By STEPHAN KOZUB
Undeterred by harsh winds and cold temperatures, members of the Fordham community protested the university’s decision to veto the formation of a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) club on Jan. 23.
The protest drew nearly 100 people and took place outside the main entrance of the Fordham Lincoln Center campus by Columbus Ave. and 60th Street.
As a part of the protest, the group marched to Columbus Circle and back. During the protest and the brief march, they shouted chants, such as “Free, free Palestine,” “Stand up fight back,” and a common one at anti-Trump protests, “the people united will never be defeated.”
Last semester, the United Student Government (USG) approved SJP to operate on campus, but were vetoed by Dean of Students Keith Eldredge on Dec. 22. The students first submitted their paperwork to become a club in November 2015.
“What Fordham University has basically done here is say that they don’t care about the decision of the Student Government and they don’t care about the rights of students to organize,” said Sapphira Lurie, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’17, who helped to organize the protest.
“So we’re here today to show the Fordham University administration and Fordham students that we’re not going to back down and that we’re going to build a movement on this campus for justice in Palestine,” she said.
As a part of the protest, the organizers demanded that the university institute SJP as a full club immediately with full club rights, commit to free speech on campus, issue a written statement apologizing to all of the students involved in forming SJP and issue a statement committing to the protection of all students regardless of national origin. These demands are similar to those made by Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights in their letter to the Fordham administration in support of Fordham SJP.
Ahmad Awad, FCLC ’16, also helped to organize the protest. When the members of SJP initially applied to become a club in 2015, he was the intended president.
“We decided that we’re not going to cave in, we’re not going to give up, and we’re going to continue to fight for what we believe is right,” Awad said regarding the protest. “I’m hoping that SJP will be allowed to be established here at Fordham so that, although I was unfortunately not allowed to be a part of it as a student, I will definitely be supportive of a Fordham SJP as an alum. And I want the classes to come to be able to experience something that I was not able to.”
Awad also addressed the protesters during the event, calling the university’s decision to veto the formation of SJP “absolutely disturbing and shocking.”
“When we first began this process, it was simple,” he said. “We were looking to advocate for Palestinian rights, for the human rights of Palestinians and to bring change and to try to rally behind the situation and to end the conflict in Palestine. But we’re refusing to give in, we’re refusing to give up and I really do believe that Fordham is going to allow us to have full club status soon, especially when they see the numbers that we’re turning out.”
Rachel Silang, Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) ’15, also came to the protest and addressed the participants at one point. During her time as a student, she founded the Students for Sex and Gender Equity and Safety (SAGES) Coalition and helped to found Fordham Students United. She is now with The Party for Socialism and Liberation.
“For Fordham University to have an entire student body say ‘yes,’ the Student Government says ‘yes, this is okay, we accept this, we want to have conversations, we want to have dialogue,’ and then for the administration to unilaterally without student input at all veto that, it’s honestly a disgrace,” Silang said.
She also remarked that it was “a really impressive demonstration for Fordham” due to the turnout and the four day turnaround period between when the protest was initially announced and when it was held. When she was a Fordham student, she said it would take “months just to get at least 50 people out to any sort of demonstration.”
Among the other organizations whose representatives addressed the protesters were The Palestine Solidarity Network and New York City Students for Justice in Palestine (NYC SJP), which started an online letter of solidarity for supporters of Fordham SJP to sign.
Student protesters such as Nora, FCLC ’19, who wished to have her last name omitted out of fear of being labelled as anti-semitic for her support of Palestine, said “I think we need a voice on campus to defend the rights of Palestinians. I don’t understand why it’s a problem for the Fordham administration to allow us to defend basic human rights.”
Despite not having official club status, the SJP intends to keep planning and will hold a general meeting this Thursday at 1 p.m. in the Global Outreach (GO!) Office, according to Lurie. “I’m hoping for a positive outcome. We’re fighting because we want to win.”
UPDATE: Jan. 25 9:46 a.m.
Fordham SJP will no longer be meeting this Thursday at 1 p.m. in the Global Outreach (GO!) Office.