Court Directs Fordham to Recognize SJP as a University-Sanctioned Club

%28Courtesy+of+Victor+Ordonez%29
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Court Directs Fordham to Recognize SJP as a University-Sanctioned Club

(Courtesy of Victor Ordonez)

(Courtesy of Victor Ordonez)

(Courtesy of Victor Ordonez)

(Courtesy of Victor Ordonez)

Aislinn Keely and Helen Stevenson

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This article is breaking and will be updated as new information comes to light.

By Aislinn Keely and Helen Stevenson

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) claimed a victory in its case against Fordham University, as Hon. Nancy M. Bannon ruled to annul the university’s 2016 decision disapproving SJP’s application for recognition. The Court directed the university to recognize SJP as a University-sanctioned club in accordance with the Lincoln Center United Student Government’s (USG-LC) Nov. 2016 approval.

The two have been locked in a legal battle since April 2017, when five students brought a case arguing the university violated its own rules by vetoing the USG-LC approval of the club. Now, there could be an SJP chapter on Fordham’s campuses, according to Bannon’s ruling of Awad, et al. v. Fordham University.

“Here, Fordham did not abide by its own published rules governing the approval and recognition of student clubs, in as much as it seemingly imposed an additional tier of review, by a dean, of an approval already rendered by the USG,” read the Court’s decision order and judgment.

The university said it remains committed to serving all students and their interests in and out of the classroom.

“The University is reviewing the court’s decision before deciding on a way forward,” said Bob Howe, assistant vice president for Communications.

Students sought to form a Fordham chapter at the Lincoln Center campus in 2016. After garnering USG-LC approval, the group met a roadblock when Keith Eldridge, dean of students Lincoln Center,  vetoed the approval citing “narrowness” of the group’s political focus

“Fordham has no registered student clubs the sole focus of which is the political agenda of one nation against another nation,” the University’s official statement read. “For the University’s purposes, the country of origin of the student organizers is irrelevant, as is their particular political stance. The narrowness of Students for Justice in Palestine’s political focus makes it more akin to a lobbying group than a student club.”

A group of students represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights subsequently brought a case against the university. The group’s Deputy Legal Director Maria LaHood said the center is “thrilled” that students will now be able to form the club.

“The students’ support for Palestinian rights and their demand to freely express that support truly exemplify Fordham’s stated values, unlike the Administration’s shameful actions here,” she said in a statement.

SJP has about 200 school chapters across the country, including New York University, Boston College and Columbia University. According to the organization’s national website, SJP focuses on freedom, equality and justice for Palestinian people. The group’s site states it believes all struggles for freedom, justice and equality are interconnected, standing against discrimination including homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia among others.

Ahmad Awad, FCLC ’17, the lead plaintiff of the suit, said he’s counted over 1,000 days since the initial approval process for SJP began. Despite graduating during the case and never getting to participate in the club he sought to form, he said he did not give up on his fight for free speech on campus.

“I continued to advocate for justice in Palestine, and now because of Justice Bannon’s order, no Fordham student will be restricted or prohibited from advocating for justice in Palestine,” he said in a statement. 

Throughout the case, some students expressed their dissatisfaction with the university’s decision to veto a Fordham SJP chapter. In 2017 students organized a protest on Lincoln Center campus, Fordham faculty members united to sign a petition in support of the protest and Catholic academics from across the country signed a letter to Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, in an attempt to reverse the decision against SJP. 

Recently, students demonstrated at the 2019 Lincoln Center graduation ceremony. A handful of Lincoln Center students unfurled Palestinian flags as they walked across the stage in front of Walsh Library. SJP later confirmed to The Ram that this was an SJP-led demonstration.