Silenced by Brooklyn College
A graduate student describes how he was kicked out of a pro-Palestinian event
BY ARI ZIEGLER / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Last Thursday, I was one of four students expelled from a forum at Brooklyn College held by the group Students for Justice in Palestine. The event — which consisted of lectures by Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler — had caused a furor because it was in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that wants to marginalize Israel on the world stage.
I went as someone who does not support the BDS movement but who wants to understand the ideas of those who feel differently than I do.
This is what happened to me that night.
I turned off my phone the second I sat down in the penthouse of the student center at Brooklyn College so as to grant those gathered a modicum of respect.
I kept three seats around me empty for three members of the campus Hillel (including my brother Michael) who were still having trouble getting into the event, which had attracted serious media attention. Despite confirmation emails, their names were apparently playing hide-and-seek on the RSVP list.
Eventually, my brother came to sit on my left while the two others sat on my right. On our laps we held information sheets discussing the BDS movement, about which there is plenty of misinformation.
Then, one of the organizing members introduced Barghouti and Butler and listed the event’s sponsors, which controversially included Brooklyn College’s political science department.
I personally have no problem with a view different from my own being voiced in a campus environment. I have no problem with the political science department sponsoring the event — though many others do.
My problem began about halfway through Butler’s prepared remarks. My attention was on the speaker, and I didn’t even notice the disturbance at first.
An organizing member was questioning the friends at my right. He was asking for the sheets in our laps, which contained facts that challenged the ideas being preached from the pulpit.
“Give us the papers or you’ll be removed,” he said sternly to the four of us. This was surprising to us, because Brooklyn College President Karen Gould had sent a letter to the community in which she said, “It is incumbent upon us to uphold the tenets of academic freedom and allow our students and faculty to engage in dialogue and debate” on a variety of topics.
We thought we were doing just that and nothing more. But here were the organizers of this so-called forum trying to suppress our ideas by confiscating our papers.
We decided that we wouldn’t hand them over. Because of that — and for no other reason — we were escorted out of the room, strong hands under our arms and badges at our backs.
We asked why we were being removed. College security’s response:
“We don’t have an answer.”
We asked for someone who could provide an explanation.
“We don’t have an answer for that, either.”
Within minutes, we found ourselves led down six flights of stairs and then outside the building.
Those are the facts, despite whatever else you might hear.
As far as I can tell, what happened is that a student who disagreed with my views called security and told them to remove me. The fact is that I was barred from asking questions in an open forum, from trying to understand an opposing viewpoint.
The college has said that “based on official reports, they were being quite disruptive.” This is a complete fabrication.
As a graduate student studying psychology, a field rife with disagreement and debate, I understand more than most the necessity for objective consideration of all viewpoints when forming an opinion.
On Thursday night, being a disruption was the furthest thing from my mind and from what we were doing — sitting with information in our laps, exercising the very right to academic freedom the event’s hosts purported to defend.
How is it that a student can call security to remove someone with zero cause or proof? How can the organizers cry disruption and have college security blindly follow their orders?
How can the very officers escorting us out have no answer for why they did so? Lastly, how can we make sure that this sort of injustice doesn’t happen in the future?
These are the questions that now need answering.
The fact is that words are powerful and deserve respect. And that night, my words were silenced and escorted out by security.
Ziegler is a graduate student at Brooklyn College.