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Real campus responses to the Palestinian-Israeli crisis

Dear President Stoute,

We represent five unique Canisius voices, each with our own positionality, and we are writing today to ask for your leadership in responding unequivocally and firmly to the devastation unfolding in the Middle East. We recognize the difficulty for any college administrator, let alone the president, to draft a missive that placates everyone. But after Tuesday’s bombing of the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza and Sunday’s murder of Wadea Al-Fayoume by a domestic terrorist in Illinois, we feel that waiting any more to respond is an act of complicit nonchalance.

As an institution, Canisius “welcomes, respects and encourages interreligious dialogue from people of all faith traditions.” While promoting these values, it is critically important to increase our sensitivity and awareness of our hurtful impact on those more directly impacted here on campus. With the events occurring in the Middle East, we as community members feel that it is time to speak out to advocate both empathy and understanding. We are fused together by diversity, but this lack of acknowledgement may just be threatening this foundation.

As a university, we should be committed to ensuring that all students feel safe and valued on campus regardless of how they identify. This commitment should include encouraging peace and healthy discussion among our student body. Perhaps an event could be held where students can learn about the importance of what is going on in Israel and Palestine and promote the practice of being anti-racist, in addition to how to avoid saying things or exhibiting behaviors that are Islamophobic and/or Antisemitic.

We would also like to see more course offerings or even an information session in the spirit of Dr. David Devereux’s stellar seminar on Middle Eastern history, which examines the colonial, imperial and divisive origins of many of the current challenges to the region. A course on Arab nationalism may also be useful.

The recent creation of Canisius’s first Muslim Student Association and a chapter of the national Every Campus a Refuge are steps in the right direction. But we need more by way of student life and organizations. This could help foster a better understanding of the issue, as well as give students an outlet. Examples of such clubs could be a Jewish Student Union, Organization of Arab Students and Students for Justice in Palestine. A local rabbi recently informed us that the University of Buffalo’s Hillel sees itself as a hub for college students in the area, so we feel that Jewish Griffins should feel the sense of protection and safety that we all aspire to on their own campus.

The University has a moral responsibility to tell it how it is and include all perspectives on this matter. We should also note that brutality and occupation cannot be demarcated by “sides” to be picked: this is not a binary. Misinformation and under-education are the biggest problems when looking at this extremely complex issue, and it is important that the University shares accurate information with students to give them a basis to form their own opinions on the matter. After all, that is what teaching is all about, or should be about, particularly at a Jesuit university focused on an “institutional responsibility to work for social justice and transform suffering and injustice in the world.”

We want to conclude by acknowledging that we attend and work at a university that finds itself not only in a divided America but also an America that reeks of virtue signaling and absolutes. We believe, for example, that one can simultaneously be supportive of law enforcement and the civil rights of Black people. Similarly, we believe in a sense of justice that encompasses an attitude of caring for Jewish and Muslim people, concurrently. We also believe that supporting the rights of Palestinian people is not the same as ever supporting terrorism: we reject these false tautologies and encourage others to do the same. If Canisius has a zero-tolerance policy for hate of any kind, then now is the time to act, President Stoute. In the immortal words of Rage Against the Machine, “It has to start somewhere. It has to start sometime. What better place than here? What better time than now?”

  • ~Jessica Jones, senior majoring in political science; Emory Valencourt, senior majoring in political science; Brianna Forzani, freshman majoring in political science; Benjamin Cordero-Livingston, sophomore majoring in political science; Shyam K. Sriram, assistant professor in the Department of Political Science.

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