Ithaca, NY – After a Student Assembly vote calling for the disarmament of the Cornell University Police Department (CUPD) failed last month, members of the assembly ousted multiple representatives who voted against the measure and ramrodded the resolution through in a second vote in early December.
The push to disarm the campus police department initially failed by a razor-thin margin on Nov. 19, following a tense, oftentimes hostile Student Assembly meeting, The Cornell Daily Sun reported.
Proponents blasted CUPD Chief David Honan for allegedly meeting with members of the assembly “behind closed doors” prior to the vote, according to the paper.
Although the assembly allowed Chief Honan to present his arguments to them that day, Student Assembly President Cat Huang complained that his presence at the meeting caused black, indigenous and people of color to feel “silenced and intimidated” because police were “asserting their presence,” The Cornell Daily Sun reported.
Chief Honan answered the members’ questions and attempted to explain why it is important for him and his officers to be able to protect themselves and others on campus.
“Can my officers do their job unarmed?” he asked at one point. “The answer is no.”
Student Assembly President of Finance Uche Chukwukere eventually declared during the meeting that the chief’s attendance was an “act of violence” that constituted a “disgusting display of privilege,” and called for a vote to make him wrap up his presentation, The Cornell Daily Sun reported.
According to Young America’s Foundation (YAF), which combed through hours of recorded Student Assembly meetings spanning many weeks, a multitude of racially-charged incidents occurred during the tense sessions.
At one point, Huang agreed to let minority students speak before any white students, after a representative asked her to.
“I want them to, like, have their voices be amplified before white people start talking,” the representative said, according to the YAF.
In another clip shared by the YAF, Chukwukere berated a student for allegedly talking out of turn.
“When a black woman is speaking you do not interrupt her,” he snapped. “You are a white man. You cannot tell me how I’m supposed to feel around CUPD.”
In addition to demanding the CUPD disarmament, Chukwukere has also called on the university to “defund and disband” the campus police force, The Daily Wire reported.
Student Assembly member Moriah Adeghe declared at one point that disarming law enforcement is just like abolishing slavery, according to the YAF.
The resolution failed 14-15-1 that day, but the situation was far from over.
“Cornell voted to maintain white supremacy, but who’s surprised,” one attendee complained to The Cornell Daily Sun after the initial defeat.
Outraged proponents of the resolution filed recall petitions in an attempt to remove over a dozen assembly members who voted against the measure, but none of their 14 petitions garnered enough signatures to trigger the recall process, The Cornell Daily Sun reported.
Undeterred, the assembly’s executive committee instead voted Dec. 9 to remove several members from various committees and to kick one representative out of the Student Assembly altogether.
All four of the affected members had voted against the CUPD disarmament resolution, The Cornell Daily Sun reported.
The 14 opponents of the resolution subsequently wrote a letter to the editor of The Cornell Daily Sun to voice their position.
“In the weeks since the resolution failed, its proponents have launched an unprecedented recall and smear campaign against us,” the letter read. “Behind the scenes, they have sought to purge those they disapprove of from S.A., kick perceived opponents off of committees, and remove an officer of the executive committee during the middle of her term.”
“These actions are an affront to the values of our shared governance institutions and harmfully prevent the healthy functioning of the Student Assembly,” the dissenters added. “S.A. members should feel free to vote their conscience without fear of being recalled by their colleagues.”
The group said the executive committee’s tactics were “undemocratic, authoritarian, and a flagrant abuse” of the assembly’s rules and procedures.
“It goes without saying that these efforts are unprecedented,” the opposing assembly members wrote. “A vocal minority of the S.A. who believe everyone must think as they do has attempted to strip power from anyone who disagrees with them and browbeat them into silence. Their actions have created a hostile, toxic and untenable atmosphere within the S.A., hampering its ability to function and causing unnecessary anxiety and emotional distress to its members.”
The Student Assembly reversed its position on the CUPD disarmament issue during a subsequent vote on Dec. 10, The Cornell Daily Sun reported.
The now-approved resolution calls on university president Martha Pollack to strip lethal weapons from the campus police force, and pushes for the university to create various committees to handle situations police are currently tasked with.
The measure demands CUPD stop responding to drug and alcohol violations, and argued that crime will decline if substance use is decriminalized, The Cornell Daily Sun reported.
Huang lamented in an op-ed piece published by The Cornell Daily Sun on Dec. 15 about how lonely her fight to disarm the CUPD has been.
“I had always heard from other women at Cornell, my friends and mentors, that leadership is lonely,” the Student Assembly president wrote.
“This fight for disarmament has been lonely. There is no other word to describe it,” she complained. “To be isolated and targeted by our peers on the Assembly and within the student body for trying to do what we think is right, to be ignored by administrators who are frustratingly resistant to calls for police disarmament and to be fighting for our cause in the middle of Ithaca, New York — amidst the further isolation of a global pandemic — has been lonely.”
Huang said she “joined with black students and students of color” early in the semester to “fight for justice, allyship and solidarity” in the effort to disarm the police department because she believes the cause “is good and it is right.”
She said she was “stunned” by the pushback she received from Chief Honan, and accused him of “sowing division on the Assembly floor.”
“These past few months have forced me to confront my suspicion that Cornell University is not truly committed to supporting students in advocating for real institutional and cultural progress,” Huang wrote. “The University slips by, managing to not take any actual and concrete administrative steps to respond to the calls of students to disarm the CUPD and ensure the safety of Black students on campus.”
She said that her “fight for justice” has become “more than any one student should be trying to take on.”
“This is what happens when you throw students onto a campus with the weight of the world on their shoulders and leave them alone to grapple with the problems of racism and policing that have plagued this country for centuries,” Huang reasoned.