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Keep war criminals off our campus

By Erica Augenstein     4/3/24 12:32pm

Editor’s Note: This is a guest opinion that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. All guest opinions are fact-checked to the best of our ability and edited for clarity and conciseness by Thresher editors.

This February, current director of the Baker Institute, David Satterfield, invited former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to speak on Rice’s campus. Condoleezza Rice is infamous for her central role in launching the illegal U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. After an introduction by President Reginald DesRoches — where he celebrated Condoleezza Rice’s bloody legacy — Satterfield and Condoleezza Rice sat together as two never-elected bureaucrats with decades of experience directing colonial violence between them to discuss the ongoing genocide in Gaza and “the delicate balance between free speech and incitement.

In order to protest the event, I along with four other Rice graduate students organized a banner drop inside the lecture. Our banners read “War Criminals Off Our Campus” and “Baker Oils the War Machine.” This political action was designed as a direct message to Satterfield and to Rice University administration. 

We were forcibly removed from the lecture less than one minute after revealing our banners. As we were physically removed from the event, we chanted as a protest to the silencing of our speech. We were all subsequently charged by Rice’s Student Judicial Programs with disruption of a university event. 

This swift crackdown on peaceful and desperately necessary protest reflects the increasing boldness with which bureaucrats and administrators are now silencing legitimate protest. These bureaucrats and administrators, like Satterfield and DesRoches, aim to silence our dissent so they can continue to enjoy their decades-long reign — underwritten by the violence of colonial aggression and genocide.

A morbid entanglement of American colonial agents and university administration currently threatens intellectual life on university campuses across the United States. At Rice, this is embodied by the Baker Institute, an entity that feeds off the university’s intellectual legitimacy in order to serve as a war room for directing U.S. colonial aggression. 

Satterfield was recently appointed as special envoy for Middle East humanitarian issues. Since his appointment, Satterfield has served as a core partner in the U.S. and Israeli-led genocidal campaign in Gaza that has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians. This follows Satterfield’s long history at the center of colonial violence, including his appointment as coordinator for Iraq under then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which corresponded with the deadliest year for civilians of the entirety of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

At the Baker Institute, Satterfield has repeatedly hosted architects of U.S. colonial violence. Satterfield’s insistence on parading the most vile leaders of the U.S.-led colonial warfare across campus represents the conscious construction of a narrow but oppressive political bloc of bureaucratic elites, both governmental and educational — a bloc that has recently emerged from the shadowy corridors of university administrations and federal agencies to blatantly crush the student movements standing in solidarity with Palestinians. 

Students on Rice’s campus, across the country and across the world have organized historic protests to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. In response, powerful bureaucrats — like Satterfield and Condoleezza Rice — have colluded with university administrators to undermine and crush student activism

Nevertheless, on Rice’s campus, students have made their voices heard. In October 2023, Rice activists hosted a teach-in and protest, which saw hundreds in attendance, to reject the Baker Institute gala’s hosting of Henry Kissinger and Hillary Clinton. Satterfield and Rice administrators paid no heed to these protests. In fact, in the following months, other student organizers and I were subjected to increasing surveillance by administration, including required interrogations by Rice University police and administrators ahead of nearly every planned event.

We as students and scholars working in centers of colonial rule must refuse to grant consent to an appalling and criminal standard of academic “civility” that allows war criminals like Condoleezza Rice and David Satterfield to spew colonial and racist talking points in the comfort of university concert halls. 

We can do this by exposing that it is violence, oppression and death that they serve. And through this political project, we can build a scholarly community that can uphold the integrity of our intellectual production and foster an environment where anti-colonial knowledge can be genuinely pursued.

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