Butler University students are demanding answers after the school’s administration canceled a campus event that was supposed to feature the prison abolitionist and feminist scholar Angela Davis.
The administration says it canceled the talk because officials didn’t follow proper protocol when booking Davis; students say the decision was the result of pressure from Zionist students on campus, who were opposed to Davis’s longtime support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.
Roua Daas, the director of the Student Government Association’s diversity, equity, and inclusion board, was involved in planning the virtual event for months, and accused the university of misleading students about the reasons why it was canceled.
“Butler staff and administration gave an array of inconsistent and unfounded justifications for its racist and authoritative cancelation: ‘failure to follow procedure,’ ‘too high of an honorarium’ and ‘inappropriate timing,’” Daas wrote in a letter to the editor for Butler’s student paper, the Collegian. “Although a statement released by the Student Government Association stated that the event will be postponed, Angela Davis’ team, along with the behind-the-scenes conversations with university officials, indicated that the contract had been terminated and the event was canceled.”
In a statement to the Indy Star on Wednesday, Mark Apple, a spokesperson for the university, maintained that the event had been postponed after the university “learned the established processes weren’t followed for this substantial expenditure of student activity fees.”
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But Daas wasn’t aware of any restriction on how she spends the SGA budget: “Everything I did was within my budget,” Daas told the Star. “I’ve been involved with student organizations as long as I’ve been at Butler and I’ve never seen this.”
As of this writing more than a dozen student groups and community organizations have co-signed a statement urging the administration to apologize to Davis and immediately reschedule the event.
As Daas wrote in the Collegian letter, if the cancelation—or postponement—of Davis’s talk had anything to do with her politics, it will not have been the first time organizations and institutions have wielded this against her. In 2015, Republicans at Texas Tech petitioned to ban Davis from speaking on campus because she was a member of the Communist Party. And just two years ago the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI), a museum and research center dedicated to the civil rights movement, rescinded its decision to bestow a special honor on Davis after its board “concluded that she unfortunately [did] not meet all of the criteria” to receive it. A subsequent statement from Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin suggested that the protests had come from Zionist members of the community.
“Although the BCRI refused my requests to reveal the substantive reasons for this action, I later learned that my long-term support of justice for Palestine was at issue,” Davis wrote in a statement at the time. “This seemed particularly unfortunate, given that my own freedom was secured—and indeed my life was saved—by a vast international movement. ... The rescinding of this invitation and the cancellation of the event where I was scheduled to speak was thus not primarily an attack against me but rather against the very spirit of the indivisibility of justice.”
Though we’re still learning about what has transpired on Butler’s campus, it’s notable that incidents like these—at Texas Tech and BCRI, for example—are conveniently left out in mainstream discourse surrounding so-called cancel culture. At the same time, it makes perfect sense: The figures who provoke these discussions remain laser-focused on the supposed marginalization of their own world views—which are usually the dominant ones—and have always been fine with the exclusion of others. Bari Weiss, for example, is known for having led a campaign at Columbia University against professors who criticized Israel.
Jezebel has reached out to Davis and to Butler University for comment. We’ll update this blog if they get back to us.