Students For Justice In Palestine Display At Cornell Repeatedly Vandalized

November 13, 2014

By Greg Piper at The College Fix

The Cornell Daily Sun has a curious story about a school-authorized Students for Justice in Palestine display in the Arts Quad being vandalized.

The initial vandalism appears to have happened because someone had internalized the idea that you can’t speak until you get permission.

According to SJP activist Alec Desbordes, the Daily Sun reports, the 50 signs were up less than three hours “when a student — who declined to give comment to The Sun — pulled up several of the signs until she was confronted by members of SJP”:

SJP’s blog post incorrectly attributed the action to a total of three students, including Reut Baer ’17, the Cornell fellow for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. …

According to Baer, the student who removed the signs was unaffiliated with any campus political organization and took down the signs as part of a misunderstanding she had over whether the display was properly sanctioned.

“The student went to the resource center in Willard Straight and was told at the time that if there’s no stamp of approval on each one of the signs, any student is allowed to take them down,” Baer said. “But afterward the SJP members let her know that they did get permission, the student looked into it … and didn’t touch them again.”

But the vandalism continued – unexplained – for two more days, Desbordes said:

“The signs were vandalized throughout the night each time,” he said. “At first we had doubts, like it could be the wind or something, but when we started seeing signs in the trees and Thursday night two SJP members saw someone taking the signs and running with them, we understood it was manmade.”

According to Desbordes, three quarters of the signs were stolen or destroyed by noon on Friday, causing SJP to remove the signs at 5 p.m., hours before their planned removal.

The Daily Sun‘s editorial board is now calling for the community to show “respect for ideas … that are unpopular and contentious” and reminding them that this is embedded in Cornell’s conduct code:

In order to protect and encourage political expression and exchange, the University provides channels through which groups can publicize information pertaining to their respective causes — including the opportunity to place informative signs in the Arts Quad. However, in the absence of a climate of civility among students, these avenues will undoubtedly fail to facilitate healthy political discourse.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which flagged the news, is asking the Cornell administration to “take an active role in ensuring the protection of student expression by investigating this incident of vandalism and warning students that such acts of censorship will not be tolerated.”

It hasn’t always done that, FIRE says:

In 2008, Cornell Coalition for Life (CCFL), a pro-life student group, placed six posters detailing fetal development in the Engineering Quad. In just an hour, the signs were confiscated by an official who claimed the school “had an ‘unwritten policy’ that prevented ‘opinionated displays’ on the quad.” Apparently, censorship moves quickly at Cornell.

Cornell maintains a “yellow light” rating from FIRE for some of its troubling speech policies, which include:

  • “Any behavior that disturbs another member(s) of the community can result in judicial action”
  • “Bias activity is defined as an act of bigotry, harassment, or intimidation … that targets an individual or group based on EEEO-protected status”
  • “Events that must be registered includes (but are not limited to): … Events that take place outdoors. … Events that may be seen as controversial and/or high risk”

Schools: Cornell University