Fordham SJP Launches Letter Writing Campaign


Courtesy of Twitter

The letter campaign calls upon students and the supporters of Fordham SJP to digitally organize and make demands.

On Thursday, Sept. 9, Fordham Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) launched a letter-writing campaign aiming to quantify public support for the unsanctioned club.

The campaign marks the first action taken in the legal battle between Fordham SJP and Fordham University since the Dec. 22 court decision giving the university the freedom to deny SJP’s campus presence. For its new campaign, SJP asks students to fill out a pre-written template for a letter to Fordham, demanding the university reinstate the club’s official status on campus.

“Fordham students have fought a long battle for the university to recognize SJP. The scrutiny and censorship that SJP has been put through is a clear violation of Fordham University’s own declared free speech policies,” states the letter template.

The letter details how thoroughly impacted the club was after the Dec. 22 court decision, describing the number of activities the club had been able to facilitate both on- and off-campus, including “reading groups, movie nights, museum outings, speaker events, seminars and more.” Since being shut down, SJP has not had the means to organize these kinds of events.

“The general plan is just to put pressure on the administration and make them know that we’re here to stay,” said a spokesperson for SJP, who wished to remain anonymous for the sake of identity protection, regarding the campaign. The letter-writing campaign provides supporters of the club a medium to make the university administration aware of the club’s support base.

The campaign allows the club not only to contextualize the issues they are facing but also restate its mission to be officially recognized by the university. “Our only demand is just to exist and be able to have discussions on campus,” Fordham SJP told the Ram.

The issues that surround SJP affect more than just the logistical sanctioning of the club, the spokesperson noted, but also the school’s Palestinian population. “By not allowing SJP, you’re denying a whole group of students safe space to learn about their heritage, culture and the issue that is central to their whole life. To deny that is inherently anti-Palestinian,” the spokesperson says. “The club has continued to affirm and uplift community among people of all cultural backgrounds for the promotion of justice, human rights, liberation and self-determination for Palestinian people,” says the campaign letter.

The campaign is in direct response to the Dec. 22, 2020 New York Appellate Court decision that gave the university jurisdiction to decide whether or not Fordham SJP can stay on campus as a sanctioned club.

The December decision is a reversal of a prior court decision from Aug. 6, 2019 that directed Fordham University to recognize and sanction Fordham SJP as an official club, blocking the veto by Keith Eldredge, assistant vice president and dean of student services, of the United Student Government’s vote of approval for the club’s existence. With this decision reversed, the university administration has returned to its initial stance not to allow the group to become an official club.

Currently, Fordham SJP is an unsanctioned club that the university does not officially recognize. This decision, forcing SJP away from its sanctioned status, claimed that the club’s presence was ‘polarizing.’ SJP is pushing against this claim in the new campaign.

“They don’t want us on campus and have made that very clear,” said the Fordham SJP spokesperson.
When asked whether Fordham SJP was considering an appeal to a higher court, the club responded with a yes, but acknowledged the hardships that the next steps might bring. “With the New York Court of Appeals, they don’t have to take every case,” their spokesperson said. “We don’t necessarily know if we’ll get a chance in court… It’s just a waiting thing.”

For now, the letter-writing campaign is the club’s next source of action, helping show how much support the club has, not just among students, but among other college SJP groups and Palestinian advocates across the country. The campaign serves to show the Fordham administration how many people are unhappy and want to challenge Fordham’s decision not to recognize the club, the spokesperson from SJP explained.
Beyond the campaign, there are other ways that Fordham students can show their support for SJP, the group told the Ram.

“Bring attention to the issue, tell the faculty and advisors that this is something that’s important to you and realize the sort of struggles that being Palestinian on campus brings with it and how hostile the administration can be,” the spokesperson said.
The legal battle between Fordham University and the club has proven to be an expensive campaign for the school.

“This lawsuit has cost the university a lot of money during a period of massive budget cuts, university-wide salary freezes and significant austerity,” said Jordan Stein, an English professor at the university. “Given these conditions, it is not clear that spending this money on a lawsuit should be the university’s priority.”

According to Bob Howe, the university’s assistant vice president of communications, the administration at Fordham currently has no plans to reconsider SJP’s club status.

“The court found that Fordham was not unreasonable in concluding that the proposed club, which would have been affiliated with a national organization reported to have engaged in disruptive and coercive actions on other campuses, would work against, rather than enhance, respondent’s commitment to open dialogue and mutual learning and understanding,” Howe wrote in statement to the Ram.