Columbia Turath Releases Statement on SJP Banner
Written by Bwog Staff
This afternoon, Bwog received a statement from Columbia Turath’s President in response to the SJP Banner incident. The group describes themselves in the statement as “a non-partisan undergraduate student association that serves to promote Arab culture at Columbia University.” Turath sides with SJP in the conversation over whether or not the banner should have been taken down, saying:
We believe that SJP, as an organization that is recognized by both Columbia and Barnard, and who followed the proper administrative procedures to post its banner, should be granted the same privileges of access as any other student group on campus. The Barnard administration decided that the feelings of some students, who found the poster offensive, were more important than allowing SJP to promote its event and its message.
Turath is a non-partisan undergraduate student association that serves to promote Arab culture at Columbia University. We provide a voice for students on campus who identify as Arabs and it is our priority as an organization representing a diverse ethnic, religious and political community at Columbia to uphold the principles of freedom of speech that are necessary to foster an environment of mutual respect on campus. We believe that every student and organization has the right to express an opinion without meeting resistance, intimidation or censorship on an institutional level.
Turath expresses its disappointment with the Barnard administration’s decision to remove Students for Justice in Palestine’s banner from the front face of Barnard Hall. We believe that SJP, as an organization that is recognized by both Columbia and Barnard, and who followed the proper administrative procedures to post its banner, should be granted the same privileges of access as any other student group on campus. The Barnard administration decided that the feelings of some students, who found the poster offensive, were more important than allowing SJP to promote its event and its message. The rhetoric surrounding the removal of SJP’s banner was concerned with students’ emotional distress at the interpretation of the poster as promoting a Palestine “without internal borders.” By this logic, the administration should recognize how other members of the Columbia community may feel “unsafe” when they see Taglit-Birthright Israel advertising free trips for their very classmates to have fun on the beach while few miles away, some of their own family members continue to live under occupation. Rather than censor an unpopular opinion, Barnard should allow SJP to celebrate and promote the connection of Palestinians to their historical and cultural homeland- just like Birthright trips are intended to celebrate the connection students have to their historical and cultural homeland.
There is more than one way that a student may feel unsafe. A student may feel unsafe when they see a banner they believe may be undermining a culture or political stance they may value, and Turath respects that offense may be taken. But a student may also feel unsafe when they attend a university that prioritizes the opinions of a certain community over others.
When the late Edward Said helped create Turath, it was with the hope and expectation that Arab students could transcend the racial, ethnic, and political affiliations that are often tied to minority groups on this campus. Turath has realized, through its ongoing conversations and growth over the years, that it is difficult to transcend these boundaries when the administration poses a barrier, as it recently has with regard to SJP, to freedom of expression.
Our own organization’s activities are purely contingent on respect for all political opinions, and it is our hope that such a conversation has not and will never lead to the question of whether there are more pro-Palestine students than there are pro-Israel students (and we find this binary problematic to begin with). This is an issue about looking at an incident that has seriously put into question how the university community, both its administrators and its students, engage with unpopular speech seen by some as offensive. Regardless of its private or public status, this university claims that it is a place of learning where all perspectives, should they be political or otherwise, are protected and respected. Chapter XLIV, Clause 440 of Columbia’s essential policies states that a violation of free speech is an offense against the entire university community. If this is true, then as a community, and especially as students, we should make sure it treats it that way.