On October 12, 2023, Rockland Community College student Madeline Ward shouted, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “Jews for Palestine” at a Unity Gathering campus event hosted by several Jewish groups. She did not block the door, prevent other students from attending the event, or otherwise disrupt the event. Despite no evidence of disruption, RCC found her responsible for disruptive conduct on October 23 and imposed a written warning and reflection paper about complying with college policies. FIRE wrote RCC on November 1 explaining how the First Amendment protects students’ right to express non-disruptive political speech.
On November 2, RCC temporarily suspended Ward and charged her with “Discriminatory/Harassing Behavior,” “Endangering Conduct,” and “Intimidation,” but did not provide the factual allegations against her, despite her repeated request for this information. At her disciplinary hearing on November 7, RCC administrators cited her fleeting remarks at the Unity Gathering and criticized her pro-Palestinian advocacy. They found her responsible for all charges, suspending her until the fall 2024 semester. FIRE wrote RCC again on November 13, calling for the college to rectify this violation of Ward’s First Amendment right to express political speech by rescinding its suspension.