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COMMENTARY: Faculty statement of support after nationwide arrests of college protestors

Rutgers students and organizations should feel their right to free speech is protected on campus.  – Photo by Zeete / Wikimedia

We are faculty, staff, administrators and graduate employees across the three campuses of Rutgers, the largest public University of New Jersey, one of the most diverse states in this country.

We write as scholars and workers committed to social justice and academic freedom. We write as teachers and workers committed to protecting our students and their rights to free speech and political assembly on our campuses, as well as their rights to learn the history and present of Israel and Palestine in a rigorous academic setting. We write as people committed to the principle that humanity is not a hierarchy and against the racist weighting of human worth and human rights in life and death.

We are alarmed at the suppression of student voices and activism at other universities, which have securitized, silenced, and arrested students who are members of Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) for their anti-war activism and demands for a ceasefire.

Nearby, at Columbia University, both student groups have been suspended due to their campus activism. At Brandeis University, SJP has been banned, and the police violently arrested student activists demonstrating in support of Palestinians. At Brown University, members of a student group called "BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now" were arrested during a nonviolent direct action on campus.

We note that around the country, this level of student suppression is reminiscent of how universities reacted to the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

We also note that although a robust debate exists and should always exist on college campuses, only one side of the activism related to Israel and Palestine is being criminalized, publicly doxxed and slandered by government officials and institutions.

Only one side is being shut down by university administrators.

We know that none of the above actions have happened at Rutgers and that the University has remained strong in its commitment to free speech and academic freedom. We affirm and amplify New Brunswick Chancellor Francine Conway's words: "There is no contradiction between free speech and freedom from fear. We will continue to defend free and even contentious political debate."

But Rutgers is not an island, and we know our students are watching in fear at what is unfolding at other campuses and are waiting to hear from us. In response, we pledge the following to all of our students, and in particular, to our Arab, Black, Brown, Jewish, Indigenous, Muslim, Native Indian and Palestinian students, who are actively protesting against the war in Gaza and who are thus especially vulnerable:

  • We will protect your rights to free speech and assembly on campus.

  • We are prepared to engage in non-violent direct action, up to and including arrest, at Rutgers in order to protect you and your rights to free speech and assembly if the administration tries to suppress them.

  • Our offices, departments and centers are open to you. Part of our job is to care for all of our students and protect their right to learn about the world in a rigorous, critical and safe environment. As University faculty, staff and administrators, we may not agree with each other or with our students over the politics of Israel and Palestine, but we agree that students' rights to protest and free speech, as well as their rights to learn, are sacrosanct.

The Rutgers Faculty Supporting All Our Students consists of 243 University faculty

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