ABC just came out with a statement of unanimous support for SJP’s recent actions regarding Barnard’s banner policy and the “opaque and arbitrary treatment of student groups” by the Columbia/Barnard administration. The statement involves discussion of student groups’ role on campus, the administration’s supposed role in helping those student groups, and the policies involving group banners and other displays on prominent places like Barnard Hall. That’s the gist, but you should read the full statement below, emphasis ours:
The Activities Board at Columbia is the largest governing board at Columbia University, representing over 150 student groups ranging from pre-professional, academic, engineering, competition, cultural, performance, musical, media, publication, and special interests groups.
While Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is not a group governed by the ABC, the ABC is unequivocally opposed to the opaque and arbitrary treatment of all student groups by administrators. Columbia’s infamous bureaucracy may divide Columbia’s student groups into different governing structures, but our student groups are united in their vulnerability to administrative injustice. As a governing board constitutionally and morally bound to serve the interests of our groups, we believe that rectifying the wrongs committed against one student group is crucial to protecting the rights of all our groups and their members in the future.
Furthermore, the recent recognition and funding of the ABC by Barnard for the first time in history increases our stake in participating in the discussion over the Barnard administration’s removal of SJP’s banner from Barnard Hall, and the future of Barnard’s policy regarding student groups’ access to this unique forum of discussion.
As the situation stands, despite the fact that SJP did not break a single policy leading up to the placement of their banner, the Barnard administration removed SJP’s banner without notifying SJP of its reasoning, or even the fact that the banner was being removed overnight. The Barnard administration’s treatment of SJP is an unreasonable silencing of a group’s right to free speech that runs against their own established policies.
The ABC supports SJP’s efforts to get their banner reinstated, as we believe the actions of President Spar and the Barnard administration are indicative of a dangerous mindset that threatens the fair and transparent treatment of all student groups. Just as student groups have a responsibility to follow established rules and preserve the integrity of their school, we believe that the school also has a duty to preserve the integrity of its student groups and its students. This commitment, so integral to community development, was not kept.
We believe that the sort of mistreatment experienced by SJP causes student groups to feel marginalized and unsupported by the administration in times of controversy. This should not be, as student groups are undoubtedly the strongest and most vibrant sources of community spirit here at Columbia University. While keeping groups accountable and responsible for their actions is necessary for a healthy community, student groups should not grow to perceive administrators as distant and apathetic antagonists. Instead, student groups should view administrators as fair partners sharing the same goal: making their beloved school even better.
We understand that the decision was difficult and was made in a high pressure environment. But the fact of the matter is that the way in which SJP and their banner was treated was simply wrong. We believe that President Spar also feels that the situation could have been handled better, as she wrote in her op-ed for the Spectator, “I wish we had had the opportunity to notify the leadership of SJP before the banner’s removal on that Tuesday morning.” That Tuesday morning may have passed, but she still has the opportunity right now to apologize to SJP for the regrettable way in which the administration took down the banner. We encourage President Spar and the Barnard administration to utilize this valuable opportunity, and move forward in cultivating an environment of respect and clear communication between administrators and all student groups.
Furthermore, the ABC recommends that the Barnard administration includes student groups and governing boards in the discussions regarding the future of the banner policy. Ultimately, a school exists for its students, and it will be students who play the biggest role in developing the community. Therefore, it only makes sense to make policy decisions with student input.
Finally, while our main concern is with the unfair way in which SJP was treated, the ABC also hopes that the administration preserves the original policy, which SJP followed. Permitting the placement of banners in front of Barnard Hall is not an implied endorsement of a particular groups’ values. Rather, it is Barnard’s explicit endorsement of all student groups’ right to express and exchange their ideas on the most visible area of the academic institution that they revere.
Tony Lee, President
Nikhil Krishnan, Vice President
Ayo Akira Yoshida-Are, Treasurer
Sunpreet Singh, Secretary
Radhika Gupta, Dance Groups Representative
Matt Kim, Musical Performance Groups Representative
Ben Xue, Theater Performance Groups Representative
Eberechi Ihezie, Black, Latino, and Native American Groups Representative
Steve Kwon, East Asian Groups Representative
Sahil Sud, South Asian and Pacific Islander Groups Representative
Saaket Pradhan, European and Middle Eastern Groups Representative
Jared Greene, Academic Groups Representative
Matthew Sheridan, Engineering Groups Representative
Albert Pan, Pre-Professional Groups Representative
Keenan Lamar Burton Sessoms, Media Groups Representative
Christine Byun, Publication Groups Representative
Hamza Khan, Special Interests Groups Representative
Christopher So, Director of Technology