Cornell University cancels classes after student Patrick Dai was accused of threatening Jewish students

ITHACA, N.Y. — Cornell University has canceled Friday classes due to “extraordinary stress” amid a junior being federally charged with making antisemitic threats. 

Instead, Friday will serve as a “community day,” Provost Michael Kotlikoff and Christine Lovely, the vice president and chief human resources officer, said in an email to students and staff, school paper The Cornell Daily Sun reported.

“No classes will be held, and faculty and staff will be excused from work, except for employees who provide essential services,” the email said. 

“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 email continued.

It comes after officials at the Ithaca, New York, university said antisemitic “threats of violence” appeared online over the weekend — the latest in a series of concerning incidents on college campuses across the U.S. since the start of the Israel-Hamas war last month.

On Tuesday, Patrick Dai, a 21-year-old junior at the Ivy League school, was charged with posting threats to kill or injure another using interstate communications, federal prosecutors in the Northern District of New York said. 

Prosecutors said that in an online discussion board, Dai allegedly threatened to “shoot up” a campus building. In another post, he said he would “stab” or “slit the throat” of Jewish men, and rape or throw off a cliff Jewish women he encounters on campus, prosecutors said. 

He also said he would behead Jewish babies and threatened to “bring an assault rifle to campus and shoot all you” Jewish people, prosecutors said, attributing the words to Dai.

School officials said that the threats specifically named the school’s Center for Jewish Living. The federal complaint said he admitted to making the threats.

He appeared in federal court Wednesday but did not enter a plea. He was assigned a federal public defender during the initial court appearance, and a preliminary hearing was scheduled for Nov. 15.

“It’s unsettling knowing that he’s been so close to me this whole time and wishes death upon me and my people,” Ariella Hakimi, a Jewish American senior at Cornell told NBC News. 

Hakimi said she enrolled at Cornell in part because about 20% of the population is Jewish and “it was important for me to be surrounded by other Jewish people.”

“I know a lot of alumni who are Jewish and graduated from here who speak very highly of Cornell and how inclusive they are,” she said. “So I never really expected something like this to be happening.”

She said that she felt much safer seeing that her Hebrew class had a police officer standing outside this week and that she supports the canceling of classes.

“I think shows that they actually care about us and they are trying to take some pressure off of us and allow us to grieve and allow us to take care of ourselves.”

Adding to the heightened tensions on campus, university police on Wednesday received a report of a male subject displaying a pistol on campus. A search was conducted and police said the report was “unfounded.” University President Martha E. Pollack also said in a statement Wednesday that the crime alert was unsubstantiated, but that “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.  

The Israel-Hamas war, which erupted after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, has triggered discriminatory incidents and threats against the Jewish and Muslim communities stateside.

The war also has divided students at college campuses across the country, leading sometimes to competing pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrations and protests.

Adrian Cardona, a sophomore at Cornell who is Jewish and from Costa Rica, said he supports the pro-Palestinian movement.

He denounced Dai’s comments, saying that he thinks “very few people, hopefully nobody on campus actually supports them.”

But Cardona said he doesn’t back “unequivocal support” of the Israeli government and wants to find a way forward that protects the most amount of lives.

Malak Abuhashim, a senior studying chemical engineering at Cornell University who has extended family in Gaza, believes that there is misunderstanding around the pro-Palestinian movement.

“One thing I want to say is, the Free Palestine movement will never accept anti-Semitism,” Abuhashim said.

“We’re asking for freedom of movement, freedom for the right of refugees to return” and “equal rights,” Abuhashim said. She said she has been targeted for her beliefs.

“I think all these like misconceptions about what our movement is about, kind of silences our narrative and tries to scare people into, like, not joining or being a part of it,” she said.

The Anti-Defamation League said last week that there’s been a nearly 400% increase in reported incidents of antisemitic harassment, vandalism and assault based on preliminary data. And the Council on American-Islamic Relations said last week that it has recorded nearly 800 complaints and reported bias incidents from Muslims nationwide since Oct. 7. 

Last month, a 6-year-old Palestinian boy was stabbed to death allegedly by his landlord in suburban Chicago. The landlord, Joseph Czuba, was an avid listener of conservative talk radio and became obsessed with the conflict in the Middle East, his wife said. Czuba pleaded not guilty to the murder.


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