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News :: International : Organizing : Race
URGENT ACTION: Northeastern University Suspends Students for Justice in Palestine
by Northeastern SJP
12 Mar 2014
With profound disappointment and righteous indignation Northeastern University Students for Justice in Palestine announces it has been suspended as an organization. SJP is disappointed because Northeastern’s claims of creating a diverse learning environment that encourages the free exchange of ideas and promotes Academic Freedom are impossible to reconcile with the university’s decision to suppress our speech and suspend our political group. As if banning our activities from campus and denying us all use of campus resources wasn’t outrageous enough, the university is pursuing expulsion-level sanctions for two students—all for participation in a mock eviction action. SJP is furious to report the only individuals to face our school’s opaque disciplinary process are two young women of color; none of the white or male participants have faced any charges. This unprecedented ban and appalling prosecutions are the latest attempt by the university to suppress pro-Palestine speech, and continues the university’s disturbing history of enacting injustice.
This chilling suspension is not just about SJP, and it is not just about Palestine. Academic freedom is essential for students to challenge our own university’s complicity with many forms of discrimination, injustice, and violence. We are inspired by and stand in solidarity with communities of color, LGBTQ people, workers, and victims of U.S. and Israeli military aggression. We respect that not all liberation struggles are identical or even comparable. Even so, the university’s decision to suspend SJP and criminalize its most vulnerable members comes in the context of a broad and concerning pattern and threatens to chill on-campus efforts to support these struggles.
The university claims to value academic freedom while suspending SJP, but its hypocrisy is nothing new. Consider how its actions have impacted others. Was the university fair to Roxbury residents, whose families particularly families of color—have been displaced by student gentrification? When students from around the world are invited to gather on-campus, can they truly feel “welcomed” in the Raytheon amphitheater, named for a U.S. corporate war profiteer? Can the university claim to value all students’ health, when the student health plan explicitly discriminates against trans students? Is the university committed to just working conditions and wages, while it seeks to thwart the 800 adjunct professors who aspire to unionize? The university often promises fairness and impartiality, but its actions reflect truly disturbing values. Northeastern University consistently supports the interests of the dominant and powerful, at the expense of the marginalized—and rather than extend academic freedom to students who criticize these interests, SJP has been criminalized and censored.
Just as injustice at Northeastern extends beyond SJP, many other SJP chapters have also endured viewpoint discrimination and disparate treatment by school administrations. The organization Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, whose attorneys—along with ones from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and National Lawyers Guild (NLG) of Massachusetts—are advising us through this difficult process, documented over 100 instances of campus suppression of pro-Palestine speech across the U.S. in 2013. For example, at Florida Atlantic University, student activists were placed on probation for staging a non-violent walkout at an Israeli military colonel’s lecture, and forced to undergo a “re-education” seminar concocted by an outside pro-Israel organization. At the University of California at Irvine, students faced criminal charges for interrupting the speech of an Israeli state official.
Those throughout the country who, despite threats, suspensions, and arrests, continue to work for justice inspire us. Northeastern SJP has a message for its supporters: WE WILL FIGHT OUR SUSPENSION. WE WILL DEFEND OUR MEMBERS! We call on all our comrades and our allies to join us. We must demonstrate that we will stand up for one another against all forms of injustice – that the university can never isolate or separate us. Our sanctions become victories the moment we band together to fight them!
Please take action now: 1) Sign our petition here: http://chn.ge/1lXIicT 2) Contact the Northeastern University administration. Please see the following pages for contact information, sample emails, and phone/voicemail talking points. 3) Have your organization send a letter of solidarity. Letters can be submitted to northeasternsjp (at) gmail.com CONTACTS FOR NORTHEASTERN ADMINISTRATION Northeastern Offices are generally open from 8am to 5pm.* Contacts are listed in order of importance.
Joseph Aoun University President presidentaoun (at) neu.edu cc: s.guszcza (at) neu.edu (President’s Assistant) (617) 373-2101
Philomena Mantella Senior VP of Student Affairs p.mantella (at) neu.edu (617) 373-4810
Bob Jose Assoc. Dean of Cultural and Residential Life r.jose (at) neu.edu (617) 373-5877
Ralph Martin University General Counsel r.martin (at) neu.edu (617) 373-2157
Laura Wankel VP of Student Affairs l.wankel (at) neu.edu (617) 373-2338
Jason Campbell-Foster Director of Campus Activities j.campbell-foster (at) neu.edu (617) 373-2642
Center for Student Involvement nucsi (at) neu.edu
Vincent Lembo Deputy General Counsel v.lembo (at) neu.edu (617) 373-2157
*Most Northeastern staff voicemails become full after 20 messages
SAMPLE EMAIL TO THE ADMINISTRATION
I am writing to you as concerned [student/faculty member/alumni/community member] at Northeastern University [or wherever you are from]. It has come to my attention that the Center for Student Involvement (CSI) has issued a suspension of Northeastern University Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and banned its leaders permanently from participation, based on many accusations the organization vigorously denies and has had no opportunity to refute. Additionally, student leaders were interrogated and intimidated by the Northeastern police department while the CSI was investigating the organization. This level of action is unprecedented, particularly considering the minor, administrative nature of the violations with which SJP are accused. I am concerned that this action was taken as a measure to repress student speech that the University finds overly political. This is a serious violation of the basic principles of free speech and academic freedom on campus, which Northeastern purports to honor.
This suspension is also not an isolated incident. It has been demonstrated that SJP has faced a pattern of discrimination and harassment by the Northeastern administration, including being placed on probation last year for their silent walk-out of an event featuring a panel of Israeli soldiers. SJP has been forced to hire police officers for their events “for their own safety”, yet reports to the administration of threats and intimidation faced by SJP activists have gone completely unrecognized. This lays plain the political nature of the current suspension of SJP as an attempt to finally eliminate pro-Palestine speech from campus. This repression cannot be tolerated as it spells disaster for any hope of open discussion on campus and indicates that the University administration will silence any viewpoint with which they do not agree or find publicly palatable.
Therefore, I am asking that the Northeastern administration take the following measures:
1) Reinstate Students for Justice in Palestine as a student organization with all of the appropriate privileges. 2) Drop all charges against the two SJP members facing individual sanctions. 3) Ensure that SJP is no longer held to a more stringent standard than other organizations and receives the appropriate support. 4) Take appropriate measures to ensure that all student organizations are able to engage the University community in open discussion, without having their views politically censored. 5) Immediately cease the use of the Northeastern police department to investigate student organizations for exercising their speech rights.
For more information:
Talking Points for Phone Calls or Voicemails
Hello, this is [YOUR NAME] a [YOUR AFFILIATION]. I am calling to express my concern that the Center for Student Involvement (CSI) has issued a suspension of Northeastern University Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
I feel that:
● This measure constitutes a violation of SJP’s freedom of speech rights, and is intended to silence their message on campus.
● The suspension of SJP is politically motivated because the University administration disapproves of SJP’s message and believes it is potentially divisive.
● Northeastern University is bowing to the pressures of outside interest groups and large donors, rather than protecting its own student’s fundamental rights.
● How can any students feel comfortable expressing any ideas or opinions on campus, when they may be arbitrarily censored and sanctioned?
Feel free to include your personal experiences or feelings about free speech and oppression in our community, especially if you are able to speak with someone on the phone.
Thank you for taking the time to talk/listen to me today. I urge you to work with the rest of the university to respond to reinstate SJP as an organization and take measures to ensure that this type of repression does not occur again.
This work is in the public domain.