This is a modified version of a Letter To The Editor published in the October 25th, 2019 issue of Georgia Tech’s campus newspaper, the Technique
Most Georgia Tech students will go through their educational career without ever coming in contact with the Office of Student Integrity. After all, their purpose is to address instances of academic or behavioral misconduct; if you cheat on a test, or serve alcohol to minors, you go to OSI. These issues are pretty cut-and-dry. However, it seems to get a little trickier when OSI has to deal with situations requiring discernment, basic ethical principles, and adherence to their own stated goals.
We, along with the other representatives of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) at Georgia Tech, have had to deal with the OSI regularly for the last six months over a ridiculously false and politically-motivated charge of religious discrimination — or we assume so, anyway. OSI hasn’t actually told us what we’re specifically accused of doing yet — and we’ve been dealing with them for six months. We’ve never encountered a process so mishandled, so frustrating, and so corrupt from a group of people whose stated purpose is to “inspire students to strengthen their personal character by promoting and upholding Georgia Tech’s core value of integrity.”
In April of this year, YDSA GT held a membership meeting during Israeli Apartheid Week, a national week of action that aims to educate people about apartheid conditions in Israel and to raise awareness of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) as a way of combatting human rights abuses by the Israeli government. The purpose of our meeting was to shed light on a much-ignored issue on American campuses: the plight of the Palestinian people at the hands of Israeli settler-colonialism which denies Palestinians basic humans rights on a daily basis. We invited a guest speaker from Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), as well as two Palestinian-Americans. Our friend from JVP spoke on the historical context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the two Palestinian speakers gave personal accounts of forced expulsion from their childhood homes at gunpoint. This 1948 exodus, called the nakba, or catastrophe, saw 700,000 Palestinian people forced from their homeland, to which most have not been able return. We at YDSA GT feel it is our duty, as citizens of a country that materially and rhetorically aids and abets this ongoing state violence, to elevate Palestinian voices. However, we found one of our attempts to elevate Palestinian voices silenced by an administration that is outwardly hostile to socialism and anti-occupation activism.
Before this meeting, we received information that a non-student staffer of another campus organization had sent an alarming email to the members and supporters of their organization. The staffer’s email condemned YDSA GT and promised to disrupt our meeting with a “counter-narrative”. YDSA GT is committed to providing a safe space for our members, and given the language this staffer used in their email, an executive officer of YDSA at the time decided to bar the staffer from the meeting. Despite this measure, two students in attendance, who by their own admission coordinated their attendance with the staffer, heckled our Palestinian speakers with vile, racist, and hateful speech.
The barred staffer then lodged a complaint with OSI, alleging that YDSA GT discriminated against their Jewish identity. Their accusation is false to the point of absurdity. Jewish students — both YDSA GT members and not, as well as a Jewish speaker — were welcomed to the event. At no point did YDSA GT question anyone about their religion, and YDSA GT did not turn anyone else away. It is clear that this non-student staffer disagrees with our politics (surprise, we’re socialists!) and was seeking to shut down a political viewpoint that they disagreed with. However, over the course of an unreasonably drawn-out, belabored disciplinary process, OSI has sanctioned YDSA GT for “discrimination.” This was a process in which YDSA GT was never informed of the alleged misconduct; in which the designation of the charges were changed at the start of a five-month-delayed disciplinary hearing; in which YDSA GT was refused access to evidence that OSI’s own written policies say YDSA GT was entitled to; and in which the aggrieved staff member was allowed to submit testimony during the course of the hearing that we were not allowed to respond to or review before the hearing — a testimony containing false information, and one which all parties involved had been informed would not be allowed in order to ensure a fair and impartial decision.
OSI has handled this entire process in such a breathtakingly asinine way that one is forced to think that they are either totally unfit to handle any campus conflict, or that they have been willfully malicious towards YDSA GT. At every point that YDSA GT representatives have asked OSI to provide us information, evidence, and documentation which we are by all rights due, they have hidden behind GT’s legal team, which has proven equally unresponsive. Even in their prescribed sanctions for YDSA GT, pending an appeals process, they have made it clear that they do not care about correcting any alleged “discrimination.” Instead of sending us to sensitivity or anti-discrimination training, they seek to police our political speech and dictate our event schedule. Specifically, they want to require us to host a series of OSI-sponsored vanity debates with other student political organizations to “discuss differing viewpoints on subject matters.” In the middle of a pivotal era where student voices and actions matter, OSI is not only obstructing our political organizing, but denying us our rights to assemble and speak our minds.
This whole episode has been wildly unlawful and unconstitutional. What’s to stop anyone from invoking their identity as a free license to protest and heckle any student event about China’s abuse of Hong Kong, India’s repression of Kashmir, or Turkey’s violence against the Kurds? What’s to stop Westboro Baptist Church hate preachers from raiding Pride Alliance’s meetings and claiming that asking them to leave is discrimination against Christians? If you are a person of color, a woman, LGBT+, disabled, hold any minority political view, or have any other marginalized identity, this corrupt disciplinary process sets a chilling precedent for you as well: the Office of Student Integrity has made clear that they will exploit campus policies in order to uphold the status quo.
The reality is that our YDSA chapter has grown massively in just two years time to almost 100 dues paying members. We’re the largest political organization on campus and we’ve repeatedly forced concessions from the administration, most notably their new counseling center hires. The forces of reaction are launching this censorship campaign because they’re afraid of us. But rather than intimidate us, this conflict has solidified our support for the Palestinian people and further exposed the university’s opaque, undemocratic, and right-wing character.
Regardless of any frivolous slogans like “Progress & Service,” we must remember that Georgia Tech is an organ of the capitalist, imperialist state. Any ideological notions of civil discourse and academic freedom will always be subordinated to the university’s material function under capitalism: training workers for professional trades, developing new kinds of rockets and bombs, and maintaining neoliberal ideological hegemony. Ultimately, we are being censored because objecting to the Israeli occupation of Palestine is a threat to the status quo of western imperialism.
This is not the only experience of campus repression of political speech around Palestinian issues, and it won’t be the last. Palestine Legal, in a report titled The Palestine Exception to Free Speech, notes that they have responded to hundreds of cases similar to ours across campuses from California to Illinois. The student and working-class movement continues to grow across the country, so we can only expect these incidents of counter-revolutionary reaction to repeat themselves. As the class war escalates, YDSA chapters and socialist activists around the country should prepare themselves for harassment and attacks of all kinds from both the right and the state, and stand together against the specter of state repression.
YDSA GT can’t continue this struggle alone. We would greatly appreciate any support you could give us in solidarity. We have a petition we plan to present to the administration at https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/reject-political-censorship/, and if you or your chapter could sign on, that would go a long way in helping us make our case. Included in the petition is a link to further information about the incident and the long process that has resulted from it. If you have the means, there is also a link to a fundraiser that will go towards helping us secure legal help, should the need arise.
As always, in Solidarity,
YDSA Georgia Tech