By Black Students Organization / Courtesy of
Originally published in The Columbia Spectator.
“Where there is a need to act and the individual fails to act, then the individual is responsible for the consequences that flow therefrom.”
- Founding members of the Barnard Organization of Soul and Solidarity, from their 1969 demands to Barnard College
As Black and African diasporic students at Barnard College and Columbia University, we are well-acquainted with the violent history of our alma mater’s handling of critical human rights issues. We are appalled by the University’s recent decision to suspend and silence the student groups Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace.
We, the Barnard Organization of Soul and Solidarity and Columbia University Black Students’ Organization, are built on the ethos of solidarity with any and all marginalized groups and liberation for all. We strongly oppose the censorship of any student organization seeking freedom from oppression. Barnard and Columbia have exhibited a concerning sense of callousness toward these student organizations in calling for increased New York City Police Department presence on and near campus whenever SJP and JVP have organized peacefully, as is their right. We appreciate the resounding support and calls to action from faculty and staff, alumni, and other student organizations. We are among the many calling for the immediate reinstatement of SJP and JVP, and we echo the additional demands the Columbia Apartheid Divest Coalition have presented to our institutions.
We take note of the University’s silence on the ongoing humanitarian crises in Sudan, the Congo, and Haiti. We are ashamed of the ironic lack of effort to protect free speech on campus by Barnard President Laura Rosenbury, who has celebrated a prosperous career in feminist legal studies, a field that values the speech of marginalized voices. We are ashamed of the hypocrisy of University President Minouche Shafik, who edited a book, Economic Challenges Facing Middle Eastern and North African Countries, that addresses the longstanding economic injustice perpetrated by the State of Israel against Palestinians. We are thus ashamed of the seemingly weak moral backbone that our leaders have exhibited in the face of institutional pressure.
The Barnard Organization of Soul and Solidarity is a political organization as well as a cultural one. BOSS was founded in 1968, at the height of anti-war and Civil Rights protests at the University. In 1969, the founding members of BOSS wrote an open letter listing 10 demands for Barnard’s then-president to implement structural change that would support the survival of its Black students in a white, hegemonic institution. Columbia’s Black Students’ Organization was founded in the 1960s originally under the name Student Afro-American Society. BSO and BOSS partnered to mobilize students who protested Columbia’s involvement in the Vietnam War and the proposed building of what would have been an effectively segregated gym in Morningside Park. In 1985, Black students from both Barnard and Columbia came together to form the Coalition for a Free South Africa to pressure the University into divesting from apartheid South Africa, in solidarity with Black South Africans. As a result of these sustained student protests, Columbia was one of the first academic institutions in the United States, and the first Ivy League university, to divest.
In the tradition of our organizations’ political mobilization, we call on Black students of Barnard and Columbia to stand in direct solidarity with SJP and JVP. As members of the Black and African diaspora, we are no strangers to the harrowing afterlife of violent occupation, genocide, settler colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and the terrors of the imperialist Western world. The realities of our subjugation are intrinsically linked to the fate of the Palestinian people. The silencing of anti-Zionist Jewish students in the form of JVP’s unjust suspension also concerns us, as we argue this censorship reflects the trend of equating Jewish identity with support for Israel and treats Judaism as a monolith, rather than a complex ethnic and religious identity with a rich history.
We recognize that many Black students have been scared to express support for Palestinians due to the Barnard and Columbia administrations’ failure to protect students from flagrant harassment and doxxing. We also recognize the fear and uncertainty Black students have endured as NYPD’s presence on campus has grown exponentially. Accordingly, we deem any and all attempts to doxx members of our community in response to this letter undeniable acts of anti-Blackness, which contradict the University’s recent statements on and response to doxxing. Students across the country have faced backlash for voicing support for Palestinians. However, our fight for liberation lives in the same tradition as the protests for Black lives and livelihoods we have participated in throughout our lives.
As Black and African Diasporic students of elite academic institutions, we have access to a vast body of knowledge and opportunities for upward mobility. We stand on the shoulders of our forebears, who stood strong and proud in the face of injustice, violence, and institutional discrimination. They demanded better. Today, we are demanding better.
We cannot stay silent about the same human rights abuses and violent institutional actions that we vehemently discuss in class. We must refuse to exhibit the same apathy as our oppressors in the face of humanitarian crises worldwide and the mounting racial tensions here on campus. We must remember that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
We welcome you all to join Barnard Organization of Soul and Solidarity’s “Discussion on Haiti” on November 28 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the Zora Neale Hurston Lounge. We also direct you to Columbia University’s department of African American and African diaspora studies’ Bibliography on the Black Radical Tradition in the Middle East document for further historical knowledge on the pressing matter.
In Solidarity, Knowledge, and Hope,
Barnard Organization of Soul and Solidarity
Columbia University Black Students’ Organization
“You’re students and you have a responsibility to see the truth, and advocate the truth, and not be afraid of it. That’s the least we can ask you to do.” - Kwame Ture
The Barnard Organization of Soul and Solidarity and Columbia University Black Students’ Organization are student groups dedicated to supporting Black students at Barnard College and Columbia University.