NEW YORK—Fordham University’s refusal to allow students to start a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) infringes upon the principles of free expression and association that all universities should support and encourage, PEN America said today. 

In November 2015, several Fordham University students applied to form a Students for Justice in Palestine group at the university. After repeated discussions with Fordham administrators, their request was denied in December 2016. SJP is a national movement of independent student chapters which engage in advocacy on Palestinian issues, often including the call to boycott Israel in order to influence the country’s policy towards Palestinians. In his letter denying the request, Dean of Students Keith Eldredge stated he could not support “an organization whose sole purpose is advocating political goals of a specific group, and against a specific country, when these goals clearly conflict with and run contrary to the mission and values of the University.” Eldredge went on to say that the proposed organization would contribute to “polarization” on campus, and the group’s intended advocacy for a boycott campaign against Israel “presents a barrier to open dialogue and mutual learning and understanding.”

“The best way for Fordham to support the laudable ideals of open dialogue and mutual understanding is to encourage students to freely participate in organizations focusing on a wide range of political issues, even highly controversial ones,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America. “Barring a student organization because university administrators are uncomfortable with its objectives denies students the opportunity to learn from each other and debate the pressing issues of our time. Fordham should reverse this decision.” 

PEN America has been strongly engaged in the ongoing debate over free speech and diversity on America’s college campuses. On October 17, PEN America released its report And Campus for All, an examination of free speech debates on campus. And Campus for All includes the PEN Principles on Campus Free Speech, PEN America’s list of specific recommendations to university administrators and other officials for dealing with contemporary student free speech issues.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT
Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications: sedkins@pen.org, +1646.779.4830