Cornell University canceled classes for Friday after one of the school’s students allegedly made violent antisemitic threats against Jews on campus.
In place of lectures, Cornell will observe a “community day” in acknowledgement of the “extraordinary stress” that has engulfed the college in recent weeks amid tensions surrounding the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Last week Patrick Dai, 21, was arrested and charged over online posts threatening to kill Jewish students at Cornell. Dai, himself a junior at the university, was detained after an FBI investigation into several antisemitic messages traced his IP address to his off-campus apartment.
Authorities say Dai has admitted being the author of the posts, which allegedly included: “If you see a Jewish ‘person’ on campus follow them home and slit their throats,” while another threatened to “bring an assault rifle to campus and shoot all you pig jews.”
On Wednesday morning, fears were raised again when Cornell University Police sent out a crime alert about a report of an armed man seen near campus. Cornell president Martha E. Pollack wrote in a statement that although the threat proved to be “unsubstantiated,” it added “to the stress we are all feeling.”
An email to students explaining that classes wouldn’t be held on Friday said staff and faculty would also be excused from work except for those providing “essential services,” according to The Cornell Daily Sun. “We hope that everyone will use this restorative time to take care of yourselves and reflect on how we can nurture the kind of caring, mutually supportive community that we all value,” the message added.
Cornell is one of several colleges across the U.S. that has felt the strains of deeply held opposing views about the conflict in the Middle East, which dramatically escalated in the wake of Hamas’ unprecedented attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7.
One of the school’s professors, Russell Rickford, took a leave of absence amid a furious backlash to comments he made calling Hamas’ attacks “exhilarating” and “energizing” at a pro-Palestine rally in Ithaca. Student groups at other colleges including Harvard and Columbia signed letters blaming Israel for the violence, leading some graduate employers to rescind job offers and school donors to halt their contributions. Individual students suspected of supporting the letters have faced harassment campaigns and doxxing in response.
Engineering student Dai appeared in court in Syracuse on Wednesday on charges of posting threats to kill or injure another using interstate communications. He allegedly made his threats on message boards with usernames including “Hamas fighter” and “glorious Hamas,” and specifically threatened to “shoot up” a campus dining hall that serves predominantly kosher meals.
“My son is in severe depression,” Dai’s father told the New York Post. “He cannot control his emotion well due to the depression. No, I don’t think he committed the crime.” He added that his son stopped communicating with him in the days before the threats appeared online and that his wife was unable to get responses to multiple calls and messages. “She was worrying that he may commit suicide and drove to his apartment to see what happened,” Dai’s father said, though his son had already been arrested by the time they arrived.
“While we take some measure of relief in knowing that the alleged author of the vile antisemitic posts that threatened our Jewish community is in custody, it was disturbing to learn that he was a Cornell student,” Cornell president Pollack’s statement added on Wednesday.