Student government elections had a greater than usual presence on campus during this year’s Central Student Government campaign cycle. From chalking on the Diag and supporters donning party t-shirts to Facebook events and debates, the numerous candidates’ campaigns left few stones unturned. In the midst of these elections, an accusatory e-mail targeting one candidate went viral after circulating among the Greek community for several days. An e-mail sent out to multiple sororities on campus accused LSA sophomore Omar Hashwi, now vice president-elect of CSG, of being anti-Semitic and homophobic. Some of these accusations were baseless and inflammatory. In the Internet age, information travels at lightning speed, and as a result words and accusations carry great weight. Dialogue is always more beneficial than one-sided arguments, where untruthful and defamatory statements can be disguised as fact and seriously damage a person’s reputation.
Last Tuesday, an e-mail began circulating in the University’s Greek community claiming that Hashwi was an anti-Semite and a homophobe. The e-mail urged students not to vote for Hashwi, citing fear of what he could do in a leadership position. The e-mail was forwarded to many other members of the Greek community. The e-mail cited Hashwi’s behavior at CSG meetings as proof of his anti-Semitism. The e-mail claimed that Hashwi had repeatedly voted to allow an individual, who vehemently portrayed anti-Israel views, to have more than the allotted three minutes to speak at meetings. Hashwi and his running mate, Business junior Manish Parikh, repeatedly asserted their support of the Jewish and gay communities.
Beyond the initial sending of the e-mail, it’s discouraging that students receiving it didn’t read more critically. It’s disappointing these claims were forwarded quickly and extensively. In a time when the Internet allows people to spread information rapidly, it’s more than necessary to pay attention to what you send. The accusations made against Hashwi were supported by little evidence — reading the entirety of the e-mail made that clear. It’s important not only to filter this type of rhetoric, but also to separate rumor from fact. Instead of being forwarded, the e-mail should have been condemned. Small communities on campus can create an echo chamber, turning rumors into fact.
It may be cliché, but the University’s “Expect Respect” motto sets an appropriate goal for campus dialogue. Students should foster an atmosphere deserving of the leaders and best by giving the respect they’d expect from others. Hashwi was a candidate running for office, putting himself in a position to be criticized. Criticism, however, is separate from hearsay and rumors. Any potentially valid critiques of Hashwi’s policy positions were invalidated by the strong rhetoric. Especially since it was broadcast to a large campus community, the e-mail was unprofessional and petty. When this type of sensationalized rhetoric is passed around as fact, it’s essential that students speak out against it. Emotionally-charged and politicized claims pit students against each other and divide our campus.
Listening to someone’s perspective doesn’t mean you support his or her views. The fact that Hashwi allowed someone to engage in free speech is in no way grounds for the accusation that he believes those views. When dealing with controversial topics — be it the Iraq War, the Arab/Israeli conflict or abortion — it’s necessary to have open dialogue with all perspectives represented. People can and should advocate their viewpoints, backed up with evidence, and hearing other perspectives is a benefit to all. Attacking people like Hashwi for simply listening to another individual’s opinion makes it impossible to have productive and insightful conversations about highly divisive topics.
The campus environment is what we, as students, make it. If we want an environment where people feel safe and comfortable expressing their views, it’s important to promote dialogue based in fact.