SJP, Palestine Legal demand action from University of Chicago
It’s been approximately a month since student activists at the University of Chicago (UC) were harassed and threatened for their Palestine solidarity work, but little to nothing has been done to make them feel safer on campus.
Students for Justice in Palestine at UC issued a statement on Friday with demands that the university ensure student protection, transparently investigate the chapter’s allegations and issue a public statement.
Ensure the protection of Students for Justice in Palestine and guarantee the continuing ability of our RSO to operate on campus.
Conduct a clear and transparent investigation into incidents of harassment, intimidation, and threats made against SJP and its members, specifically but not limited to the fake “Rachel Corrie” account and other accounts impersonating SJP members on Facebook which have been used to harass and threaten SJP members and our supporters. This demand recognizes the legal limitations imposed on the university in releasing certain details of the investigation.
Issue a public statement specifically condemning the campaign of harassment and intimidation against SJP members and other students who speak out for Palestinian human rights, and reaffirming our RSO’s rights to free speech. Please note that SJP UChicago is not requesting a statement on harassment in general, but one that calls attention to these specific acts against SJP specifically and the effects of such behavior on impinging free speech on campus.
According to SJP at UC, the administrators took similar steps last year when they issued a statement condemning the online harassment made fraudulently in the name of a student on Facebook and pursued criminal prosecution with the aid of federal law enforcement.
“We at SJP are asking the University of Chicago to live up to the standard it set for itself in its November 2014 statement to the student body, declaring that, ‘Anonymous and personal attacks that are hateful, threatening, and target people’s identity do not constitute discourse and deserve our strongest condemnation.”
UC Director of Public Affairs Marielle Sainvilus told Palestine in America (PiA) the university already investigated the incident and took immediate action to confirm who was responsible, but would not release any other information.
As PiA reported earlier this week, SJP members found this response to be inadequate.
“What is happening is completely unacceptable. We’re seeing nothing more than empty words and excuses,” SJP UC member Hoda Katebi said. “The only concrete thing they’ve successfully done is given us a tissue when a few of us broke down in tears in a meeting [with them].”
The lack of action taken by UC has caused Palestine Legal to also take steps in pressuring the university. Earlier this week, Palestine Legal released a statement and sent a letter to UC President Robert J. Zimmer, “calling on the University to take appropriate steps to ensure that students can speak out in support of Palestinian freedom without fear of repression, intimidation, or physical threat based on religion, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.”
Unfortunately for students across the U.S., many universities have failed to stand firmly behind student activists, who advocate for a free Palestine. Earlier this year, Palestine Legal released a report “The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement under Attack in the U.S.,” which documented the suppression of Palestine advocacy on U.S. campuses. During the first six months of 2015, Palestine Legal responded to 140 incidents and 33 requests for assistance in anticipation of potential suppression.