Columbia's Student Governing Board issued two statements on Thursday afternoon in response to the removal of the Students for Justice in Palenstine's banner advertising Israeli Apartheid Week from Barnard Hall.
In the first statement, signed by every member of the SGB's executive board except treasurer Tess Glassman-Kaufman, BC '15, said, "Barnard College’s decision to remove this locale as a platform upon which students and organizations can express themselves, violates administration policy and further endangers the future of free speech on this campus. We, as the Student Governing Board, urge Barnard to reconsider its decision regarding the utilization of this space for all groups on campus."
In the second statement—a dissent written by Glassman-Kaufman, also the director of campus affairs for LionPac—reads, in part, "Whether intentional or not, this statement alienated a large portion of the student body and as a member of the Student Governing Board, I cannot stand behind this."
You can read both statements, in full, after the jump.
The mission of the Student Governing Board is to represent and serve the needs of Columbia University student organizations whose concerns are religious, spiritual, political, ideological, activist, humanitarian, or identity-conscious in nature. The SGB is dedicated to the principle of community self-government, and believing that in the final analysis, those students’ needs can best be evoked, defined and articulated by the students themselves. Furthermore, the Executive Board of the Student Governing Board oversees and provides support to its student organizations.
As a Governing Board dedicated to freedom of speech and impartiality, the SGB would like to emphasize every student group’s right to advertise their events and voice their missions on the campuses of all four undergraduate colleges. When these rights are infringed upon, it falls on the Executive Board to support the interests of all its groups and speak out against the injustice.
As a result, SGB would like to issue a statement iterating their disappointment at the decision made by Barnard College President Deborah Spar to remove a banner containing the logo and mission statement of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), an SGB recognized student organization, without any dialogue or consultation with SJP. Despite the outstanding policy iterated by President Spar in her response that “It has been a long-standing tradition to allow any recognized Barnard or Columbia student group to reserve a space and hang a banner promoting their event”, this specific banner was taken down without warning or consideration for the group’s event. President Spar further went on to say that “These Barnard Hall banners have always been student-created and, as such, reflect the diversity of student interests and concerns, but are not meant to convey an endorsement.” Thus, it is quite concerning when a banner that represents the concerns of students on campus is removed without any discussion with the group about the content or the reasoning behind the removal. It is alarming that the administration could act so swiftly in silencing any group and have such executive power over the content that students choose to share on this campus. In addition, as a result of the administration’s actions, this group feels marginalized and threatened on this campus. The group has received threats and feels that they cannot even look to the administration for support and protection.
Barnard College’s decision to remove this locale as a platform upon which students and organizations can express themselves, violates administration policy and further endangers the future of free speech on this campus. We, as the Student Governing Board, urge Barnard to reconsider its decision regarding the utilization of this space for all groups on campus. It is important that all groups have the opportunity to advertise their events on all of the four campuses at Columbia University. By taking away this space, the administration will be limiting the reach of many groups that would utilize this space to advertise to the Barnard community. It would be a shame to see that occur and to have the voices of such varied communities silenced. Thus we urge the Barnard administration to reconsider any decision made regarding this space and to include student groups in the conversation. Any policy regarding this space, especially one that will not allow any group to utilize the space, will affect the student body at large and as such the student body should have an active role in discussion. The administration should not limit the reach of student voices, instead it should help support the sharing of different ideas which is absolutely crucial for the diverse community that Barnard values so highly. Without this space, not only would the Columbia community be losing a space for our communities to share ideas and advertise events, but we would be losing the autonomy to share any thoughts and ideas that we deem fit, no matter how unpopular.
In the end, Columbia is a community and as such we cannot allow our voices or the voices of our peers to be quelled. Each and every group should have the right to share their opinions no matter how controversial or unpopular they may be, it is not for the administrations to decide what is an appropriate opinion or point of view, unless said opinion is advocating violence. Columbia University has long been a forum where students can share their voices and ideas freely; the Student Governing Board would hate to see that change with actions like the removal of this banner.
The Student Governing Board calls upon the Barnard Administration to: first, call for the end of the threats that this group has received as a result of this incident by addressing the topic publicly; second, communicate with student groups before making executive decisions such as this one in the future; third, reconsider the removal of the banner; fourth, to continue to allow this space to be used for advertising purposes by all groups on campus, and fifth, to remember that the voicing of opinions, no matter how singular or strong, is the essence of our culture at this institution.
Fatimatou Diallo, Chair
Mariam Elnozahy, Vice Chair
Aishwarya Raja, Secretary
Sameer Mishra, Representative
Ankita Gore, Representative
Karim Nader, Representative
Priyanka Javlekar, Representative
Doreen Mohammed, Representative
David Morales-Miranda, Representative
Maya V Pandit, Representative
While this statement was passed by majority vote of the Student Governing Board, I would like to express more thoroughly, my dissenting opinion.
As the Student Governing Board, it is our duty to stand for the freedom of speech and the well being of the student body on this campus. I feel that we have failed to do so this week in responding to SJP’s banner placed on Barnard Hall.
Every group deserves the right to expressing their opinion on campus and there are numerous outlets to allow students these opportunities. However, placing a politically charged banner on the entrance to Barnard Hall indicates a direct endorsement of a specific political agenda on behalf of the college. Furthermore, the banner threatened the safety of the pro-Israel community on campus by suggesting that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish State. Whether intentional or not, this statement alienated a large portion of the student body and as a member of the Student Governing Board, I cannot stand behind this.
I fully support SGB’s request of Barnard administration to call for an end to all threats; our primary concern ought to be assuring that this campus is a safe space that does not threaten students. I agree that all opinions, no matter how singular or strong, should have a voice on campus, which is why I feel so strongly about making this statement. I agree that there should more fluid communication between administration and students, and look forward to Barnard making a clearer policy about its advertising space.
I fully support the removal of the banner, and appreciate the Barnard administration taking the safety of its students seriously, and refusing to be implicated in endorsing a hostile message.
Tess Glassman-Kaufman, Treasurer