Two individuals stand in front of crowd with protest picket signs

Protest at Rice University for its hosting of former national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice on February 15, 2024. Credit: Prescott Hidalgo Monroy

Rice Students Demand a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction Vote

Rice University administration is cracking down on student free speech and the right to vote on university matters.

Students at Rice University are currently facing administrative suppression after two college Senators introduced Resolution No. 02 to the university’s Student Association on Monday, March 25th. Resolution No. 02, “Student Association Boycott and Divestment from Corporations Complicit in the Ongoing Genocide in Gaza,” would implement divestment of Student Association funds from Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) noncompliant companies and calls on Rice University to divest their funds as well. 

The vote on Resolution No. 02 was set to proceed on Monday, April 01 at 9:00PM, but was stalled on the orders of Dr. Richard Baker from the Office of Access, Equity and Equal Opportunity. The vote was tabled due to a discrimination complaint filed by a single student and illustrates a blatant disregard for student freedoms, democratic practices, and the will of the student body. 

“I opened my inbox last Wednesday, just two days after introducing Resolution No. 02, and found a discrimination complaint filed against myself, the co-sponsor of the resolution, and the Student Association President,” said Neha Kohli, Lovett College Senator and co-sponsor of Resolution No. 02. “I have been accused solely for my role in introducing the resolution. This single complaint has completely stalled the Student Association’s democratic power to vote on or amend this resolution. Despite the fact that my own confidentiality has been compromised, I have been told that I am not allowed to disclose the name of my accuser.” 

Dr. Richard Baker’s decision to halt the vote is an attack on students’ democratic right to exercise a vote. This overstepping of university power comes on the heels of Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order targeting the free speech rights of pro-Palestine students, singling out Students for Justice in Palestine chapters and Palestine Solidarity Committees. 

Following the tabling of Resolution No. 2, the Dean of Undergraduates and Rice’s General Counsel met with student association voting members, the Senators and Presidents, on Monday, April 1st. To be clear, the university’s lawyer met with students (who do not themselves have lawyers) with the intention of instilling fear within voting members to dissuade them from supporting Resolution No. 02. 

Rice’s lawyer told students that if they voted in favor of Resolution No. 02, they could face lawsuits or discrimination complaints, similar to the one faced by the resolution’s cosponsors and Student Association President. Additionally, Rice’s lawyer claimed that the State of Texas could potentially pull $300 Million of funding from Rice if Governor Abbott’s executive order were altered to apply to nonprofits. He said that if students passed the resolution, university administration would consider taking away the students’ power to manage their own budget for the student association.

The no-vote order as well as the fear mongering by university administration also goes against the majority will of the student body, who would have voted to pass Resolution No. 2—the intentional stalling and scare tactics are a clear attempt to prevent the resolution from passing. 

Kohli maintains that the stalling of the vote comes from a place of fear at toppling Zionist hegemony on campus and shifting campus culture toward an ethical framework for Palestinian community members: 

“I believe that the university is suppressing the vote out of fear. And whilst I understand that there is a lot to be afraid of, there is also a lot to fight for. Utilizing our power and privilege to spend our dollars in an ethical way is the right thing to do, especially because Rice touts values of inclusion, acceptance, and diversity. Our institution carries the power and responsibility to support Palestinian students and the greater global community by shifting dollars away from companies that fund genocide.”

The vote shut-down comes after pro-Palestine students at Rice University have unjustly faced disciplinary hearings by Student Judicial Programs. 

“Being [faced with disciplinary hearings] felt [like] a first step, in a now successive trend, of the university tactics of suppression which have transitioned from indirect to directly targeting organizers,” said Matthew Haacke, a student facing punitive measures for their pro-Palestine advocacy on Rice’s campus. 

“Facing disciplinary proceedings was a rude awake[ning] of the power [of] the university, as the actor we are making demands of, over not only our position at Rice, but [over our] future. They weaponize this control to suppress [our] modes of peaceful advocacy in a dangerous way that puts our free speech at risk.”

Additionally, supporters and sponsors of Resolution No. 02 are facing stalking, harassment and threats on campus.  

Two of a multitude of text messages from unknown senders received by student Neha Kohli following the introduction of Resolution No. 02.

In response to the stalling of Resolution No. 02, Rice Students Justice for Palestine (SJP) held a People’s Town Hall on Monday, April 01—in lieu of the vote—for students to speak on the resolution as well as the suppression and harassment they are facing. In a statement released on Instagram, Rice SJP has also encouraged students to email Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman and demand that the vote be reinstated, providing a template to expedite the process.    

Rice University students have made it resoundingly clear that they refuse to be silenced, and that the stopping of the vote over a single complaint is an abuse of power on part of Rice University administration. Our Student Association is supposed to be an avenue for students to push for change. 

Here at Rice, we are all in a position of privilege and believe that we should be using this privilege to push the pendulum towards justice, whether it be justice in our backyard or across the globe. Resolution No. 02 was worth the risks because it would ensure that our spending aligns with students’ ethical values and pressures the university to do the same. Resolution No. 02 could have been a powerful concrete first step in a multi-year campaign to end an apartheid regime.

Section: Schooling
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