone affiliated with the University — and grab a phone out of their hands, I think you would hear about that very quickly. Not only from the University itself but in national media,” Wilson said.

Victoria Vlachos ’26, a student studying in Mann Library, said the protest distracted her from studying.

“I had an assignment that was due in five minutes, so I got up and left because I was getting really distracted,” Vlachos said.

She said that she found the noise the most distracting aspect of the die-in. 

“Someone had a megaphone, so it was very loud. And I remember he said something like, ‘If  you think 15 minutes is going to disrupt your studying, then you’ve got a bigger problem on your hands,’” Vlachos recalled. 

Public address systems or amplified sound, including megaphones, can only be used on “Ho Plaza and in front of Day Hall between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. without prior approval,” the policy reads

This protest is the first instance where students may face discipline under the new Interim Expressive Action Policy. 

“Disruptions of this type are not permissible,” Malina wrote. “The University must and will continue to take action when activity is in violation of our policies.”

Julia Senzon ’26 contributed reporting.