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College Dorm Decorations Become a Front in the Campus Free Speech Wars

Dorm door decorations are emerging as the next battleground in the fight over academic freedom and free speech at Barnard College.

As at many schools, Barnard students often use their dorm doors to display a bit of personality. A walk around the freshman dorms early this week found sorority pledge signs, Lunar New Year decorations and a pinned-up loose-leaf paper asking: “Who’s your celebrity crush?”

But students had also posted stickers and slogans supporting the Palestinian cause and naming the war in Gaza as a genocide. “Zionism is terrorism,” one student’s door sticker said.

Concerned that some students might feel intimidated by such messages, the Barnard administration has decided to enforce a ban on dorm door decorations altogether. Their removal was set to begin on Thursday, and all but “official items placed by the college” will be taken down, Leslie Grinage, the dean of the college, wrote in an email to students.

“While many decorations and fixtures on doors serve as a means of helpful communication amongst peers, we are also aware that some may have the unintended effect of isolating those who have different views and beliefs,” she wrote.

Barnard has made a series of moves to limit the spaces where students and faculty can express themselves publicly since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October. The moves are crafted to cover all manner of political speech, but they come as Barnard and other campuses face controversy and litigation over pro-Palestinian speech that some believe is antisemitic.

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