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2 dozen Cornell students, staff arrested during anti-war sit-in

Protesters at the sit-in
Aurora Berry
Protesters at the sit-in.

Two dozen Cornell University students and staff staging a sit-in at Day Hall were arrested by the university’s police department Thursday.

The protesters, part of the Cornell Coalition for Mutual Liberation or CML, are calling for the university to divest from companies that make weapons of war for Israel. They specifically called for Cornell's board of trustees to bring the issue to a vote.

Protests from students, faculty and staff over the university’s response to the war in Gaza has been ongoing for months.

Twenty-two students and two staff members were arrested and charged with trespassing, after the building had officially closed. Cornell staff observing the sit-in told demonstrators that after 6 p.m. the sit-in would be considered an “unlawful presence”.

In a statement, a Cornell representative said two trustees met with sit-in participants. They said trustees told demonstrators that their “demands would not be met,” but that they would “share their concerns” with other board members.

As the 6 p.m. deadline approached, protesters gathered outside of Day Hall for a rally, while protesters inside sang and chanted.

All of the demonstrators inside were arrested. Nick Wilson, an undergraduate student at Cornell, was one of them

“When I refused to leave, I was then cuffed and brought downstairs,” he told WSKG after he was released from the building.

Wilson said he was given an Ithaca City Court date. He said the students were “proud and undeterred.”

“We’ve known from the jump that the reason Cornell is so scared of our project is because so many students are supportive and on board,” he said. “And we know that we're stronger together than any disciplinary code.”

Eliza Salaman, another Cornell undergraduate, was also arrested. She said her Jewish identity motivated her to participate in the sit-in.

“Israel does not represent me as a Jewish person,” she said. “And I stand with the innocent people of Palestine and their fight for liberation.”

Arrested sit-in protesters were gradually let go from the building. Protesters outside waited an hour and a half for all of the demonstrators inside to be processed and released by law enforcement.

In a statement, a Cornell representative described the protest as “peaceful expressive activity” but added that “the university cannot permit expressive activity by campus community members that violates campus policies.”

The statement also said that Cornell “values and protects our community members’ right to free expression.”

During past protests, students and faculty have pushed back on the university’s “Interim Expressive Activity Policy”, saying it chills speech on campus. Cornell’s official theme for the year is “Freedom of Expression”.

Trustees met on Friday and did not discuss divestment in their open session.

However, Cornell Student Assembly President and Ithaca Common Council Alderperson Patrick Kuehl mentioned a previous failed divestment resolution brought forward by the CML, while addressing trustees. He said the Student Assembly devoted much of its time throughout the year to addressing the on-campus repercussions of the Israel-Hamas war.

After the open session ended, an attendee who identified as a Jewish graduate student stood at the back of the room and addressed the crowd. The attendee said the university was complicit in genocide and called on the trustees to divest, citing connections to friends and family in Gaza and Israel who are suffering.

Protesters from the CML gathered for a demonstration outside of the building where trustees were meeting Friday afternoon.

Tensions remain high on campus. This week, the university released a statement saying a Muslim Cornell student had been spat on near campus. Last semester, a Cornell student was federally charged for making violent antisemitic threats online against Jewish people.