Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer

The Palestine flag and the Iroquois Confederacy or Haudenosaunee flag fly as participants voluntarily end the encampment with a vigil.

May 17, 2024

IN PHOTOS | The Fight For Divestment Throughout the Spring 2024 Semester

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After two and a half weeks on the Arts Quad, the Coalition for Mutual Liberation ended its “Liberation Zone” encampment on Monday. But the fight for Cornell’s divestment from companies engaging in “morally reprehensible activities” in Gaza began far before the erection of a pro-Palestine encampment.

The Sun’s Photography Department chronicled the Spring 2024 semester divestment movement, from the rejection of a Student Assembly resolution to the occupation of Day Hall, the passage of a referendum and the staging of the encampment.

Feb. 1 | Initial Israel Divestment Resolution Rejected

The Student Assembly gathers in Willard Straight Hall on Feb. 29. (Cynthia Tseng/Sun Assistant Photography Editor)

On Feb. 1, the Student Assembly rejected a resolution to divest from companies “complicit in committing morally reprehensible actions” in Gaza by a vote of 16-4.

Jonathan Emmanuel ’26, who presented the resolution at the meeting, said that the “uncomfortable” outcome reflects a larger issue of the S.A.’s lack of initiative to represent all sectors of the student body.

March 21 | 24 Protesters Arrested for Occupying Day Hall

Approximately 75 people protest outside Day Hall in solidarity with the occupants. (Julia Nagel/Sun Senior Photographer)

CML, a coalition of over 40 campus and off-campus groups, organized a 24-person occupation of Day Hall during a Board of Trustees meeting in Ithaca to advocate for President Martha Pollack to call a vote on divestment from arms suppliers and defense companies.

At the Day Hall occupation, 22 Students and two staff members are arrested and removed from the building. (Julia Nagel/Sun Senior Photographer)

The protesters, composed of 22 students and two employees, stayed until 6 p.m., when they were arrested and removed by Cornell University Police Department officers.

March 21 | S.A. Approves Divestment Referendum

Adrián Cardona Young ’26 and Sadeen Musa ’25 speak in support of the divestment referendum at the March 21 S.A. meeting. (Cynthia Tseng/Assistant Photography Editor)

The Student Assembly voted 15-10 to hold a referendum to poll the student body on whether Cornell should publicly support a ceasefire in Gaza and divest from weapons manufacturers “supporting the ongoing war in Gaza” at its March 21 meeting.

CML advocated for the referendum, collecting signatures from over three percent of the student body which allows student groups to submit referendums under S.A. charter bylaws. 

Opponents of the referendum argued that the referendum would be too divisive, giving students only mutually exclusive choices and not leaving room for dialogue or unity. 

Supporters of the referendum argued that the questions, though binary, would reduce tensions in the future by providing an outlet for the student body to share their perspectives.

April 14 | Competing Rallies Held

On a cloudy and rainy Sunday, hundreds of students participated in two contrasting rallies — a pro-Israel “Jewish Unity” rally on the Arts Quad and a pro-Palestine rally downtown. 

The “Jewish Unity Rally” is held outside of Goldwin Smith Hall. (Anushka Shorewala/Assistant News Editor)

The pro-Israel rally was hosted by the End Jewish Hatred movement in partnership with Cornellians for Israel and numerous other organizations. 

“We have confronted incessant and pervasive hateful rhetoric from professors and students alike who have been attempting to terrorize and intimidate Jewish students,” said Amanda Silberstein ’25, one of the organizers of the pro-Israel rally. “Today we send a clear message to the world — antisemitism has no place on any campus.”

The CML rally moves from campus to the Commons. (Jason Wu/Sun Senior Photographer)

The Ithaca United March and Rally, hosted by CML, began on Ho Plaza and moved to Downtown Ithaca, where the rally joined with protesters from Ithaca College and the larger Ithaca community. 

“Next week is your opportunity to show Cornell what we want. We want a ceasefire. We want divestment. We want peace,” said Hasham Khan ’26 at the pro-Palestine protest, referring to the voting period for the divestment referendum.

April 18 | S.A. Stands Firm Amid Referendum Push Back

Messages advocating against the referendum are etched on Ho Plaza. (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

On the first day of voting for the referendum, opponents argued at the April 18 Student Assembly meeting that the second question — “Should Cornell University follow their 2016 Guidelines for Divestment and divest from weapons manufacturers?” — allegedly violated the S.A. charter clause on neutral wording. 

The Assembly affirmed that no members had called into question the validity of the referendum or its results.

A table offers cookies and drinks for those who vote in the referendum. (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

Opponents were also seen tabling and offering cookies and energy drinks for participating in referendum voting, which prompted accusations of bribery from CML.

