Free Speech and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign at SDSU

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in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, Culture, Education, Media, Organizing, Politics, San Diego

Open Letter From SDSU Staff and Faculty Regarding Naming and Targeting of Students

sdsuThe following is an open letter sent to President Hirshman from the undersigned staff and faculty at San Diego State University regarding flyers posted on the university campus in April. The flyers listed the names of seven students from Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Muslim Students Association (MSA), accusing them of “Jew-hatred” and of being linked to “terrorists.”

They were singled out because of their support of the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement (BDS), which is used as a means of holding Israel accountable for human right violations against Palestinians. The letter touches on the broader implications of the flyer incident, whereby the naming and targeting of students represents a marked escalation of wide-ranging efforts to suppress the growing momentum of BDS campaigns across American campuses.

A major concern of the signatories is the administration’s refusal to condemn the allegations against students as false, defamatory, and hateful. Moreover they deplore the manner in which students were negatively portrayed during campus protests that erupted after President Hirshman declined their requests to meet with him. The signatories of the letter are calling on President Hirshman to publicly condemn the flyers. This, they say, is in fulfillment of the university’s obligations to protect students from acts of intimidation, discrimination, harassment, and retaliation that threaten student welfare and their rights to freedom of expression, especially, as it concerns “controversial” political viewpoints.

They further emphasize that safeguarding the freedom of expression is an integral part of the university’s commitment to cultivating a campus culture that encourages critical reflection and dialogue on matters of public concern, based on principles of intellectual honesty, diversity, respect, and dignity.

The letter has garnered over 80 signatures from staff and faculty holding administrative and academic positions across a diverse range of the university’s different colleges and departments.

May 26, 2016

Dear President Hirshman

As staff and faculty of San Diego State University, we stand in support of students whose rights to free speech have come under threat as a result of flyers posted across campus by the Horowitz Freedom Center on April 14, 2016. The flyers specifically targeted seven students from Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Muslim Student Association (MSA), claiming that they have “allied themselves with Palestinian terrorists to perpetrate BDS and Jew Hatred on this campus.” We condemn these false and defamatory allegations that have caused harm and distress to our students.

We are disappointed that the administration has refused to defend students from charges of “Jew-hatred” and of being linked to “terrorists.” This is not only offensive, it leaves the targeted students exposed to harassment, discrimination, and other bias-motivated offenses. Students rightly feel betrayed. When protesting students hold signs that read “SDSU thinks we are terrorists,” they are correctly rebuking the university for failing to fulfill its mandate to treat students with respect and dignity.

We are speaking out because we have a collective responsibility as both community members and employees in supporting and promoting student rights to freedom of speech and to be free of intimidation. Over the past few weeks, following intensive media coverage, we have become familiar with the full extent of what took place. Our initial frustration concerning the lack of communication on the flyers has been eclipsed by concern with the negative portrayal of the protesting students. Reports of students “surrounding” the university president “barricaded” in a police vehicle fit rather uncomfortably with a vision of “One SDSU Community.” We deplore the negative light cast on students, whereby the targeted students were presented as the unreasonable actors.

The factors underlying student discontent have been largely ignored by the administration and media. Students engaged in protest actions as a last resort, after unsuccessful attempts to meet with you to discuss what they justifiably viewed as an inadequate response to the flyers. We share their concerns and object to the manner in which your statement of April 27, 2016 ultimately absolved those directly responsible for inciting hate against our students, while simultaneously calling on students to accept the consequences for having the audacity to express their political viewpoints.

The unrest that followed was entirely avoidable. All you needed to have done was promptly meet with the students and denounce the individual targeting by David Horowitz’s group. Indeed, the administration at UCLA had done just that. We commend you for your commitment to free speech and for eventually issuing a public apology and meeting with a few of the targeted students. Yet, these positive steps will end up ringing hollow until the flyers are properly condemned as both defamatory and expressly designed to shut down speech on behalf of boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns. We are alarmed that the administration did not accord this matter higher priority at the outset, given the potential repercussions on the physical safety and emotional wellbeing of the targeted students and the broader harm to a safe and vibrant campus life. The anti-Muslim hate speech recently found in the library should serve as a wake up call.

