Opinion: Free Speech Stifled, Let’s Have Open Dialogue About Israel And Palestine

Notice of the panel on BC's website./Courtesy of Vanguard staff

By Vanguard Staff


   A group of Brooklyn College faculty organized a panel called “Campus Conversations: Faculty Panel on the Situation in Gaza and Israel” on Tuesday, Nov. 7. The panel, which was advertised on Brooklyn College’s website, was meant to “[communicate] and [forge] resilient connections with each other [which] is what will hold our campus community together in times of crisis.” What it did instead was stifle free speech.

   Upon entering the panel held at the Woody Tanger Auditorium in the library, Vanguard staff, along with the rest of the attendees, were handed a piece of paper called “Community Guidelines” that outlined rules about the event. The most troubling stipulation listed was: “Please do not record either video or audio of this conversation […] Context matters and we ask that you respect the context of this conversation being one between only those of us here today.”

   How can you invite the entire BC campus community to a conversation, hold the event in a full auditorium, and then hand attendees a piece of paper limiting the conversation to those present? Context does indeed matter, but you cannot keep something to a room and expect that everything will always be perfectly contextualized within, and outside, of that space. Holding conversation to that standard effectively prohibits it entirely.

   The panelists elected themselves to speak in front of 50-plus people publicly they accepted any risk of retaliation, and their ideas were “leaked” anyway as students discussed the professors’ ideas after the event. Additionally, here at The Vanguard, we have made it explicitly clear that we would not be using the names of students who wished to remain anonymous in our reportage of Israel and Palestine in order to avoid doxxing – the publishing of identifiable personal information online – and being singled out by peers and faculty, making retaliation against students impossible.

   The questions purported in the “Community Guidelines” included, “How do we create space for everyone to discuss these matters on our campus?” and “How do we create and maintain community?” This panel was the exact opposite of trying to create space and community. Space cannot be created and discussions cannot be held if “everyone” cannot be involved. Therefore, maintaining and creating community is far from being realized if we cannot trust one another to openly talk about it. The ethos of the “right here, right now” is inapplicable to a conversation that does not end right when the event does.

   Vanguard staff went ahead and recorded the audio of the entire panel, all 90 minutes of it, and we could still write an article about it. If there are future “Campus Conversations,” we will go ahead and record those, as well. As journalists, it is our duty to report on what happens at events so that the campus community can be better informed about their surroundings, and we will not be stifled in expressing our basic right to free speech.

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