NYCLU Urges Columbia University to Rectify Unlawful Student Group Suspension or Face Lawsuit

PC: Columbia University

By Xinhui Lin

NEW YORK, NY – In an official statement, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) this week demanded the university to rectify the alleged unjust suspension of two student groups for involvement in peaceful protests.

The NYCLU said it is preparing to proceed with legal action if the university fails to provide a response by March 1.

The NYCLU, representing the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) chapters, also urged the university to reinstate both SJP and JVP chapters immediately after Columbia University’s chose to “single out and unlawfully suspend SJP and JVP for participating in a peaceful student demonstration and temporary art installation in support for Palestinian rights late last year,” according to NYCLU Media. 

“Universities should be havens for robust debate, discussion, and learning — not sites of censorship where administrators, donors, and politicians squash political discourse they don’t approve of,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. 

“These student groups were peacefully speaking out on a critical global conflict, only to have Columbia University ignore their own longstanding, existing rules and abruptly suspend the organizations,” Lieberman added.

The civil rights group said the highest court in New York has mandated that any disciplinary actions taken by a university in the state against its students or student organizations must adhere to the university’s established rules and guidelines. 

However, the letter from the NYCLU pointed out numerous instances where Columbia University allegedly deviated from its own policies to penalize SJP and JVP, “as well as baselessly and irresponsibly accusing the groups of threats and intimidation – raising grave concerns that its actions were improperly motivated by the student groups’ political stance in support of Palestinian rights.”

“That’s retaliatory, it’s targeted, and it flies in the face of the free speech principles that institutes of higher learning should be defending,” Lieberman continued. “Students protesting at private colleges still have the right to fair, equal treatment — and we are ready to fight that battle in court.”

Members from the SJP and JVP also raised their voices to the situation. 

Safiya O’Brien, an organizer with Columbia’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine highlighted the hypocrisy behind Columbia University’s action, arguing, “Columbia University likes to showcase itself to the world as a champion of student protest, equality, justice, and free speech — but the university’s actions in the lead up to our suspension, and its targeted punishment of our student groups, showed that it is all a farce.”

Cameron Jones, an organizer with Columbia’s chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, urged the university to provide inclusive care for all students. 

Jones said, “Columbia must protect all Jewish students and voices, not just those adhering to a specific political belief…As Jews, we acknowledge the significant privilege we hold regarding this issue and are committed to exerting every effort to maintain pressure on our institution until they enact the concrete changes we need.”

About The Author

Xinhui Lin is a first-year student at the University of California, Los Angeles, pursuing a double major in Public Affairs and Sociology on a Pre-law track. Her unwavering commitment to addressing social injustices is deeply rooted in her cultural background and her personal experiences while growing up in Shanghai, China. Xinhui keenly observed the pervasive gender and racial inequalities, the subtle yet significant discrimination against minority groups, and the everyday micro-aggressions that disenfranchised individuals face. After exploring the philosophical question regarding the intricate relationship between power, morality, and justice, Xinhui kindled her interest in the intricacies of the criminal justice system – a cornerstone of society meant to epitomize principles of justice and fairness. Her commitment to understanding and improving this system is evident in her aspirations to potentially pursue a career as an attorney, with a strong desire to advocate for disadvantaged individuals.

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