University leadership has shown a lack of care and sensitivity for Palestinian students and allies in their handling of the event that took place on Friday, October 20th, “Understanding and Healing: The Palestinian Genocide,” organized by student organizations Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the Student Association for the Development of Arab Cultural Awareness (SADACA), Minority Association of Premedical Students (MAPS), and the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA). This event was organized with the goal of providing a safe space for those mourning the undeniably horrific human rights crisis unfolding in Gaza and to give students troubled by the ongoing situation a place to talk through their grief and learn about on-campus resources that can provide support.
Despite the peaceful intentions of the event, University Leadership authorized three plainclothes Public Safety officers to police the event, without the student organizations’ knowledge or consent. Additionally, on the day before the event, University leadership attempted to cancel the event, as it was scheduled at the Interfaith Chapel around the same time as Shabbat services. It was presumed that the students attending the event, who were majority Muslim, would pose a risk to the Jewish students attending the Shabbat dinner, an assumption that plays into common Islamophobic tropes. Event organizers were not given any assistance attaining a new venue for the event, and were forced to change the time last minute. They were also told that their use of the word “genocide” was inflammatory and insinuated the instigation of violence, despite the fact that the United Nations itself has classified the situation as an “ethnic cleansing.”
Our Call to action:
Students on campus, particularly Arab and Muslim students, are feeling increasingly unsafe. We are calling on members of the University of Rochester to hold the administration accountable to their commitment to student safety. We call on the Student Association government to stand up for and represent all students, in calling for the Administration to move towards repairing the harm it continues to cause. The Student Association government should work towards the following requests:
Formal apology: An official Senate resolution calling for an apology from University administration, for their treatment of event organizers and attendees. The implication that the event would be uncivil or require law enforcement is degrading. Event organizers had taken all necessary steps to ensure a peaceful event, and the presence of undercover Public Safety Officers directly undermined these efforts.
Recognition of the Humanitarian Crises in Palestine: Given SJP’s repeated attempts to communicate with the administration about their concerns, as well as the worsening conditions in Gaza, we implore the Student Association and the University at large to formally acknowledge and address the crisis in Gaza and the West Bank. We ask for the Senate to both put out a statement reflecting this factual reality and call for the administration to do the same.
The SJP and associated organizations do not stand at odds with Jewish members of our University community. We welcome voices of any creed, race, religion, or nationality while recognizing that the University of Rochester community has an obligation to acknowledge and clearly describe the ongoing war-crimes the State of Israel is committing against innocent children and adults in Gaza and the West Bank.
SJP’s Official Statement:
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As a Jewish student committed to justice for all people, I stand firmly in solidarity with Palestine. The university continues to display cowardice and bend to the will of donors and trustees, while completely mishandling its responsibility to students. I urge the student government to use its platform to demand better from our University. If you don’t speak out firmly against the indiscriminate killing of 10,000 people and the deliberate starvation of over 2 million, you will surely be on the wrong side of history.