Harvard College reversed a discriminatory, eleventh hour decision to charge a student group $300 in security fees for an event on Black-Palestinian solidarity featuring Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Dr. Cornell West and Palestine Legal’s Dima Khalidi, which took place on the evening of Tuesday, April 2.
A university official had informed a member of Harvard’s Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) at 5pm the day before the event that the fees were being charged due to concerns that the event was “controversial.”
Palestine Legal wrote Harvard Dean Rakesh Khurana and Dean of Students Katherine O’Dair on Tuesday, warning that the fees violated Harvard’s Free Speech Guidelines, which state that Harvard will determine “whether protection of free speech at an open meeting requires security measures” and that “the University will fund these measures.”
Palestine Legal’s email noted that according to news reports, Harvard unilaterally paid $12,000 in security costs for a fall 2017 event featuring Charles Murray, notorious for peddling racist pseudoscience.
Palestine Legal’s email states:
It is unclear why PSC is being charged security fees, which not only disparately impacts PSC, but raises free speech concerns as well. As [Harvard] made clear, PSC is facing this charge not because of any action the group has taken, but out of concern that there may be an effort to disrupt the event. Harvard is in effect giving those who oppose Black-Palestinian solidarity the power to act as gatekeepers by imposing a financial barrier to PSC’s event.
The imposition of security fees followed a campaign from Harvard Hillel to block student funding for Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), which the PSC is hosting this week. Hillel claimed in an email to Harvard’s Undergraduate Council (UC) that IAW should not be funded because it “would suggest to Jewish students that their place on campus is less respected” and because use of the word apartheid was “inflammatory.”
Despite this bogus attempt at censorship, the UC eventually approved over $2,000 in funding for a week of programming, including a student panel on life under occupation, performance by poet Remi Kanazi, lecture on the history of boycotts for Palestinian rights, screening of the documentary 1948, and Tuesday’s event on Black-Palestinian solidarity. On Wednesday, PSC put up a Wall of Resistance with African, Jewish, and Latinx student organizations, among others.
An administrator apologized to PSC at Tuesday’s event for charging the fee, explaining that events during the UC hearing made him concerned for the safety of students with PSC and that it was not his intention to sabotage the event.
Tuesday's event attracted a diverse group of about 200 students and others who packed the auditorium.
“While we appreciate Harvard’s concern for our safety, we’re upset that Harvard insisted that we pay for a service that it promises to provide,” said Miriam A., a member of PSC. “We shouldn’t have needed a lawyer to intervene. We just want to have a productive conversation on one of the most critical foreign policy issues of the day and to be treated fairly and equally when we try to have these conversations.”