Opinion | Op-eds

President Spar weighs in on SJP banner removal

  • Spar | Debora Spar has been president of Barnard since 2008.

Two weeks ago, on the morning of March 11, I made the difficult decision to remove a banner that had been hung the previous evening on the front of Barnard Hall. The banner had been posted, in full compliance with Barnard’s existing practice, by Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine. The students had not cleared the banner’s content with anyone at Barnard College, nor were they required to do so. Instead, our procedure had long been simply to allow any recognized student group to hang a banner promoting an event, presuming that the banner space was available on their desired dates.

So why, then, did we decide to remove this banner and re-evaluate our procedures? Because Barnard is a small college, with only a few buildings and one main entrance. Barnard Hall is both the first building you see on entry and, of course, the building that bears our name, along with our official signage and seal. Traditionally, Barnard has allowed student groups to use the spaces on either side of the Barnard banner to promote upcoming events. It was never our intent to use that space to advocate for any political position or opinion. Yet, by Tuesday morning, it had become clear that this banner’s placement on the main building had inadvertently created the appearance of official Barnard endorsement. And once this perception was afoot on our campus and in our community, we felt compelled to remove the banner and to halt the hanging of all banners on this site.

I wish we had had the opportunity to notify the leadership of SJP before the banner’s removal on that Tuesday morning. I wish the issue of endorsement had not arisen so powerfully in the context of an already-heated debate. I feel for students who see our decision as an attack on their views and community. But this is where we find ourselves right now, and from where we must move forward.

Over the next few weeks, Dean Avis Hinkson and her colleagues will continue to reach out to student groups and leaders across campus, striving to identify an alternative space for displaying banners, in addition to the already existing areas for flyers and posters. Our hope is that this newly identified area will facilitate and expand the kinds of conversations that are central to Barnard’s mission—conversations that are open and inclusive and reflect the diversity of our community.

These discussions are not easy. Yet they are crucial to our community and to what we aspire to be. I applaud our students for grappling with these issues, for standing up for what they believe, and for forcing us as a community to engage in difficult conversations, however painful they may occasionally be. 

The author is the president of Barnard College.

 To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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Lol posted on

Damn DSpar, aight.

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Anonymous posted on

You tell em Dspar! I can't get over these SJP people that get all upset and think that their rights have been so horribly violated. If you hang a banner with a political view on Barnard hall, it clearly looks as if it's endorsed by the university - regardless of what it says.

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Anonymous posted on

They just realized this? There's never been a controversial or politically charged banner up there before?

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Anonymous posted on

I'm a Barnard Junior. I've never seen an overtly political banner on Barnard Hall, with the exception of SJP's banner. It may have happened before, and I missed it; but in general, the space is used for advertising communal and social events.

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Anonymous posted on

the history of hanging banners on barnard hall goes way back, it is not limited to your or our time here, it has been a long-standing tradition. So yes, there have been "controversial" banners on barnard, in fact, apparently in the 70s there was a long debate around some banner on pornography up there.

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Nate posted on

Take Back The Night posts its banner there every year iirc.

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"the author is president of barnard college" posted on

nbd.
well said, thank you DSpar!

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Douchebag DSpar posted on

Picks President of Planned Parenthood for commencement speaker.

Takes down Palestine banner and censures free speech on campus.

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Anonymous posted on

So what D Spar is basically saying is: we did not intend to censor speech, but we went on and did it anyway. That makes a lot of difference.

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drmatt posted on

Censure free speech? So if the banner would have been placed by the Al Qaeda group of Barnard and encouraged joining it you would be ok with it?

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drmatt posted on

Censure free speech? So had the banner been placed by the Al Qaeda group of Barnard and encouraged joining it you would be ok with it?

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Anonymous posted on

Well, yes, if Al Quaeda had previously been cleared as a student group at Barnard, then why not?
You miss the point that this is an accepted student group, not the KKK, Al Quaeda, Hizbollah or the Stern gang.

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more than curious posted on

Hot damn. Anybody know D Spar's relationship status?

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Anonymous posted on

Seriously? Fuck you. Married.

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Anonymous posted on

Christ, it's a joke. Take a chill pill.

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Anonymous posted on

This article literally says nothing, just bullshit rhetoric

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OoGCkk posted on

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