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Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Guest Column: ‘Change Can’t Wait’ — except for when it comes to Palestine

Repression of student speech is becoming a dangerous pattern at AU

The following piece is an opinion and does not reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff. All opinions are edited for grammar, style and argument structure and fact-checked, but the opinions are the writer’s own.

On Jan. 25, 2024, the American University faculty, staff and student body received an email from President Sylvia Burwell that outlined “immediate actions for the spring semester to support the sense of belonging on campus.” In the name of fostering “inclusivity,” President Burwell implemented new policies intended to silence the ever-growing pro-Palestine movement on American University’s campus. By infringing upon our civil liberties and suppressing our speech and expression, Burwell has failed to uphold the tenets of American University’s “Change Can’t Wait” campaign, showcasing to her entire student body that change can wait — especially when it comes to Palestine. 

While addressing the ongoing doxxing of pro-Palestinian students does not appear to be a priority for this administration, they did take immediate action after 35 student groups displayed a paper on their Involvement Fair tables that stated, “This organization stands with Palestine.” The email that President Burwell sent out banned posters at University-sponsored events that were not relevant to said event, effectively squashing any type of political speech. The University quickly bent to the will of a few individuals and how they interpret support for Palestine, believing the deliberate misinformation spread about the so-called “exclusivity” of those signs. The repression and censorship of student organizations is dangerous, and should concern every single student at AU. It will harm all of us.  

When we asked President Burwell what the difference was between a club saying they stand with Palestine and saying they stand with Black Lives Matter, she said that club statements and values must be relevant to the specific organization’s mission. She dismissed our detailed explanation of intersectionality and the interconnectedness of all of our missions. She used the example of the AU Beekeeping Society, and said they as an administration had asked the question if that specific organization would be able to say “Black Lives Matter.” President Burwell came to the conclusion that since the Beekeeping Society has nothing to do with the issue, they cannot say “Black lives matter.” 

AU prides itself on valuing diversity of thought, liberalism and anti-racism, but this new policy means that student organizations cannot say any statement that excludes people, even if that group is white supremacists, unless that is expressly their mission. This puts all of us at risk. What is more inclusive than coalition building? Twenty-five student organizations coming together to agree on human rights is the epitome of inclusivity. 

College campuses are no longer safe spaces for political dissent, freedom of speech and freedom to assemble. It has been over 130 days of Israel committing genocide in Gaza, indiscriminately murdering over 28,000 Palestinians residing in the open-air prison. Across the United States, Palestinian-Americans have not only lived these past 130 days in a constant state of grief, but also in a constant state of fear, as we continue to witness a rise in anti-Palestinian hate crimes across the country. It is clear that our institution would rather uphold its political agenda than protect its Palestinian students and foster a living-learning community in which they feel safe. 

American University has a notorious history of utterly disregarding the well-being and safety of its Palestinian students. Just two years ago, AU hosted Tzipi Livni for the Amos Perlmutter Memorial Lecture. Livni is a former Israeli foreign minister who led the 2008 assault on the Gaza Strip that killed over 1,400 Palestinians. When confronted about the University’s decision to host individuals who have contributed to the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, President Burwell stated AU’s commitment towards “free exchange of diversity of views.” There is no “diversity of views” when it comes to ethnic cleansing, nor is there a “difference in opinion” when it comes to hosting war criminals. 

President Burwell is constantly dismissive of students’ concerns about bringing speakers with such violent histories to our campus. She expresses no sympathy for those who do not align with her political agenda, as proven by her email which outlined new policies to restrict political speech that goes against her and her donors’ stances. 

Burwell’s email associated SJP with hateful speech and behavior, despite our organization not receiving any notification of violations of the student code of conduct. Meanwhile, other student organizations have posted videos doxxing students on campus, resulting in disciplinary action against that club. Yet, no official notice was sent to the AU community and no official policy on doxxing has been implemented to protect students. 

When asked what the administration is doing to address the clear doxxing culture on campus, we were told they are “working on a definition.” For five months, this administration has failed to draft a definition of doxxing, when widely available internet sources could help them do so. 

Doxxing involves the public disclosure or publication of private information about an individual, typically as a means of retaliation or retribution. Doxxing threatens the safety of students and promotes harassment, which is behavior that violates the AU Student Conduct Code. Is it a matter of not being able to come up with a definition of doxxing to implement into AU policy or does our administration not want to explicitly protect Palestinian students?

To be clear, President Burwell does not truly care about any of her students or addressing hate on campus. If she did, she would send out a plan of action on addressing the swastikas that have been drawn in residence halls three years in a row. She wouldn’t have pushed aside sexual assault survivors on campus and dragged her feet with the investigation. She would have immediately passed anti-doxxing policies and clearly addressed anti-Palestinian hate on campus. 

As President Burwell prepares to leave American University, we want to remind her of one important thing. President Burwell, this is the legacy you are leaving behind. It will follow you no matter where you go after your time at AU is up. We, the students of this campus, will never forget how instead of protecting us and uplifting us in the most dire times, you instead chose to publicly bash us and silence us. You decided to stand on the wrong side of history. You decided to stand with genocide and we will never forgive, nor forget. 

Students for Justice in Palestine at American University is an organization of diverse students striving for the total liberation of the Palestinian people. Our work is grounded in decolonial work and values of freedom, solidarity and justice. We seek to motivate students on campus to speak up against the occupation of Palestine and provide them with the tools to do so.

This piece was edited by Jelinda Montes and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing by Luna Jinks, Isabelle Kravis and Charlie Mennuti.

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