As a supporter of students’ right to freedom of speech, expression, and opinion on a supportive and facilitative campus, the Columbia Muslim Students Association’s Executive Board expresses its extreme disappointment regarding Barnard College President Debora Spar’s decision to remove Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)’s banner without notification on March 11. We stand behind the Center for Constitutional Rights’ letter to President Spar in stating that this is a grave infringement upon First Amendment rights. Our faith teaches us to pursue justice and fair treatment for people of all religions, cultures and backgrounds. The removal of the SJP banner represses student voices and marginalizes them without cause. Given that SJP abided by all the official measures necessary to raise the banner, this reflects a systemic lack of resolve on behalf of Barnard’s administration.

We recognize and promote the need for all student groups on campus to wield a voice bolstered by the right to free speech, with the expectation that the administration will allow and facilitate opinions across the board. Campuses are a forum for students to express themselves and challenge each other, and taking down the banner has stripped away a significant means of doing so. Restrictions placed on student speech are a detriment to the entire student community’s intellectual and political growth. Furthermore, the removal of the banner has caused many individuals to feel targeted and silenced on this campus, one that is supposed to serve as a safe space for a plethora of student organizations to express their opinions and advocate their agendas to the Columbia/Barnard student body. It is the nature of healthy public debate to disrupt and, sometimes, to disturb—and it is the job of the administration to support, not censor, these dialogues. Removing the banner on Barnard Hall in order to avoid the appearance of SJP advocacy is a harrowing “double standard,” as Columbia College alumnus Barry Weinberg aptly wrote in the Columbia Daily Spectator.

The removal of this banner not only marginalizes a legitimate student group on campus (as well as its student and alumni allies), but also sets a problematic precedent that may hinder students from comfortably and openly expressing themselves on this campus henceforth. The Columbia MSA Executive Board strongly urges the Barnard administration to uphold its commitment to freedom of expression and demands the following:

  1. A public acknowledgement of the detrimental impact this action has had upon many individuals on this campus
  2. A public apology addressed not only to C-SJP, but to all those in the student body who were negatively impacted by the removal of the banner
  3. That all administrators to communicate and consult with student groups as well as the Student Governing Board or Association prior to making executive decisions such as this one in the future
  4. That the Barnard administration continues to allow this space to be utilized for the advertisement of student groups and their events and that no changes are made to the current banner policy, save for an affirmation that the hanging of banners does not equate to an endorsement by the College or its administrators
  5. That the SJP banner is to be re-hung for a one week period as originally approved
  6. That all administrators stand firmly in support of a diverse intellectual environment that upholds ideals of freedom of expression and inquiry