The fierce division came to a head at the S.A. meeting, with students in support of the referendum and against it filling the room.

“Is it worse that people are concerned that [the referendum] is not neutrally worded, or is it worse that students were bribed with energy drinks?” said Karys Everett ’25, LGBTQIA+ liaison at-large of the Assembly.

April 19 | A Tale of Two Tables

During the two-day voting period, campaigns appeared all over campus to encourage people to vote “yes” or “no” on referendum questions. Locations included Morrison Dining Hall, Ho Plaza, Duffield Hall, Mann Library and Statler Hall saw tabling efforts to incentivize people to vote.

Thousands of “vote yes” flyers were placed around North Campus dorms, including under students’ doors, according to a CML Instagram post.

Competing tables are set up on Ho Plaza. (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

A “vote yes” table and a “vote no” table sat on opposite sides of Ho Plaza. Advocates from both tables approached students walking to and from class. Some students ignored the calls and navigated around the tables while others stopped to talk. 

Supporters of the referendum approach students to discuss why to “vote yes.” (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

Lee Fitzgerald ’24, one student at the pro-divestment table, expressed that they felt they had a duty to get involved. To them, neutrality was not an option.

Fitzgerald felt divisions on campus were “building up and spiraling,” but wanted to focus on “creating a climate that is more welcoming.”

The Ho Plaza anti-referendum table supplied cookies and drinks to voters. (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

The “vote no” table on Ho Plaza gave out cookies and drinks to students in exchange for proof of voting. Some of the volunteers told The Sun they were not students at Cornell, nor residents of Ithaca, but instead part of a national organization for Jewish students, which they declined to identify.

A billboard truck circulates campus, advocating for students to vote against the referendum.” (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

Throughout the two-day voting period, a black truck drove through campus with the messages “Hamas murders families” and “Vote no on divestment.” Resolution opponents told The Sun the truck was not sponsored by Cornell campus groups.

Atakan Deviren ’27 participates in CML’s phone banking. (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

To remind students to vote, CML hosted a phone bank in Anabel Taylor Hall. Throughout the public event, participants called and texted students, urging them to vote in favor of the referendum. 

One participant, Atakan Deviren ’27 expressed the necessity to act, despite the “odds being stacked against [their] favor,” regarding institutions of power changing.

“I think we understand that no matter what we do, the institutions of power — structurally — will always be against us,” Deviren said.

Jorge DeFendini ’22 participates in phone banking. (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

Jorge DeFendini ’22, chair of the Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America, was also present at the phone banking.

DeFendini, who was previously an alderperson for the Ithaca Common Council, voted in favor of the Common Council passing a ceasefire resolution on March 8. 

DeFendini strongly condemned the administration’s actions, including the introduction of the Interim Expressive Activity Policy and the arrest of 22 students during the March 21 Day Hall occupation.

DeFendini also expressed disappointment in the administration’s investment in defense companies and Israel.

“It’s consistent with how Cornell has operated in the past,” DeFendini said, referring to how widespread student protests occurred before Cornell divested from apartheid South Africa.

April 22 | Majority of Voters Support Divestment Referendum

The majority of student voters chose “yes” on both referendum questions. 
(Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

Both the divestment and ceasefire referendum questions passed by a 2:1 ratio, announced by Patrick Kuehl ’24, then president of the S.A., in a March 22 email to students. 46.77 percent of the Cornell undergraduate student body voted on the referendum, according to the email.

“The results of this referendum are a statement against the killing of civilians, against the structural situation that creates cyclical violence and against the actions of the Israeli Government — not the people of Israel or the Jewish people,” Kuehl wrote.

Kuehl pledged that the S.A. will “do everything within its power to ensure [student] voices are heeded by the University, and that swift and just action is taken.”

April 23 | CML Celebrates

CML celebrates on Ho Plaza, following the passage of the referendum. 
(Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

The day after the referendum results were released, CML hosted another rally and celebration on Ho Plaza. Over 150 students attended. The rally ended in dabke, a joyous and traditional Palestinian dance, that signifies the hope, struggles and history of the Palestinian people.

Attendee Nick Wilson ’26 said he was proud to be a part of a burgeoning “national movement.”

“The students of this University are no longer afraid to stand up and speak out,” Wilson said. “It’s a result of how strongly people feel about Cornell’s complicity in the genocide in Gaza.”

Students perform dabke at the CML celebratory rally. 
(Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

Sara Almosawi ’25, another attendee, was elated by the outcome of the referendum.

“We’re going to keep organizing, … not just as students, but as organizers in an international struggle for peace and justice, in Palestine and elsewhere,” Almosawi said. “I feel overjoyed.”

