We find deeply disturbing the recent success of right-wing groups and individuals to impose themselves on university campuses across the United States, and to silence critical voices as they amplify their own. The suspension of George Ciccariello-Maher by Drexel University, along with Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor cancelling her own speaking event, Mark Trahant’s resignation, Third World Quarterly publishing a text suggesting a positive view of colonialism and arguing for a partial recolonization of former colonies, and the attacks against Dr. Farhana Sultana for her vocal criticism of the text and its publication, are part of a successful attack of the far right on critical thought and exchange. These are of course just a few recent, high-profile examples of such attacks on the academy in North America. The repeated justification—in the name of free speech—of hosting white supremacist Alt-Right speakers and groups on campuses by university administrators is also disappointing. This creates an environment where racist, homophobic, and sexist-chauvinist speech is given equal status to all other speech, even as it advocates for the reversal of hard-fought social gains by historically oppressed groups.
Due to the complicit silence of most academic and non-academic institutions—within the US and beyond—we recognize a need to express our discontent/discomfort with recent developments and voice our solidarity with those silenced and marginalized by it. In such an environment, the university can hardly be considered a safe space anymore. We acknowledge that this assault appears shocking and outrageous to us in part because of our privilege as white academics in West European and North American institutions. University colleagues and activists around the world that challenge oppressive domestic regimes, western neo-liberal reform packages, and neo-colonialism have often faced terrible persecution. But it is also true that such oppressive conditions have long existed within our own academic and social circles for People of Color, people living with disabilities, as well as other marginalized groups. In other words, the recent attack on radical and alternative voices within our institutions brings to light what has long been true for many.
We want a university to be a space where all students, staff, and professors feel safe. This environment should promote thought that challenges inequality in the societies we live in, the conditions and power regimes that create them. Therefore we state unequivocally that we stand with those being targeted by online trolls, and right-wing groups and organizations of all kinds, and demand our institutions stop accommodating hate groups while silencing progressive voices.