SJP makes demands for college’s response to the doxxing of four members

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Fowler Hall, Johnson Hall and the Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center steps. March 17, 2020. Sarah Hofmann/The Occidental

Occidental College’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter discovered Feb. 24 that personal information about four of their members had been published on a website known for doxxing students affiliated with pro-Palestine groups. SJP member Layal Bata (senior) said the organization that doxxed the students is called Canary Mission, though SJP has asked that readers do not search for the organization and give them more traffic.

According to Bata, the personal information which was shared included her home address, phone number and social media — leaving her anxious for both her physical safety and her future job prospects.

“I’m not currently there, but my family lives there, and that was really scary,” Bata said. “Physical safety was definitely put into question and the idea of harassment was really scary as well. And then going from there, what about the future? When employers or a grad school Googles me and this comes up, what are they going to think?”

The organization claims to “document people and groups that promote hatred of the USA, Israel and Jews.” In a March 3 email addressing the incident, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Rob Flot said Occidental denounced the practice of doxxing. 

“To be clear, Occidental College condemns all forms of harassment, online or otherwise, of any member of our community– students, staff, and faculty,” Flot said in the email. “Students and other community members are entitled and encouraged to express their personal and political beliefs without fear of harassment, intimidation, or threats to their privacy, future employment, educational opportunities, and safety.”

According to Bata, SJP was not satisfied with Flot’s email statement — which did not explicitly denounce Canary Mission for its actions against the students who were doxxed. Bata said this made them feel unprotected from possible ramifications of their dossiers appearing online in the future, which could affect future graduate school admission or employment prospects.

“Directly condemning Canary Mission has a lot of benefits for the protection of students who are currently being targeted, and for the Oxy community in general,” Bata said. “Ideally if you were to Google my name, if you saw my Canary Mission profile, you would also find a statement from the college condemning Canary Mission in the first place. That would be an added layer of protection.”

Bata said the lack of an explicit condemnation from the college left her feeling vulnerable.

“As a student who was directly vilified by this post, I was really hurt. I did not feel supported by the school at all,” Bata said. “This profile vilified me in so many ways and was so clearly Islamophobic and it felt like something that would be very easy to take a stand against, and they didn’t even really do what we had asked.”

In response to Occidental’s statement about the incident, Occidental’s SJP chapter published a list of demands from the college. In addition to a specific denouncement of Canary Mission, the statement called for the admissions office to not use information found on blacklist sites in their admissions decisions, as well as a safety guide created in collaboration with ITS.

According to Bata, President Harry J. Elam Jr. and Flot met with her and Ricky Henderson — another student who was doxxed — April 6 to discuss SJP’s demands. Bata said she was told at the meeting that the college would not denounce Canary Mission explicitly, as that would amount to taking a political position.

“Because the school is a non-profit, they can’t take political stances, which seems super fishy to me,” Bata said. “We take political stances all the time, and a non-statement in and of itself is a political stance.”

According to Bata, Elam cited the fact that no other college or university has explicitly condemned Canary Mission to justify Occidental’s decision.

In an April 19 statement shared with The Occidental, Elam said the college would never use information from blacklists in any admissions decisions, addressing one component of SJP’s demands.

“The administration in the strongest possible terms asserts that blacklists have no place at Oxy,” Elam said via email. “This includes the Admission Office, which has never and will never use them in any part of the admission process.”

In addition to his statement on the use of blacklists in admissions decisions, Elam said the college is reviewing current college policies that might lead to the publication of students’ information.

“The College has posted information on online harassment and doxxing in the Student Org Handbook and encourages all students to review the guidance there on how to guard against the possibility of online harassment,” Elam said via email. “It provides suggestions on how to protect your privacy online and what to do if you are doxxed—including contacting the vice president for information technology services directly.”

Thus far, the four students who were doxxed have not received harassments or threats, according to Bata. Bata said this was likely because the students were able to change their social media handles within 24 hours of their dossiers’ publication. Bata also said the site published the students’ dossiers in a large dump with many others, making them harder to find. According to Bata, students involved in SJP know that being targeted by Canary Mission is a distinct possibility.

“It’s a big ghoul in Palestinian organizing in general,” Bata said. “It’s absolutely something that happens often enough that you know about it going into Palestinian organizing.”

The lack of harassment or a credible threat to the students means that the role of Campus Safety in this case is very limited, according to Director of Campus Safety Rick Tanksley.

“If there was a possibility that a threat would make its way to campus through doxxing or something like that, if we had any indication that someone on campus would be a victim of something, then we would take the proper precautions to ensure that individual’s safety,” Tanksley said.

According to Rabbi Robin Podolsky, the religious advisor to Occidental’s Jewish Student Union, organizations like Canary Mission are detrimental to the values of undergraduate education.

“The undergraduate years, especially, are also a time in which you learn to be an actor in the public square, in which you learn to interact rigorously and respectfully with people with whom you disagree about very important things,” Podolsky said. “That’s a really important aspect of undergraduate education, that you’re exposed to a plurality of ideas, and anything that threatens to inhibit that is not good.”