At Cornell, debates over campus policing ignite racist online harassment

Even Ben Shapiro and Scott Walker got involved

McGraw Tower at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York / Courtesy Pixabay

“White students should grow a pair. They need to stand up to this.”

What Twitter user ‘Patrik Herman’ was referring to is the weeks-long ideological war that took (and is taking) place at Cornell University over the disarmament of its campus police force that has spread beyond the campus’s walls and soured race relations at the Ivy League school.

Following a summer marred by police-civilian contention, Cornell’s Student Assembly attempted, but failed to pass a vote with the goal of disarming campus police, among many things regarding campus policing strategies. That was on November 19.

Roughly a month later, the Assembly met again and switched its position, albeit by a much smaller group due to several representatives who walked out for a variety of political and non-political reasons. In a report by The Cornell Daily Sun, however, proponents of the resolution said [the students walking out] appeared to be a coordinated and ‘undemocratic’ attempt to prevent a vote.”

The vote, according to the university’s paper, effectively strips “the Cornell University Police Department’s access to lethal weapons.”

And as one would expect, pro-disarmament advocates were joyous, while conservative groups on campus were outraged. These conclusions on the subject of policing are nothing unusual, especially given the national political climate. Cornell was simply living up to the notion that universities are mere microcosms of our greater world, for better or worse.

Then, the Young America’s Foundation found out.

On December 17, the conservative youth organization issued out a series of “leaked” audio clip tweets with the intent to “expose” Cat Huang, student body president, and two Assembly representatives, Uche Chukwukere and Moriah Adeghe, for remarks made at Assembly meetings.

Because of the attention from a nationally-known organization with over 106k followers on Twitter, the students have been put in the right-wing spotlight, receiving threats and hate-filled messages from people all over the country. This came after weeks of already-persistent online harassment to the three students.

In addition to the tweet by YAF, the three students became on the radar of several notable political figures, including former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who retweeted the original YAF post to his 3.4 million followers.

“My name and photo, as well as the names and faces of my friends and peers, Moriah and Uche, have been shared without our consent at a national level by multiple popular right-wing entities,” Huang said in an Instagram post to her personal profile.

“I have been called racial and anti-Asian slurs, targeted for deportation, called a Chinese spy, and much more (Nevermind the fact that I was born here in America and I’m Taiwanese)” she added, going on to note how her family has also been affected by the publicity.

Moriah Adeghe revealed on her own Instagram page that she was “called everything from a bitch, to aggressive, to violent, by strangers on the internet for speaking up against the violence that police officers often incite against Black people and calling for my own campus police to not have arms when they interact with students.”

She goes on to allege that the Cornell Republicans student club “sicced” the Young America’s Foundation on them for payback and retaliation.

“Rhetoric like this is literally what gets Black people killed and I am enraged that this type of mercilessness was used to get hundreds of thousands of people to shame, ridicule and abuse me.”

Uche Chukwukere’s statement rung very similarly to Adeghe’s.

“I have been called a nigger, a faggot, an AIDS and COVID spreader, a monkey, a FOB, a retard, and more. These individuals have gone as far to say more recently, ‘Let’s hope someone — anyone — clips ur gay black azz,’” he said.

“My livelihood and safety are on the line. There is no reason that my family should be in such fear for my life and safety as they are right now.”

Despite the ramifications that have ensued for the three students and the widely-circulated idea that the Cornell Republicans had it out for the pro-disarmament advocates, the student organization insisted they “had no involvement with the creation of this story and no one acting on behalf of the Cornell Republicans provided any information to YAF. All of the audio footage used by YAF is publicly available on the SA website.”

Indeed, audio footage of Student Assembly meetings are available to the public here.

However, refuting the organization‘s claim of non-involvement are screenshots that show several members, including the club’s president Weston Barker, celebrating the YAF coverage and specifically, the negative affect it would have on the three students.

“The fact that their pictures are right there with the audio, I would not want to be them rn” said one member.

“We might face backlash here in a minute so prepare yourselves” said another.

Responding to the latter comment, Weston Barker believed that the students would be “too busy defending themselves from a national tsunami to substantively attack our organization.”

He went on to point out his belief that “They used fear, vitriol, and public humiliation, and they are truly reaping what they’ve sown,” leaving it unclear as to whether or not ‘they’ refers to the three students specifically or a broader entity.

The Cornell Republicans did, however, make it clear that they found the “offensive” remarks hurled at their peers “unacceptable,” following this with a claim that “every person has the right to express his or her opinions without being subjected to online abuse.”

But, while they acknowledged the damage done, the organization stood firm in its conviction that Young America’s Foundation had the right to cover the story, as the students also had the right to speak on their concerns.

“Reporting on publicly available information is not harassment or doxxing. It is freedom of the press and the Cornell Republicans stand steadfastly in support of this First Amendment right,” they said in their statement.

The statement was met with intense backlash from supporters of the three Student Assembly members and other liberal organizations at the Ivy League school.

The Cornell Democrats issued a statement as well, detailing how they were “disgusted” with the incidents that occurred and that they stood with the three Student Assembly members and all BIPOC students at the school. Notably, the organization made the decision to suspend any collaboration with the Cornell Republicans from there on.

Many other supporters have also criticized the university’s response, deeming it insufficient and enabling.

Speaking directly to “Cornell’s administration and my peers in campus leadership who have stayed silent,” Cat Huang asserted that they’re “aligning and allying yourself with these types of people who unabashedly post clear racist and xenophobic comments.”

Chukwukere and Adeghe had similar things to say.

And indeed, The Cornell Daily Sun noted that it took Cornell’s Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi “over a day…after Cornell students became the subject of online doxxing” to finally release a statement.

“I condemn these comments in the strongest possible terms, and hope that every Cornellian will stand firm against them,” he said, to the tune of many annoyed and unsatisfied students who have felt as though the initiative to make Cornell more anti-racist has often rested on their shoulders alone.

“I am so angry that I have spent as much time as I have trying to make this institution better only for them to show me that absolutely do not care about me. The lack of a response from Cornell is deafening,” Uche Chukwukere said in his Instagram post.

Nevertheless, despite the hardship, he is powering on.

“I refuse to sit and be silent. I refuse to back down. I refuse to allow the oppressor to have power over me. The fact of the matter is that my strength is not mine alone. My strength comes from every single person that has sent it my way. It comes from those who have fought this fight before me and are sending their strength now” he proclaimed.

Moriah Adeghe, too, isn’t finished yet. In her Instagram statement, she made her ambitions known.

She wrote, “I will never stop fighting for what I believe in. This fiasco will not hinder me, it simply serves as a reminder that the fight for liberation is not an easy fight, but still a fight worth having.”

Cat Huang, like the others, is grappling with a university climate that is all but comfortable at the moment. Yet, she is committed to witnessing a better Cornell.

“I hope we can continue to advocate together for initiatives that reflect the values of the Cornell community, such as better mental health care, financial support, racial justice, academic grace, and health and safety,” she said in her Instagram statement.

“Across the globe, Cornellians need our support more than ever, and it’s time we get back to work.”

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syracuse student interested in u.s. politics and foreign affairs

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