Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer

Students set up an encampment on the Arts Quad in the early hours of April 25.

April 25, 2024

Students Stage Pro-Palestine Encampment on the Arts Quad

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Approximately 50 students staged a pro-Palestine encampment on the Arts Quad as of early Thursday morning.

Cornell follows demonstrators at several other institutions establishing “liberated zones,” which have prompted mass arrests and suspensions. Demonstrators are stating they will continue the encampment until the University meets their demands or removes them from campus.

The Coalition for Mutual Liberation, a pro-Palestine coalition of over 40 organizations, organized the encampment.

Approximately 17 tents are enclosed by a low-to-the-ground tarp fence in front of McGraw Hall. According to an email from CML to The Sun, the encampment was established at 4 a.m. and administrators told the demonstrators to move twice by 9 a.m.

Anyone is welcome to enter the “liberated zone,” so long as they complete an “arrest intake form” to help CML keep track of and support protestors should they be arrested and placed in jail.

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Students set up artwork advocating for a free Palestine. (Nina Davis/Sun Photography Editor)

The demonstration comes a week after the majority of student voters approved of a ceasefire and divestment referendum, held from April 18 to April 19.

According to a CML press release, demonstrators are asking the University to take action on eight demands including providing restitution to Indigenous communities, ensuring transparency in its current finances, divesting from “morally reprehensible activities” as per the 2016 Standard Guide to Divestment Consideration, dissolving partnerships with the Jacobs-Technion Cornell Institute and any other partnerships with the Technion Israel, establishing a Palestinian studies program under the College of Arts and Sciences, publicly acknowledging and protecting anti-Zionist perspectives, recognizing that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism and removing all police from campus including from student protests.

Demonstrators are asking for police to be replaced with an emergency response team composed of healthcare workers and first responders trained in de-escalation. They are also asking for total legal and academic amnesty for all individuals involved in the encampment and similar demonstrators.

Starting at 11:30 a.m., approximately 300 supporters began gathering around the encampments.

Supporters gather around the encampment. (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

With supporters surrounding the encampment, Bianca Waked grad listed grievances about the University and occupant’s list of demands.

Protestors chanted “shame” after hearing grievances regarding financial and educational ties to Israel and Cornell’s role in the displacement of Indigenous people.

Prof. Russell Rickford, history, spoke about the origin of liberation zones to the crowd. Rickford took a voluntary leave of absence following criticism over labeling Hamas’ initial Oct. 7 attack on Israel “exhilarating” and “energizing” at an off-campus protest.

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Prof. Russell Rickford, history, talks about the origins of liberation zones. (Nina Davis/Sun Photography Editor)

“You don’t have to be in here to be in the liberated territory. The liberated territory is a concept. The liberated territory is in your head,” Rickford said. “Anytime you are ready, you can become a resident, an inhabitant, a member of the occupied territory, of the forces of liberation.” 

Demonstrators were told to remove tents by 1 p.m. or face disciplinary action, up to and including suspension, by Christopher Cowen, executive vice president and chief financial officer. However, they were offered to move tents directly behind Day Hall.

If the tents come down, demonstrators are allowed to stay until 8 p.m. Demonstrators pledged to stay in place.

At just past 1 p.m., a demonstrator told the crowd that administration refused protestors’ request to negotiate in public. The demonstrator asked the crowd to cheer for “yes” or cheer for “no” about the possibility of the encampment’s negotiation team meeting with administration in private.

Some students reported having their classes canceled in face of the student protests, with some professors joining the encampment. Rachael Kong ’24 said her 1:25 p.m. class was canceled because her professors wanted to participate in the protest.

“Our professors wanted to stand in solidarity with the students that are camping outside to show support for Palestine,” Kong said.

The demonstrator stated a need to quickly obtain consent from demonstrators considering the possibility of consequences including suspension. The crowd overwhelmingly cheered for “yes.”

According to the Cornell Student Code of Conduct, the conditions of temporary suspension may include mandated withdrawal from “all University privileges and services, including class attendance, participation in examinations [and] utilization of University premises and facilities.” Student suspensions may not exceed three years. 

At 2:20 p.m., organizer Nick Wilson ’26 said that administration “tried to intimidate us with threats of disciplinary action [and] tried to convince us to move this encampment to a less populated area on campus.” 

Organizer Nick Wilson ’26 speaks to the crowd. (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

Wilson continued: “The encampment negotiating committee told them that without material movement on our demands deemed acceptable by this collective — not any smaller committee — we’re not going anywhere.”

“Disclose, divest. We will not stop. We will not rest,” protestors chanted, following Wilson’s announcement.

Demonstrators also continuously chanted, “Israel bombs, Cornell pays, how many kids did you kill today?” The chant emulates a chat used to criticize the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam war when President Lyndon Johnson was in office — “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

At 2:23 p.m., Vice President of University Relations Joel Malina released a statement in which he recognized the importance of peaceful protest but said expressive activities must “not infringe on the rights of others in our campus community nor pose a risk to public health and safety.”

According to Malina, Climate Justice Cornell registered and received permission for an art installation on the Arts Quad through 8 p.m. but did not indicate there would be tents.

Malina said demonstrators were told they had been “dishonest” in event registration and were in violation of University policy with the tents.

“They were then told that if the tents were not taken down promptly, they would be subject to disciplinary action,” the statement read. “They did not comply, and suspensions, for students, and HR referrals, for faculty and staff, will be issued.”

The perimeter of the encampment fence was approximately doubled in size at 2:50 p.m.

Some organizers, including Alaa Farghli grad drew similarities between the criticism received for Thursday’s demonstrations and that for protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and divestment in South Africa in the 1980s. 

“We use [those protests] as inspiration that we are on the right side of history. At the time, those protests were deeply unpopular, and it led to the arrest of … dozens or even hundreds of protesters,” Farghli said. “Although we are villainized and demonized now, history will absolve us.

Update 4/26, 1:45 a.m.: This article has been updated to include comments from Alaa Farghli.

Update 4/25, 4:19 p.m.: This article has been updated to summarize the University statement released about the encampment.

Update, 4/25, 3:55 p.m.: This article has been updated to include updated information about the size of the encampment and demonstrators’ conversations with administration.

Update, 4/25, 1:22 p.m.: This article has been updated to include information about demonstrators’ negotiations with administration.

Update, 4/25, 12:50 p.m.: This article has been updated to include administration’s offer to demonstrators to move or face disciplinary action.

Update, 4/25, 12:17 p.m.: This article has been updated to reflect that supporters gathered around the encampments starting at 11:30 a.m.