Op-Ed: Why I declined to write a letter of recommendation
In my capacity as a graduate student instructor of political science at the University of Michigan, I recently declined to recommend a student to a study abroad program in Israel. Before explaining this choice, here is a bit about me: My primary role at the University is as a student of political theory. In addition to my scholarship, I serve as an assistant teacher for courses in political science, an aspect of my education that I cherish. I am also a Jewish woman. My choice reflects my pedagogical commitments to educational equity, commitments that align with the University’s larger mission.
Israel routinely discriminates against and bans Palestinian-Americans, which means many of my Palestinian students would be denied study abroad opportunities available to other students. I would not write a letter of recommendation for any program that discriminates and does not share the University’s commitment to equal opportunity for all community members. By choosing not to contribute to Israel's discriminatory practices, I am defending equality and justice for Palestinians.
My action attests to my ongoing engagement with the theory and practice of social justice pedagogy as well as my concern for the injustices suffered by Palestinians. I have been trained at various teaching workshops, hosted under the banner of the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative, to teach in a way that supports all my students. In my classroom, I try to make as much space as possible for intellectual and political disagreement and for the voices of marginalized students. As University President Mark Schlissel and Provost Martin Philbert’s recent statement encourages, I actively work to create an “environment where everyone is given a chance to succeed”. In this instance, taking my training seriously meant that I could not support a program that was not equally accessible to all my students.
Supporting freedom, justice and equality for all is a Jewish value, and Jews everywhere should be free to criticize Israel when its policies violate these values. To be clear, the state of Israel and Judaism are not one and the same. Conflating Judaism and Israel marginalizes and erases those Jews, both Israeli and not, who do not feel represented by Israel. Furthermore, it does not acknowledge the many non-Jews living in Israel who are not treated as equals.
I chose to articulate my reasoning to this student rather than hide behind other reasons. I made this choice in the spirit of honest and deeply personal intellectual exchange. I take my role as an educator at this institution very seriously. I am committed not only to disseminating information as an expert but also to learning through my teaching. Thus, I treat my students with great respect, see them in many ways as my equal and approach their questions with honesty. In my own experience as a student, I have been empowered and inspired by teachers who have treated me this way. I am honored to follow their pedagogic examples.
Lucy Peterson is a doctoral student in the Department of Political Science.