Cornell University canceled classes on Friday as officials acknowledged the “extraordinary stress” on students following the arrest of a junior accused of threatening to murder Jews on campus.
Patrick Dai, 21, appeared in federal court on Wednesday charged with making threats to the university’s Jewish community in the wake of Israel’s retaliation in Gaza for last month’s attacks by Hamas.
He will remain in custody at least until his next court appearance on 15 November. Meanwhile, officials at the private New York university canceled all classes and declared Friday a community day “in recognition of the extraordinary stress of the past few weeks”.
“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,” the university’s president, Martha Pollack, said in a statement.
“We cannot let ourselves be defined by the acts of one person, or even 10. While we denounce hatred loudly, we must also remember to cherish and celebrate all the good that so many members of our Cornell community do and live every day.”
Pollack said the university was discussing steps to enhance student safety and combat antisemitism and other episodes of hate on campus. They include offering some classes remotely and bolstering the law enforcement presence at Cornell, where about 3,500 students, 22% of the student body, are Jewish.
“When there are threats or incitement to violence, we will respond rapidly and forcefully, as we did in this case,” Pollack said.
“It also means enhancing the prominence of our attention to antisemitism in our diversity and equity programing, both in online materials and in the programs that we require of and offer to our community.”
Dai, according to prosecutors, made threats to “bring an assault rifle to campus and shoot all you”, to “stab” and “slit the throat” of Jewish men, rape Jewish women and throw their bodies off a cliff, and behead Jewish babies.
In comments posted to an online discussion board and traced to the IP address of Dai’s computer, he specifically targeted the campus’s Center for Jewish Living (CJL), they said. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
“There is no place for antisemitism anywhere in this world, and terrorizing actions must be punished,” CJL said in a statement to the Guardian.
“We understand that this incident does not stand alone. It represents the growing trend of rising antisemitism worldwide that we must continue to fight in all forms.”
Pollack, in her statement, noted that on Wednesday there had been an additional “concerning crime alert”.
“Even though it was unsubstantiated, it adds to the stress we are all feeling. Cornell police continue to have an increased presence on campus, and especially in high-priority areas,” she said.
She added that the university would create small groups of trustees and external advisers “to suggest, with fresh eyes, additional steps that we should consider to counter antisemitism and all forms of hatred on our campus”.