Cornell University has canceled classes for Friday following the arrest of a student charged with making violent antisemitic threats, aiming to give students and faculty time to rest and reflect and to calm campus tensions over the Israel-Hamas war.
“The hope for tomorrow is that everyone will use this as restorative time to take care of themselves,” Lindsey Knewstub, a university spokeswoman, said in an email.
The student charged with making antisemitic threats, Patrick Dai, a 21-year-old computer science major, appeared in federal court Wednesday on charges of posting threats online to kill or injure others. If convicted, he faces a maximum prison term of five years and a fine of up to $250,000.
In a series of posts on a forum dedicated to discussing fraternity and sorority life, Mr. Dai allegedly threatened to slit the throats of Jewish people and referred to them as rats and pigs, according to a federal complaint. Using the screen name “Hamas,” he was also accused of posting that he would “bring an assault rifle to campus and shoot.”
One post specifically threatened a kosher and multicultural dining room on campus, which is next to a Center for Jewish Living.
“We hear that as a call for our genocide,” said Rabbi Ari Weiss, the executive director of Cornell Hillel, a Jewish group on campus. “Students are scared. They’re concerned for their safety.”
According to the federal complaint, Mr. Dai, who is from Pittsford, N.Y., admitted to posting the threatening messages in an F.B.I. interview after his arrest. He is being held in the Broome County jail and is being represented by a public defender.
Tensions have been high on Cornell’s campus since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, which killed at least 1,400 people and which resulted in more than 200 hostages being taken back to Gaza. Counterattacks by Israel in Gaza in the following weeks have killed thousands of civilians.
The atmosphere at Cornell grew especially fraught when Russell Rickford, an associate professor in the university’s history department who specializes in African American political culture, gave a speech in downtown Ithaca on Oct. 15 in which he said he found the attack on Israel by Hamas to be “exhilarating.” He later apologized and requested a leave of absence from the university.
After the threatening posts appeared online Sunday, university officials and Gov. Kathy Hochul condemned them as hate speech. The university and the governor tried to reassure students they were taking steps to keep students safe.
“We will not tolerate threats or hatred or antisemitism,” Ms. Hochul said in a visit to campus on Monday.
Campus athletics and other events may go forward on Friday, but classes will be canceled to give staff and students time to “reflect on how we can nurture the kind of caring, mutually supportive community that we all value,” the college said in a campuswide email.
Several students interviewed around the campus on Thursday said that things felt tense.
“I’m seeing a lot more of my friends, students at Cornell, more upset than usual,” said Jack Merrill, 22, who is also a computer science major in the School of Engineering, but who said he had never met Mr. Dai.
Cole Louison contributed reporting.