Does Fordham’s Free Speech Not Include Palestinian Activism?

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“If Fordham’s guarantee of freedom of inquiry means anything, it’s that students who want to advocate for Palestinian rights must be able to start an SJP club.”

Administrators of Fordham University unfairly rejected students’ application to form a pro-Palestinian student organization on campus, according to a lawsuit.

The struggle of getting recognition on campus goes back to when students put up their application in 2015. They believed the approval could take a few weeks. However, after waiting for almost a year they were told by administrators that the formation of the club would “stir up a controversy.”

In 2016, the student government permitted the club but  the lawsuit states that Fordham Dean of Students Keith Eldredge overruled the student government approval. He said that the club would be too polarizing because of the national group's support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) tactic against Israel.

The lawsuit further alleges that Eldredge and another faculty member "asked the students their views on BDS and whether it meant the dissolution of Israel, why they would use the term ‘apartheid’ to describe Israel. They also asked whether they would work with national advocacy.”

Eldredge refused to officially recognize the club after the students at the meeting refused to say they wouldn't endorse BDS. He allegedly also told students that his decision couldn’t be appealed. Another administrator allegedly told students that the rejection of the club’s formation was because of the behavior of other Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organizations on other college campuses. However, students claim they told the administration on several occasions that their SJP chapter would have the freedom to act independently.

“As a Palestinian on campus, I was denied the opportunity to advocate for freedom for my people. Instead of encouraging our human rights advocacy, the university sided with those trying to silence our voices," said Ahmad Awad, a Fordham senior leading the lawsuit.

Other students who joined Awad in the New York County Supreme Court lawsuit include, Sofia Dadap, a junior; Julie Norris, a sophomore; and Sapphira Lurie, a senior who says she was raised in a Jewish Zionist household.

Bob Howe, Fordham’s spokesman, said the university rejected the formation of the club “based upon behavior of the national organization and other SJP chapters reported in the news media that, if true, are not in keeping with Fordham’s values.” He further added that the university would grant it a club status if it changed its name and slightly revised its constitution.

“While Fordham officials aren’t in a position to know the truth of these reports, taken as a whole the university believed that a student club bearing that name is not in the bests interests of our students on either side of the debate, or would serve to foster reasoned discussion on these very difficult issues. The students have indicated that although affiliated with the national organization, they will not receive support from, report to, or be directed by them,” he wrote in an email.

Maria LaHood, the group’s deputy legal director, said, “If Fordham’s guarantee of freedom of inquiry means anything, it’s that students who want to advocate for Palestinian rights must be able to start an SJP club and host events, invite guest speakers, distribute flyers and post materials just like any other group.”

 

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