Students express concerns about #UMDivest to University administration

Members of Hillel meet with members of the administration to discuss the current campus climate and divestment last weekend.

Members of Hillel meet with members of the administration to discuss the current campus climate and divestment last weekend. Buy this photo
Prashanth Panicker/Daily

 

Sunday, November 19, 2017 - 10:54am

In response to Central Student Government passing the #UMDivest resolution, University of Michigan Hillel, an organization providing programming for Jewish students on campus, hosted a dialogue event with E. Royster Harper, vice president for Student Life, and Laura Blake Jones, dean of students, on Friday afternoon. Approximately 20 students representing various viewpoints attended to express their feelings on the results of the vote.

The resolution passed calls for a committee within the University’s Board of Regents to investigate and consider divesting from companies allegedly involved in Palestinian human rights violations. While the issue has been debated many times in CSG, the resolution passed for the first time in University history last week.

The email invitation noted Harper and Jones were interested in hearing Jewish students’ thoughts on divestment. 

“Please join your community to respectfully share your thoughts and feelings with U-M administration,” the email sent by Hillel staff read.

The administrators declined to comment for this article.

The Daily was not allowed to attend the meeting, but spoke to attendees afterward. 

Engineering junior Harrison McCabe said he found the event productive, yet left him wishing for more.  He noted while bias reports, released weekly by the Bias Response Team under the Dean of Students Office, are a step in the right direction, there should be more action.

“It was a great opportunity for people to get to vent and really talk to the administration because lots of people are disappointed with the lack of response from administration,” McCabe said. “Anti-Semitism feels like a footnote by the administration.”

The overall mood in the room was described as frustrating and disappointing. Four CSG representatives attended the meeting. One of whom, LSA sophomore Isabel Baer, said she believed Hillel was an inappropriate environment for people to engage in heated debates when the event’s sole purpose was for students to address their concerns to the administration.

“Coming here, I was looking for a space to talk about how I was feeling as, one, a student, seeing the anti-Semitic acts that have happened on campus since the resolution has passed, and also as a CSG representative, to say that I am here for this community and I support you,” Baer said.

Many students exited the room throughout the two-hour discussion in need a break from the high-stress environment. LSA junior Seth Schostak, chair of the CSG communications committee, said he found the event to be efficient and was grateful for the administration taking the time to come.

“It’s part of (the administration's) job to listen to students and hear us out. I think that goes a long way and having that space for students is important,” Schostak said.

Aside from the resolution passing, students also voiced concern about swastika graffiti found last Wednesday in a men’s bathroom in the Modern Language Building. LSA sophomore Hannah Katz said she believes many Jewish students perceive the campus climate as unsafe.

“I can’t speak for the broader Jewish community on campus, but I know that I recently have had some fears about anti-Semitism,” Katz said. “So, it was really nice knowing the administration is here for us and they want to listen to our concerns and do what they can to act upon them, so that was really reassuring.”

Baer expressed concern about the possibility of administration allowing controversial author Richard Spencer, who has quoted Nazi literature, to speak on campus. This concern is compounded by a perceived lack of opinion from administration about history professor Victor Lieberman, who has publicly spoken against the divestment movement, being denied the opportunity to speak Tuesday at the CSG meeting.

The feeling of anti-Semitism excluded from the diversity and inclusion conversation on campus was echoed by McCabe. With 6,000 Jewish students on campus, he believes more should have be done to shed light on the issue.

“I would have liked (the administration) to send an email to students about anti-Semitism and anti-Semitism alone because to them, Islamophobia is strong enough to stand out as its own email,” McCabe said.

LSA junior Alona Henig, whose parents are from Israel, explained her fears of Israel’s recent travel ban against all who speak in favor of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in Israel.

“If I want to go visit my grandma in the summer, now this is a threat that I can't because I want to criticize a country that represents me in some form,” Henig said.

However, Henig emphasized Hillel does not speak for all Jewish students, specifically referencing the email sent Wednesday evening by LSA senior Joshua Blum, chair of the Hillel Governing Board, and Hillel Executive Director Tilly Shames.

“We call on President Schlissel to condemn this one-sided and hurtful resolution, and make a statement that the University will not be pressured by this decision,” the email read.

“(The email) doesn't speak for me, and I am a proud Jew,” Henig said. “Hillel doesn’t speak for me in terms of condemning a democratically processed resolution.”

LSA sophomore Josh Burg expressed his appreciation for Jones and Harper’s attendance at the discussion, saying the event mimicked a therapy session with the purpose of keeping student opinions and voices in mind.

“I do hope that this dialogue with administration continues and that the potential for action on the part of the administration exists in the future,” Burg said.

“There are two sides from two very valid narratives who all deserve to have voices heard,” Katz added.