The Young Democratic Socialists of America at Georgia Tech (YDSA GT) have been found guilty of discrimination and sanctioned by the school’s Office of Student Integrity (OSI) for barring a pro-Israel individual from attending one of their meetings over concerns that they would potentially be disruptive. The decision comes after a 6-month long disciplinary process from the OSI, which YDSA referred to as “open-ended, opaque, politically-motivated, and ultimately unlawful.”
This past spring, YDSA GT partnered with other organizations to hold “Israeli Apartheid Week” on Georgia Tech’s campus, a nationwide program that aims to educate students on the human rights abuses of Israel. Shortly before the week’s events, Hillel Georgia Tech group sent an email to its supporters explaining that members would attend some of the events to provide a counter-narrative. Hillel is the largest campus Jewish organization in the world and their official positions are adamantly pro-Israel.
On April 1, YDSA GT held a “Palestine 101” class, with a number of speakers giving lectures on the country’s history. The Hillel staffer who sent out the aforementioned email attempted to attend the class, but was turned away out of fear that they’d cause a disruption. According to YDSA GT a disruption occurred anyway, with two students yelling out inflammatory remarks during the lectures. Testimony given during the later hearing reveals that the staff member who was turned away coordinated with the two students before the event.
The Hillel staff member contacted the Associate Dean of Students, who encouraged the group to file a complaint with OSI. Two weeks later YDSA GT was informed that they were charged with violating section of the Student Code of Conduct, although they were provided no details on whats specifically constituted the charge. The group refrained from holding pro-Palestine events as the investigation dragged through the summer, out of fear of sanction or additional investigations.
Finally in September, the OSI panel held a hearing in which both sides were able to call witnesses forward to speak about the situation. The commissioners ultimately determined that YDSA GT had violated a different statute than the one they were initially charged with. Hillel’s witnesses contended that the member was turned away as a result of their affiliation with group and support for Israel, an accusation that implies the possibility of anti-Semitism. YDSA GT says that they openly welcome Hillel students to their events, that there is overlap between members of the two groups, and that they were only concerned about the possibility of a disruption.
YDSA GT has been placed on disciplinary probation as a result of the ruling it’s now required to engage in programming with other student groups about political differences. YDSA GT is appealing the decision and asking for an apology from the university. They are currently circulating a petition (which is already signed by organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace and Palestine Legal) to drum up support for this effort.
1/5 We reject Georgia Tech’s censorship of @YDSAGT! Georgia Tech’s politically-motivated disciplinary investigation of them directly violates school policy and the U.S. Constitution. https://t.co/YvONrZQUbn
— DSA 🌹 (@DemSocialists) October 24, 2019
“OSI grossly mishandled this disciplinary process, and the sanctions resulting from it are a clear example of unconstitutional repression of political speech,” YDSA GT co-chair Katherine Rolison told Mondoweiss, “This is just one example of a nation-wide pattern of universities privileging the established narrative around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and silencing students who speak in the defense of Palestinian human rights.”
This ruling comes on the heels of a letter put out by the Department of Education (DOE) that took aim at a joint Middle East studies program at University of North Carolina and Duke University. That letter was the culmination of a DOE investigation into the program, which was also sparked by pro-Palestine campus events. The DOE effectively threatens to cut Title VI funding for the program unless it promotes a pro-Israel agenda that is more critical of Islam.
Earlier this month, over 350 faculty members signed a Jewish Voice for Peace petition declaring that they wouldn’t allow the Trump administration quash their support for Palestine. “We pledge to keep talking about Palestine — teaching Palestinian history, citing Palestinian scholarship, sponsoring Palestinian events, and inviting Palestinian speakers, cultural workers, and activists to our classrooms and campuses. We won’t be intimidated.”