At stake is not a question of striking a balance between freedom and safety. Rather, it is to recognize the serious implications of refusing to reject damaging lies about students participating in the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns, which are used as a form of non-violent resistance in support of Palestinian human rights. Our respective positions bear no relevance here. What matters is to encourage healthy and vigorous debate rather than intimidate one side. The goal of David Horowitz was to suppress speech and thereby impede SDSU’s mission to provide the basis for informed and engaged citizenship.

We ask you to issue a public statement denouncing allegations against the targeted students and affirm your commitment to freedom of speech without fear of intimidation. We strongly recommend that you refer to the five-step action plan outlined in the joint letter from the Center for Constitutional Rights and National Lawyer’s Guild, submitted to you on May 12, 2016.

We applaud all of our students who have demonstrated tremendous courage and strength of their convictions. The least that we can do in return is to respond promptly and appropriately in the face of deliberate attempts to silence their voices. Let us show our students that leadership really does start here.


Farid Abdel-Nour, Department of Political Science
Brian Adams, Department of Political Science
Huma Ahmed-Ghosh, Department of Women’s Studies
Stuart C. Aitken, Department of Geography
Antwanisha Alameen-Shavers, Department of Africana Studies
Adisa A. Alkebulan, Department of Africana Studies
Alida Allison, Department of English and Comparative Literature
William Anthony Nericcio, Department of English and Comparative Literature
Jasmine Arpagian, Department of Geography
Madeline Baer, Department of Political Science
Arlette Baljon, Department of Physics
Trent Biggs, Department of Geography
Michael Borgstrom, Department of English and Comparative Literature
Nola Butler-Byrd, Department of Counseling and School Psychology
David Carruthers, Department of Political Science
Monique Carter, Department of Political Science
Clarissa Clò, Department of European Studies
Molly Costello, Department of Geography
Paula De Vos, Department of History
Anne-Marie Debbané, Department of Geography
Adelaida R. Del Castillo, Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies
Anne Donadey, Department of European Studies
Kathryn Edgerton-Tarpley, Department of History
Charlene Eivaz, Department of Sociology
Jill Esbenshade, Department of Sociology
Hannah Evans, Department of Women’s Studies
Margaret Field, Department of American Indian Studies
Shawn Teresa Flanigan, School of Public Affairs
Hisham Foad, Department of Economics
Rebekah Fuganti, Office of International Programs
James Gerber, Department of Economics
Sara Giordano, Department of Women’s Studies
Jonathan Graubart, International Security and Conflict Resolution
Allen Greb, International Security and Conflict Resolution
Lei Guang, Department of Political Science
Mozelle Harding, College of Arts and Letters
Lina Hariri-Hajj, Language Acquisition Resource Center
Roberto Hernandez, Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies
Bertha Hernández, Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies
Jill Holslin, Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies
Harold Jaffe, Department of English and Comparative Literature
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli, Department of Geography
David Kamper, Department of American Indian Studies
Carole Kennedy, Department of Political Science
Ronald King, Department of Political Science
Irene Lara, Department of Women’s Studies
Marcia Ledesman-Macias, Language Acquisition Resource Center
Arielle Levine, Department of Geography
Coral MacFarland -Thuet, Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies
Abel Macias, Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies
Jean Mark Gawron, Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages
Doreen Mattingly, Department of Women’s Studies
Glen McClish, Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies
John Mercurio, Department of Political Science
Paul A. Minifee, Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies
Khaleel Mohammed, Department of Religious Studies
Ozzie Monge, Department of American Indian Studies
Cassandra Neel, Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages
Jesús Nieto, School of Teacher Education
Cheryl O’Brien, Department of Political Science
Isidro Ortiz, Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies
Thomas Passananti, Department of History
Pooneh Paydar, Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages
Ramona Pérez, Department of Anthropology and Center for Latin American Studies
Matthew Phutisatayakul, Department of Sociology
Kimala Price, Department of Women’s Studies
Ellen Quandahl, Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies
Jennifer Rener, Department of Sociology
Rebecca Romani, College of Extended Studies
Betty Samraj, Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages
Ronnee Schreiber, Department of Political Science
Yale Strom, Jewish Studies Program
Kate Swanson, Department of Geography
Charles Toombs, Department of Africana Studies
Sandra Wawrytko, Department of Philosophy
Tom Weston, Department of Philosophy
Lydia Wood, Department of Geography
Chiou-Ling Yeh, Department of History

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