New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Guest Essay: Palestinian lives ignored as students fight for free speech protection

Lamisa Khan is the Student Government Assembly senator-at-large for Muslim women.
Zhuoer Liu
(Zhuoer Liu for WSN)

Guest essays reflect opinions from writers beyond WSN. If you’d like to submit a guest essay for consideration, please email [email protected].

It took President Linda Mills 44 days to say “Palestinian” in all-university communications. In that time, nearly 13,000 Palestinians were murdered by Israeli violence. President Mills has never said the word, “Gaza,” in her numerous statements and the university has yet to recognize the current death toll of over 29,000 men, women and children. President Mills has not even offered to meet with Students for Justice in Palestine and has only spoken to two Palestinian students in a single meeting back in October. 

As the assault on Gaza continues and members of NYU have expressed solidarity with Palestine, students, faculty and staff members have to navigate surveillance, threats, repression and retaliation on our campus and universities across the country. The negligence of our university’s decision-makers has decentered Palestinian student voices and has made solidarity with their grief an act subject to sanction. 

Since the fall semester, the university has continuously released ambiguous emails and statements with intimidating language that threatens suspensions or disciplinary measures for unspecified actions. While the emails appear to be vague, they clearly have the subtext of targeting pro-Palestinian student activity, such as in President Mills’ latest statement calling for students to be “circumspect about sloganeering,” a clear reference to the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” As the university attempts to cover more ground by being ambiguous with such language, it is inequitable to label protests and speech in support of Palestine as “provocative” or “antagonizing,” especially as the consequences of the ongoing violence in Gaza, human and environmental, have been shown to be too large. Given that the university has historically stood against the apartheid in South Africa and continues to reckon with the historical injustices of racism and colonialism in the United States, one would assume the university can make that distinction. 

NYU is adamant that it fosters a “critically engaged student body” yet employs the 10-Point Plan, antithetical to its policies on academic freedom. Last semester, President Mills stated the Office of Student Conduct was reviewing over 90 cases related to “current concerns.” Continuing into the spring semester, multiple students and faculty members have been threatened with disciplinary action over their participation in a poetry reading. Only two weeks in, professors with pro-Palestine views have been suspended with no clear indication of whether or not their positions will be terminated. Rather than promoting open dialogue, the plan stifles dissenting opinions and limits the ability of students, staff and faculty to actively engage. The disconnect between the university’s rhetoric and actions raises questions about NYU’s dedication to fostering a commitment to justice, human rights and academic freedom.

This extends beyond the immediate campus community as we have witnessed how repression and vilification of pro-Palestinian speech has led to the militarization of police on campus — directly putting students at risk of danger. Just a few miles away at Columbia University, peaceful student protestors have been arrested and violently assaulted. 

Despite loud calls against the New York City Police Department, which has historically assaulted Black and brown communities, we have seen an escalation of NYPD presence not only on campus, but inside university buildings. During Students for Justice in Palestine and Shut It Down’s “de-occupation” of the Paulson Center, students were met with increased security, including an overwhelming presence of NYPD and Campus Safety officers. During the demonstration, NYPD vans surrounded the building and Campus Safety officers had a video camera directed straight at these student activists. Even when counter protestors came into the lobby, the camera was still pointed only at pro-Palestinian activists, perpetuating selective surveillance of those expressing solidarity with Palestine.

Because the university has not equitably protected nor has it acknowledged the Palestinian students affected by the siege on Gaza, I proposed a resolution that calls for NYU to reaffirm protection of Pro-Palestine speech and civic activity on campus. The resolution demands that the university protect pro-Palestinian students’ rights to free expression and that there be greater transparency and clarity on what protected dissent looks like on campus. It further advocates for the safety and protection of students from harassment, intimidation, doxxing and threats through increased safety measures. 

This resolution is clearly something that the student body needs as it has passed the Student Government Assembly, which is representative of marginalized and underrepresented constituencies and all NYU schools: undergraduate, graduate, professional, NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai. Additionally, it has nearly 500 signatures from students, faculty, staff and alumni from all NYU schools, along with a wide variety of student organizations. But more importantly, this resolution is something that is needed because it aims to protect the students who are currently most vulnerable to harassment, intimidation and suppression. 

If you want to show your support, I encourage you to sign on to the resolution, whether you are an individual student or a student organization. The greater the support and signatures, the louder the message of centering Palestinian student voices is conveyed to the university. 

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Lamisa Khan at [email protected].

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