What we know about the hate speech situation at Cornell

Antisemitic threats on an open greek life forum have gotten national attention.

Anonymous discussion forum posts threatening Jewish students have rocked Cornell.

Anonymous discussion forum posts threatening Jewish students have rocked Cornell. kickstand/Getty Images

Editor’s note: After this article was published, a Cornell student was arrested on Nov. 1 on federal charges for threatening students. Read more here.

Cornell University is on high alert after anonymous antisemitic threats were posted to an online discussion forum for campus Greek life on Saturday and Sunday. The threats involved hateful language and threats to kill Jewish students, targeting 104West!, the campus Jewish living center and Kosher dining hall. 

Within a few hours, as the university police and the FBI looked into the threats, the matter gained national attention, with politicians from around the country weighing in. Gov. Kathy Hochul visited the campus Monday morning, and many political figures have commented on social media expressing their dissatisfaction with the events, including numerous Congress members and former Cuomo aide and Cornell alum Melissa DeRosa. As the campus finds itself at the center of a national discourse on how colleges are handling clashes over the Israel-Hamas war, here’s an explainer on what we know so far.

Where were the messages posted?

Greekrank is an online discussion board forum intended to provide students with a space to anonymously discuss topics pertaining to campus sororities and fraternities. The forum is not exclusive to Cornell University, it is used by over 790 universities across the nation. 

The website claims that they “strive to be the best place to learn about and interact with college greek life.” However, due to the anonymity and ability for anyone to post the website, the website has a reputation for being an unreliable source of information and for being “toxic” for students interested in joining sororities or fraternities due to the often misogynistic and discriminatory language posted.

The Cornell discussion forum is riddled with posts containing reviews of the attractiveness of certain sororities, for example, but the hate speech posted there over the weekend was a new low. At the same time the antisemitic posts were seen on the platform, there were also posts targeting Muslim students. The Cornell Daily Sun reported that a post published under the name “glory to hamas,” threatened to “bring many ak 47 [sic] and slave women in hijab to make party [sic] more fun!”

The Cornell Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life did not respond to requests for comment.

Who can post on Greekrank?

Anyone can post to Greekrank. By just clicking “new post” anybody, regardless of whether they attend Cornell, or any university at all, can list a post regarding any topic of choice with a nickname. The website reminds users to “not post names, initials, or any derogatory content” before posting, and offers them the option to submit an email to be notified when their post gets responses.

According to the Greekrank Terms of Use policies, “user information, access, and interactions” are collected, and in using the platform users agree to “not violate any U.S. federal or state laws” and to not post anything that “contains hate speech or promotes or condones violence against individuals or groups based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, nationality, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity,” “depicts gratuitous violence” or encourages violence against others.”

What has the campus reaction been?

Many Jewish students are shaken by the threats. Molly Goldstein, who is president of the Cornell Center for Jewish Living, told the university newspaper that the building’s residents had a feeling of “genuine fear” upon learning of the threats.

“We’ve had people who are too scared to sleep here tonight. So they’ve gone to other places in Ithaca for their safety,” Goldstein said. “We now have three police cars outside of our complex that will be here 24/7 until we understand what’s happening, the real threat.”

The campus police were notified of the threats and have been patrolling the building since last night. In a community threat alert sent to the entire campus, the Cornell Police Department said they are investigating the posts.

City & State reached out to the Cornell Police Department for updates on the investigation, but were initially directed to the statement released by university President Martha Pollack.

The university media relations said that Cornell campus life and dean of students offices are meeting with individuals and student groups to provide support. The university police department also issued a follow up statement, saying: “The safety and security of the entire Cornell community continues to be our top priority. We are taking threats very seriously and working with the FBI, State Police and other agencies to investigate — we continue to have an enhanced law enforcement presence on campus to keep our community safe. We have increased patrols and arranged additional security for our Jewish students and organizations on and off campus, and the university is in constant communication with these groups.”

Pollack released a statement on Sunday evening, calling the threats “intolerable” and saying antisemitism would not be tolerated at Cornell.

“The virulence and destructiveness of antisemitism is real and deeply impacting our Jewish students, faculty and staff, as well as the entire Cornell community,” Pollack wrote in her statement. “This incident highlights the need to combat the forces that are dividing us and driving us toward hate. This cannot be what defines us at Cornell.”

As of Monday, some classes have been either canceled or made optional at the discretion of instructors for students to focus on their safety. Many professors sent out announcements offering support for students to talk and allowing them to miss lectures if they feel uncomfortable being on campus.

What has the broader political reaction been like?

The anonymous posts have garnered attention from politicians across the country, including in the White House. Gov. Kathy Hochul visited campus on Monday morning, and spoke at 104West!, the location targeted with threats. Hochul addressed students who live in the Jewish living center and was joined by the university president and state and campus police. 

“We will not tolerate threats or antisemitism or any kind of hatred that makes people feel vulnerable and exposes people and makes them feel insecure in a place where they should be enjoying their campus life, without fear that someone could cause them harm,” Hochul said. 

Hochul also said that state police have increased security across New York college campuses since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, and that the heightened security would continue in the next few weeks.

White House press communications director Herbie Ziskend, who is also a Cornell alumnus, called the events “deeply concerning, dangerous, and blatantly Antisemitic” in a post to X, formerly known as Twitter. Ziskend also pointed to how President Joe Biden’s administration has announced actions to address the “alarming” rise of antisemitic incidents at schools and campuses since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. 

NBC reported that the departments of Justice and Homeland Security are partnering with campus law enforcement to track hate-related rhetoric online and provide federal resources to schools.

On X, formerly known as Twitter, Bronx Democratic Rep. Ritchie Torres wrote, “The antisemitism of the Cornell Discussion Forum is horrifying… The academic establishment can no longer turn a blind eye to the deepening rot of antisemitism on American college campuses.” 

Attorney General Letitia James posted on X as well saying that “these threats targeting Jewish students at @Cornell are absolutely horrific. There is no space for antisemitism or violence of any kind. Campuses must remain safe spaces for our students.”

Republican Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana wrote on X that “the scenes from Cornell and schools across the country are sickening,” adding that he has called on secretaries Antony Blinken and Alejandro Mayorkas, of the Justice department and Homeland Security respectively, to “deport and revoke the visas of foreign national students who are supporting Hamas on our college campuses.”

And Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning of North Carolina wrote that she was horrified by the “blatant displays of antisemitism on college campuses across the U.S. and by the disturbing threats to Jewish students on Cornell’s campus” on X.