Rights group roundly criticsed Fordham for not granting the Students for Justice in Palestine official club status
Rights groups on Monday slammed Fordham University, a school in New York, for not granting Students for Justice in Palestine (SPJ) official status as a student club.
Palestine Legal, a nonprofit organisation that gives legal advice for groups expressing support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, said the decision made by the university violates free speech and academic freedom.
“Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, colour, or national origin by institutions that receive federal funding. A university may lose its federal funding if it treats a student differently because of his/her national origin, resulting in a denial of a student’s educational activities,” the group said in a statement.
A group of students that wanted to create a SPJ club was denied by Fordham University after the school had deliberated the group’s application for more than a year, subjugating the group’s application to intense scrutiny, including multiple reviews and hearings.
The students representing the group expressed dismay at the school’s decision, saying that Fordham stifled free speech.
“My own university told me I can’t share my culture and history like other students because I’m a Palestinian who believes in Palestinian freedom,” said Ahmad Awad, a Palestinian American and former student at Fordham. “I just graduated last month, so I’ll never have that chance.”
The students have maintained that the organisation’s agenda is not directed at Jewish people or Israelis, but rather at government policies that support apartheid.
The United Student Government (USG), an elected student body group that acts as a liaison between the university management and students, approved SPJ’s status in 2016, but the dean of the university overruled its vote.
Dean Eldredge said back in December in a letter that allowing the SPJ to become an official club would be too “polarising”.
“I cannot support an organisation whose sole purpose is advocating political goals of a specific group,” he wrote.
This does not mark the first time that student groups supporting BDS have been targeted.
Last year, the New York senate voted to cut $485m from the City University of New York after the Zionist Organisation of America said SPJ groups were holding "anti-Semitic events" across various CUNY campuses. A federal judge cleared any wrongdoing by the SPJ after a six-month investigation.