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Academic Freedom, Advocacy, Departments & Institutions

Thematic

Current Events in Historical Context

The AHA has issued a statement “deplor[ing] recent decisions among college and university administrators to draw on local and state police forces to evict peaceful demonstrators.” Pointing to historical events on campuses such as Kent State University and Jackson State University in 1970, as well as the “Orangeburg Massacre” of 1968, the AHA “urges everyone involved to learn from that history and turn away from the violent escalation we are now seeing on campuses. ” The AHA “urges administrators to recognize the fundamental value of peaceful protest on college and university campuses.” To date, 41 organizations have signed on to the statement.


Approved by AHA Council, May 2024

The American Historical Association, three-fourths of whose members are either faculty, staff, or students at institutions of higher education, deplores recent decisions among college and university administrators to draw on local and state police forces to evict peaceful demonstrators. It is appropriate for universities to establish and enforce, through fair and transparent procedures, reasonable and content-neutral restrictions on the time, place, and manner of protests and other assemblies. These procedures should not, however, deprive students, faculty, and staff of their right to gather, speak, debate, and protest.

Historical thinking reminds us that the use of force to suppress peaceful public protest at institutions of higher education endangers students, faculty, and staff. This month marks the 54th anniversary of the killing of students by National Guard troops at Kent State University, and by local and state police at Jackson State College. Those terrible events, along with the infamous “Orangeburg Massacre” of 1968, teach us that the introduction of outside armed law enforcement, and even worse, military units, escalates tensions rather than leads to constructive resolution of disputes. The AHA urges everyone involved to learn from that history and turn away from the violent escalation we are now seeing on campuses.

The AHA also urges administrators to recognize the fundamental value of peaceful protest on college and university campuses. We understand that administrators must do their utmost to ensure the safety of members of their campus communities. We also understand that loud and strongly worded differences of opinion on important, sometimes existential, issues can create a deeply uncomfortable, even disturbing environment for some community members. But as historians we emphasize that encountering ideas that might make us uncomfortable is central to the educational process. Suppressing the expression of those ideas by community members engaged in peaceful protest doesn’t make our campuses safer. It makes them weaker, and more dangerous places to be.

We understand that higher education leadership must make tough decisions. But “tough” does not and should not necessarily imply the use of force; nor does it mean banning from campus members of our communities who peacefully oppose institutional policies. It means making the often difficult decisions required to build and maintain communities committed to academic freedom and inquiry.

The following organizations have signed on to this statement:

African American Intellectual History Society
American Association for Italian Studies
American Association of Geographers
American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies
American Society for Environmental History
American Society for Theatre Research
American Association for the History of Medicine
American Sociological Association
Association for Asian Studies
Berkshire Conference of Women Historians
California Scholars for Academic Freedom
College Art Association
Dance Studies Association
Disability History Association
Executive Committee of Czechoslovak Studies Association
Historians for Peace and Democracy
International Labor and Working-Class History
Labor and Working-Class History Association
Linguistic Society of America
Medieval Academy of America
National Council for the Social Studies
National Council on Public History
North American Conference on British Studies
Network of Concerned Historians
New England Historical Association
Oral History Association
PEN America
Psychologists for Social Responsibility
Shakespeare Association of America
Sixteenth Century Society
Society for Cinema and Media Studies
Society for French Historical Studies
Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations
Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
Society for the History of Children and Youth
Society for US Intellectual History
Southern Association for Women Historians
Southern Historical Association
Western Society for French History
Western History Association
World History Association