• The walkout occurred during a seminar delivered by Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin
  • Chinese students at the event jeered and taunted an Uyghur student who broached the topic of genocide
  • The Uyghur student said the university has yet to inquire about her welfare following the incident

A group of Chinese students at Cornell University walked out during a guest lecture when an Uyghur student brought up China’s genocide in Xinjiang.

Rizwangul NurMuhammad, who is also a Fullbright scholar at the Ivy League university, broached the topic during a seminar delivered by Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., last Thursday.

In a video of the incident, NurMuhammad spoke of her brother’s imprisonment and asked why the U.S. has yet to impose sanctions on the Chinese government for its genocide in Xinjiang when it responded quickly against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Multiple Chinese people present at the event jeered and taunted NurMuhammad following her question. About 40 Chinese students later walked out of the lecture hall.

“We have a lot of the Chinese students exiting the room, Congresswoman, just to let you know,” a university staff member was heard telling Rep. Slotkin as students walked out, according to The Independent, which received a copy of the video.

“I feel for you and I’m sorry that you’re going through that and I’m sorry that the students just felt the need to leave,” Rep. Slotkin told NurMuhammad.

A day following the incident, a Chinese student leader emailed the faculty of the Cornell Institute of Public Affairs. The email, which was signed by 88 students, cited complaints about the “extremely hostile” atmosphere during the seminar.

“At that moment, we were not sitting in a classroom; we were crucified in a courtroom for crimes that we did not commit,” the students wrote.

In response, the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs acknowledged that the human rights abuses of the Uyghur people were “valuable points of discussion,” but added that they must also respect the walkouts as a form of protest.

NurMuhammad said the response from the administration left her feeling unsupported, adding that the university has yet to reach out to her to inquire about her welfare.

“I have to stay silent because my speech and my personal experience are not welcome to be shared in that space," she told Axios.

China has been accused of possibly committing genocide against the Uyghur population living in the region of Xinjiang. As of 2021, human rights groups believe the Chinese government has detained more than one million Uyghurs and cited evidence that showed some were tortured and sexually abused in the camps. The groups also cited evidence that some Uyghur women were being forcibly sterilized.

Demonstrators from the Uyghur community take part in a protest near the Belgium parliament in Brussels in July 2021
Demonstrators from the Uyghur community take part in a protest near the Belgium parliament in Brussels in July 2021 AFP / Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD