Statement on Student Repression at Columbia University

As a collective of scholars based at academic institutions in and around New York City, we stand in solidarity with students and faculty practicing peaceful protest at Columbia, Barnard, CUNY, NYU, Cornell, the New School, and all across the country. We condemn the violent repression that university administrators and the police have brought down on peaceful protest on campus.

The Social Text Collective calls for amnesty for those targeted by university administrators and the police, including the immediate reinstatement of Barnard, Columbia, and Teachers College students, and for a guarantee of no further retaliation. We further call for the abolition of the entire raft of punitive measures implemented by administrators at institutions of higher education beginning in October in a vain effort to quell dissent against US support for Israel’s genocidal policies in Gaza.

We demand university administrators come out publicly and unequivocally in support of the rights of students, faculty, and other university affiliates to exercise their constitutionally protected rights to dissent, speech, and peaceable assembly. Academic administrators have a responsibility to defend principles of academic freedom, and the broader right to free and open inquiry at universities—particularly during times of political dissensus.

We call for a reinstatement of longstanding university policies of keeping police off the university campus.

We also urge students, scholars, and academic leaders with integrity to reject the demonization of student anti-war protests that has motivated the recent violent crackdowns on peaceful campus protests.

We believe that what we are confronting in the attacks on universities are particular instances of fascism in the US. History shows us that appeasing fascism never works. Fascist regimes will use every surrender of principles and capitulation of basic rights like freedom of speech to further incite followers and demonize those whom they construct as threats to the body politic.

Take Rep. Elise Stefanik, the lead inquisitor at the Congressional hearings that have targeted higher education institutions in the US. Stefanik has distinguished herself in recent years by repeating Trump’s Big Lie about the election. She has mimicked Trump’s rhetoric calling January 6 prisoners “hostages.” She has openly said that she won’t commit to certifying the 2024 election. As if this were not enough, Stefanik has also repeated the white supremacist “Great Replacement” theory, arguing in a 2021 campaign ad that the Democrats’ “plan to grant amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.” It’s worth remembering who else has mobilized Great Replacement theory rhetoric in recent years: remember the tiki torch-wielding Nazis who marched through Charlottesville, VA at the “Unite the Right” rally in 2017, chanting “Jews Will Not Replace Us!”?

How horribly ironic, then, that Stefanik has now embraced and weaponized the specious equation of criticism of the state of Israel with anti-Semitism. How could academic leaders sit with a straight face and try to answer in apparent good faith the belligerent questions of a racist opportunist like Stefanik? But they did so. And, in a terrible failure of the intellect, each of them was eviscerated by this remarkably effective attack line.

In the face of this onslaught, we urge activists in and beyond the academy to remember the words of our comrade Lisa Duggan, who wrote in her book The Twilight of Equality that the success of the conservative counterrevolution over the last half century has relied inextricably on identity and cultural politics—and, more specifically, on attacks on the freedoms won by people of color, women, and queer folk. This means that efforts to shut down expressions of solidarity for Palestinians cannot be discussed in isolation from simultaneous attacks on Critical Race Theory, DEI, Queer Theory, and women’s and Trans Rights. It also means that intellectuals and scholars must guard their own institutional interests and not allow corporate figureheads, who now fill the office of president at many universities, to speak for them and run their institutions.

As a Collective, we will continue to mobilize for a ceasefire in Gaza.

We support student demands that their institutions divest from the Israeli state, which has maintained unjust occupation policies that amount to apartheid in the West Bank and Gaza for decades.

We dedicate ourselves to the fight against intensifying inequality, injustice, and increasing violence against the uprooted and dispossessed  in this society and around the world.



Social Text Collective

The Social Text Collective began in 1979.