April 25 | CML Constructs the “Liberated Zone” Encampment

A dozen tents, a mural and a tarp barrier on the Arts Quad make up the encampment. (Jason Wu/Sun Senior Photographer)

In the early morning of April 25, CML set up a pro-Palestine encampment on the Arts Quad. Approximately 50 demonstrators initially made up the encampment, with over a dozen tents and a makeshift perimeter of wooden stakes and tarp.

A rally is held at the CML encampment. (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

The encampment held rallies, speeches and teach-ins. Students in support often sat outside of the perimeter, doing homework or listening to music played from within.

CML names the encampment the “Liberated Zone.” (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

CML’s “Liberated Zone” followed dozens of similar encampments erected at other college campuses throughout the U.S.

Throughout the day, students and faculty make speeches in the encampment. (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

Representatives of the administration visited the encampment to talk with protesters. V.P. for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi, Dean of Students Marla Love, Associate Vice President of Public Safety David Honan and Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Christopher Cowen all stopped by.

Two student protesters talk to Cornell’s Chief Financial Officer Christopher Cowen about the purpose of the encampment. (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

The administration stated that the encampment was against University policy, but offered an alternative location behind Day Hall to hold the demonstrations. But the administration would not guarantee negotiations on the encampment’s demands if demonstrators moved.

Protesters were warned that they may be suspended or arrested if they did not leave by 8 p.m. on the first night.

A student holds the Israeli flag near the encampment. (Jason Wu/Sun Senior Photographer)

Some Jewish students and professors expressed discomfort to The Sun with the encampment, particularly regarding the use of the chant “There is only one solution: Intifada revolution,” which was condemned by the University. Meanwhile, some encampment participants are Jewish themselves.

By 8 p.m., protesters had not removed the encampment. Instead, over 200 people attended an “emergency rally.” Approximately 100 students linked arms to form a chain around the encampment.

Protesters link arms around the Liberated Zone Encampment. (Nina Davis/Sun Photography Editor)

Protesters chanted “Disclose divest, we will not stop, we will not rest” and showed no intention of leaving the encampment. CUPD officers were parked around the Arts Quad monitoring the protest, but never approached the encampment nor made arrests.

CUPD patrol cars park outside the Arts Quad. (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

April 26 | Four Students Suspended

The encampment is also called the “People’s University,” referring to the educational programming and resources inside. (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

Two days after the encampment was erected, four students were temporarily suspended, including two international students and two graduate students.

Among CML’s demands are legal and academic amnesty for protesters. (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

According to the Cornell Student Code of Conduct, suspended students do not receive credit for their coursework the semester, class attendance, participation in examinations and utilization of University premises and facilities may be withdrawn. Suspended students from the encampment were allowed to stay in on-campus housing and continued to have access to Cornell Health services as necessary.

CML stood firm with its commitment to the encampment in a press release.

“Our demands remain the same, and we raise our voices in unison to say: Divest Now,” the organization wrote.

April 27 – May 12 | Encampment Stands

A teach-in is held at the CML “Liberated Zone” on May 2. (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

For two and a half weeks, the CML encampment remained relatively undisturbed. CUPD presence remained minimal, no students were arrested and Slope Day was held as usual.

Cornell Law students march in solidarity with CML on May 1. (Nina Davis/Sun Photography Editor)

The administration suspended two additional students but did not indicate their intent to further punish students, nor remove the encampment. They continued to condemn the encampment and the protest.

CML hosts numerous rallies and speeches throughout their encampment. (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

Day to day, the “Liberated Zone” hosted teach-ins, rallies, prayers, art sessions and other activities. Cornell Graduate Students United has publicly shown support for the encampment and condemned the suspensions of graduate students. Cornell Law Students also marched in solidarity with the encampment. Some faculty members have also voiced their support for the encampment. 

A child of one of the protesters plays on the mural. (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

May 13 | Encampment Ends

CML voluntarily ended its encampment on the Arts Quad on May 13. The dozen tents and the surrounding tarp barrier were removed.

A speaker reminisces over the personal significance of participating in the encampment. (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

To close out the encampment, CML hosted a candlelight vigil for the lives lost in Rafah. About 250 supporters circled together, holding battery-operated candles and listening to speeches about the encampment’s significance. 

The vigil ended with supporters joining in a human chain, similar to the one formed on the first day of the encampment.

Patches of dead grass are all that remains of the encampment. (Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer)

CML wrote, “Though the Liberated Zone is closing, we will not stop fighting for the liberation of Palestinians in Gaza because no one can be free until everyone is free,” in a Monday Instagram post.

After two and a half weeks, all that remains are patches of dead grass, and tree saplings planted where the encampment once stood.