SJP’s Win Is a Victory for All of Us




In 2016, they came together to form a club. They applied for official status. They were approved by United Student Government (USG), but denied by Dean Eldredge. A lawsuit was filed, a legal advocacy group hired and petitioners recruited. Some of those petitioners graduated, and new student leaders stepped up to take their place. Now, years later, their labors finally bear fruit, and on Aug. 6, 2019, Fordham was ordered by Judge Nancy Bannon to recognize Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) as a formal club on campus.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of this victory.

It has been well-documented by the progressive Center for Constitutional Rights that pro-Palestinian student activists face undue and disproportionate opposition to their advocacy — opposition enforced by college administrators like Dean Eldredge, in violation of the school’s own principles of free speech and diversity of ideas. These are, of course, the same principles cited as justification for overruling far greater student-led and faculty-supported opposition, such as that facing Roger Stone’s invitation to Fordham.

University administrators across the nation should look at the wording of the decision and take warning: capricious and unjustified selective enforcement of standards that other groups are not held to does not stand up in court. Such actions are no better than politically motivated censorship and will be judged as such. Pro-Palestinian activists should take heart and use this decision as precedent in defense of their own advocacy against the next stonewalling of their efforts.

For us at Fordham, the repercussions go far beyond SJP alone. After all, the Palestinian exception is only a symptom of a greater pattern of hypocrisy and arbitrary control over discourse. The University’s draconian attitudes towards free speech and student power are well-known and long-standing, but for the first time in a while, they’ve been forced to capitulate. The administration has always been at an advantage because change takes time — time to build relationships, make connections, persuade, compromise, negotiate and, yes, litigate. Students have a mere four years full of classes, internships, summer vacations and all the other routines of college life.

What this court decision proves is that students can organize across the necessary time scales, passing the torch from one cohort to another so that they may keep the fire burning. Further, it proves that we can do so and win. This case should serve as a warning to Fordham’s administration: the balance of power is not so skewed in their favor that they can expect to get away with trampling student voices underfoot.

SJP’s victory should herald a new era of cooperation between administration and students. After all, a more even balance of power means a more healthy relationship, and this display has leveled the playing field a bit. It’s been proven that decisions unpopular with the student body cannot go unchallenged and that some of those challenges will result in less-than-desirable optics for Fordham University. Administrators are incentivized to work with, rather than against, students — and students should feel emboldened to do so, secure in the knowledge that Fordham is less eager to pick fights with a bloody nose.

For now, the “S” of SJP can rejoice and revel in their victory. Through the bold efforts and dedication of the club’s founders, they finally have an opportunity to champion their cause on campus. To echo the words of USG back in 2016 when they put their support behind the club, I have faith that SJP and its members will positively contribute to our community in a respectful and sensitive manner. I expect it will promote open academic discussion, diversity of thought and intellectual rigor, and that Fordham will remember its commitment to the pursuit of such. I trust that its members will prove Dean Eldredge wrong, and, far from being a polarizing presence on campus, will bring students together in support of humanitarian values and the rights of the Palestinian people. And above all else, I believe that all of us at Fordham can take advantage of this chance the leaders of SJP have won for us, and bring about a new era of open discourse without undue administrative sanitization.