ITHACA, NY (WENY) -- Students at Cornell University are the latest at college campuses across the country to set up encampments in protest of the war in Gaza.

The student organization, The Coalition for Mutual Liberation, announced students have declared a "liberated zone" on the Arts Quad campus. A tent encampment was set up early Thursday morning, along with signage highlighting the impact of the violence on Palestinians in Gaza. 

For months, students have been calling on university administration to divest from companies that aid Israel's military campaign in the region. Students camping in the liberated zone say they will hold teach-ins, art builds, and other activities to demonstrate Cornell's need to act in response to Israel's military offensive in Gaza. The Coalition for Mutual Liberation cites a standard approved by the Cornell University Board of Trustees in 2016, that establishes that the board will consider divesting its endowment assets from a company when its actions are  “morally reprehensible,” constituting apartheid, genocide, human trafficking, slavery or systemic cruelty to children, including violation of child labor laws.

The Coalition for Mutual Liberation also has a list of student demands for Cornell University, including: 

1. Acknowledge its role in the national genocide of Indigenous Peoples through the Morrill Act and its sale of nearly 977,909 acres of Indigenous land; return all mineral interests to Tribal Nations dispossessed by the Morrill Act; provide restitution for the dispossessed nations; provide restitution for the Cayuga Nation; establish an Indigenous Studies department; and return surplus land in New York State to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Lenni Lenape, and their descendants who have been forced out of New York.
2. Annually disclose a comprehensive account of its endowment and land holdings, and divest from entities involved in “morally reprehensible activities,” in accordance with Cornell’s 2016 Standard to Guide Divestment Consideration.
3. End profit-generating partnerships, volunteer arrangements, and other significant corporate and academic affiliations with institutions involved in “morally reprehensible activities,” including but not limited to the dissolution of the Jacobs-Technion Cornell Institute and all other partnerships with the Technion Israel Institute of Technology.
4. Call for an unconditional, permanent ceasefire in Gaza.
5. Establish a Palestinian Studies program housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, along with an accredited minor that is available to all undergraduate and graduate students. Representatives from Cornell’s chapter of “Students for Justice in Palestine” and “Cornell Collective for Justice in Palestine” must serve on the committees that oversee the hiring of the program’s faculty.
6. Publicly acknowledge and protect anti-Zionist speech, viewpoints, and histories in both religious and academic contexts. Recognize the legitimate and historical claim that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism.
7. Remove all police from campus, beginning with the elimination of police presence at demonstrations. Replace police with an emergency response team composed of healthcare workers and first responders trained in de-escalation. A majority of team members must be providers who share lived experiences and identities with Cornell’s diverse student body.
8. Ensure total legal and academic amnesty for all individuals involved with the Liberated Zone and related demonstrations

Cornell University issued a statement in response to the encampment. 

Free and open expression, including peaceful protest, is core to Cornell’s values. We want always to allow a diversity of voices to speak and to be heard. At the same time, it is important that such expression not infringe on the rights of others in our campus community nor pose a risk to public health and safety. Towards these ends, we have a set of content-neutral time, place, and manner rules that guide permissible expressive activity at Cornell.

Early this morning, a group of about 30 individuals erected tents on the Arts Quad in violation of Cornell’s policies. Cornell’s policies allow for outdoor camping with prior registration. For public safety, tents must be placed in authorized locations and cannot remain in place for more than one week in duration.

Climate Justice Cornell, a registered student organization, did register and receive permission for an art installation on the Arts Quad through 8:00 p.m. this evening. In their registration, however, the group indicated there would not be any tents.

Early this morning, the individuals in the tents were advised that they had been dishonest in their event registration and, additionally, were in violation of university policy regarding tents. They were offered an alternative, approved location between Day Hall and Sage Chapel. The individuals requested and received time to consider their options, and ultimately decided not to comply. They were then told that if the tents were not taken down promptly, they would be subject to disciplinary action. They did not comply, and suspensions, for students, and HR referrals, for faculty and staff, will be issued.

This is not an outcome we welcome. We want to provide avenues for everyone to make their voices heard, but this must be done in ways that respect the policies we have in place to protect the public health and safety of our community and the rights of all to do their work.

Joel M. Malina
Vice President for University Relations