Want to know something frighteningly messed up? When students of color raise concerns over hostile and xenophobic campus atmospheres, when victims of sexual assault question their university’s lackadaisical response, and when statisticians reveal that schools aren’t graduating nearly as many Black students as they admit, a university administrator might throw out a line or two to satisfy reporters before burying the issue.
But then comes along a banner that can singlehandedly mobilize an entire university administration to find time to meet, reexamine longstanding school policies, and individually respond to complaints.
Welcome to the American college system, where requests for clean bathrooms, longer library hours, and more affordable textbook pricing are met with silence, and where you will receive a prompt and personal email reply from a university President if you complain about, say, a sign that says “Stand for Justice, Stand for Palestine”.
Which, of course, is what happened at Columbia University’s Barnard College on Tuesday.
For their annual Israeli Apartheid Week, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (C-SJP) hung a banner with the aforementioned slogan at the front of Barnard Hall.
This is a common marketing strategy approved by the university. According to Barnard President Debora Spar, the student group followed “proper protocols” in booking the banner space.
But despite the administration’s commitment to free speech, political messages are apparently off limits. This begs the question: Are all political messages off limits, or just the ones that publicly and indiscriminately endorse human rights for Palestinians?
After some students complained on social media Monday night, the banner was removed the following morning. One student called the banner “anti-Semitic,” despite iterating his hesitation to use the term loosely. Others based their frustrations on the green borderless map of historical Palestine which, today, would include the occupied West Bank, the occupied Gaza Strip, and Israel.
Feride Eralp, a member of C-SJP, responded to the allegations.
“Using the map of historic Palestine affirms the connection that Palestinians living in the diaspora, the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and as citizens inside of Israel, feel for one another, despite their fragmentation across time and space.”
Here’s to hoping university administrations will stand up for what is right for a change.