Hundreds of black students at Cornell University stormed Willard Straight Hall on Wednesday afternoon with a list of demands following a racially charged assault which took place in Collegetown.
The Black Students United (BSU) led the march, harkening back to the 1969 armed takeover of the same building, with a list of demands that they handed to University President Martha Pollack.
The protest/sit-in was in response to a black student who was called the N-word which then led to physical a confrontation. The student told the Cornell Sun, on condition of anonymity, that he attempted to break up a fight in front of his residence. The group of four or five white men began punching him in the face and hurling racial slurs at him.
“They said ‘Fuck you, nigger,’ over and over, as they were leaving,” he recalled. “Four or five of the guys came up and started punching me in the face repeatedly. I was pretty bloodied up.”
The student ended up going to the hospital. Meanwhile, one of the attackers, 19-year-old white student John Greenwood, was arrested and charged with two misdemeanors: third-degree assault and second-degree aggravated harassment. In an email, Greenwood apologized for using “unacceptable and inappropriate language.” However, he did not mention the assault, and his attorney, Ray Schlather, denied he was involved in the altercation, saying he hadn’t committed any crime.
Students Delmar Fears and Traciann Celestin, co-chairs of the BSU, demanded that any student who was involved in the assault be expelled, and that the fraternity Psi Upsilon be permanently banned from campus. They issued a statement accusing the fraternity of being involved in the altercation.
“The aftermath of the incident on Friday serves to remind the black population at this school that we are nothing but tokens, paraded around yet never protected,” the statement read. “What eludes this campus is true equality among students of color and their white counterparts, impeded by superficial conversations about modern racial politics at a predominantly and historically white university.”
In their demands, they implored the University to convert the fraternity’s house into a cultural center for members of the African diaspora. Psi Upsilon denied any involvement, saying that “no initiated members” of the fraternity were participants in the alleged fight.
After receiving the list of the 12 demands, University President Pollack said she would work with the BSU to “do everything we can to rid this campus of racism.”
“I can’t promise there will never be another racist incident,” she said. “This is a scourge across the country, but I’m going to work with all of you to do everything we can.”