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Cornell cancels classes following antisemitic threats

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Tensions are running high on some college campuses in light of the Israeli-Hamas war. And today Cornell University in New York canceled all classes. Earlier this week, a student was arrested for allegedly threatening violent attacks against Jewish students at the college. Ava Pukatch of member station WRVO has been reporting this story and joins us now. Hi, Ava.

AVA PUKATCH, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: OK. So just walk us through what has been happening on campus at Cornell that made the administration take a pretty unusual step - right? - canceling all classes.

PUKATCH: So Cornell President Martha Pollack called for a community day today in recognition of the extraordinary stress of the past few weeks with the Israeli-Hamas war breaking out. And there's a high number of Jewish students at Cornell, a little bit more than 20%, and some of them have family being affected by the conflict. And in addition to that, Sunday evening, a series of violent threats were made against the university's Jewish students. And one message specifically targeted 104 West, the university's kosher dining hall run by the Center for Jewish Living. The suspect, Patrick Dai, allegedly said he was going to shoot up that building. Dai is a 21-year-old student, and he was arrested Tuesday.

CHANG: What's been the reaction so far of the students on campus? Like, what are you hearing from them?

PUKATCH: So there had been earlier rallies on campus in support of Palestinians and Israelis, but this latest incident at Cornell has made some students fearful. There's been an increased police presence on campus since the threats were made. Earlier today, I spoke with Molly Goldstein. She's the president of the Center for Jewish Living at Cornell.

MOLLY GOLDSTEIN: I think I would just say, you know, one line - that we are scared, but we are strong, and we are proud to be Jewish.

PUKATCH: Molly Goldstein says they've received tremendous support from the Jewish community internationally, with gift baskets and food showing up. She mentioned they had 200 students and some faculty members who came to the center last night to show their support. And she says they're doing well and are not going to hide just because of hate.

CHANG: Well, I know that the governor in New York, Kathy Hochul, I know that she visited the campus, has talked about the situation throughout this week. Tell us what she's been saying.

PUKATCH: Hochul says hate speech and anti-Semitism is on the rise, and says the state of New York is not going to tolerate that. She says it's not just a problem at Cornell, but it's growing on a number of campuses and seen most acutely in the City University of New York. She asked a former chief judge of the state to conduct a study of anti-Semitic incidents at CUNY schools to see if policies or procedures need to be changed to help curb hate speech. And she hopes the recommendations could provide a roadmap for other universities in the state and has called this a reckoning for New Yorkers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KATHY HOCHUL: I'm calling on New Yorkers to stand up for each other. When you see a fellow student being harassed, stand up for them. Intercede. Help them. Let them know that that person does not represent our values as New Yorkers.

CHANG: And what do we know about the investigation of the student who was arrested earlier this week for threatening Jewish students? What's going on there?

PUKATCH: Patrick Dai appeared in federal court in Syracuse Wednesday. The most he spoke was to say yes, Your Honor. And because it was initial appearance, he did not enter a plea. And he's being held without bail. And his next court appearance is set for November 15.

CHANG: That is Ava Pukatch of WRVO. Thank you so much, Ava.

PUKATCH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ava Pukatch