A banner featuring a green, borderless depiction of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip was hung at the entrance to Barnard College last night. The banner, which read, “Stand for justice, stand for Palestine,” was created by the Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine as the kick-off to their annual Israel Apartheid Week, and was displayed alongside Barnard’s official emblem in a space traditionally used to advertise campus events such as film festivals or dance performances.
By midnight, news of the banner had gone viral on campus. A Facebook post by a former student president of Columbia/Barnard Hillel was shared widely, calling on students to e-mail Barnard President Debora Spar and express their concern with what looked like the college’s endorsement of the campus organization’s revised depiction of the state of Israel. Parents and alumni joined the students’ cause, and Spar responded early Tuesday.
“We are removing the banner from Barnard Hall at this time and will be reexamining our policy for student banners going forward… we understand your concern that in hanging the C-SJP banner next to the official Barnard College banner it inadvertently gave the impression that the College sanctions and supports these events.”
The university also issued a statement explaining its decision to remove the banner from its prominent spot on campus.
After the banner was taken down, a student member of SJP defended the group, saying “Students at Barnard College went through the necessary banner placement process, which included clearly stating the banner’s message in advance.”
A debate has started over whether the removal of the banner infringes on students’ freedom of speech, a fiery campus discourse that was fueled last year after Barnard instituted a policy requiring that all student flyers be approved by the administration before being distributed. It remains to be seen how the group responsible for posting the banner will respond to its coming down.
Lily Wilf is an editorial intern at Tablet.