It was interesting, at least to me, that some of the more innocuous comments coming out of the Breaking the Silence discussion generated controversy when UC Davis Vice Chancellor Rahim Reed discussed recent incidents on the campus relating to Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.
He said, “We want to promote a very robust environment for the discussion of differences,” whether that be different opinions, thoughts, attitudes, perspectives, of cultures. “But we want to do it in a very civil, very respectful way.”
“We recognize that our principles of community, although they’ve served us well over the last 25 years, that in fact the UC Davis campus today in 2015 is different than the UC Davis campus was in 1990,” he said, as they are larger and much more diverse.
Rahim Reed said, “We are part of the Davis community.” He said they recognize that the various streets that separate us “are not borders, you can freely cross from one side to the other.”
“Recently we’ve had some incidents occur on our campus around Islamophobia and anti-Semitism,” he said, acknowledging that they have been very challenging to deal with. A committee has been set up, chaired by Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Adela De La Torre and himself, inviting key members of the community to join them.
Last week, in a step in the right direction, the UC Davis Middle East/South Asian Studies and Jewish Studies programs co-hosted a student panel titled “Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: The Anatomy of Twin Hatreds” in the Student Community Center Multi-Purpose Room.
The event, moderated by history professor Susan Miller and comparative literature professor Noha Radwan, was, according to an editorial in the Cal Aggie, “held in light of recent campus climate related discussions surrounding Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism. The panel was designed to bring together the university community in discussion about experiences with acts of hate.”
There’s that comparison again.
Much of the Aggie editorial focused on the fact that the event was actually too well-attended. It was originally scheduled to seat 90, they moved it to a room with larger capacity but, even at 190 seats, “even the larger room was not sufficient for the crowd of students, faculty, staff and local community members that were interested in attending the event. The event reached capacity and doors were closed before the starting time of 4 p.m., with over 50 people waiting in a growing line to enter.”
That is too bad because, in addition to being a hot issue at the moment, this was a real opportunity ‒ while there was still interest ‒ to address real issues.
The Aggie article further notes, as per the moderators’ request, “a live video stream was not provided for those who could not secure a spot or attend the event at all. No audio or video recording was allowed for those present in the room.”
They write, “Some professors cancelled class and offered extra credit for students who attended the panel, but many were not let in. The lack of appropriate capacity planning for the event was disappointing to the Editorial Board, as well as for those who were not able to participate in the panel discussion. We believe that all students should have the right to voice their opinions on matters that affect the entire university, and a capacity constraint should not be a reason for hindering a sustained dialogue.”
They continue, “The Editorial Board commends the departments and students involved in the event for taking a step in the right direction to improve campus dialogue regarding Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. We understand the need and importance of providing forums for the campus community to engage in this discussion.”
They conclude, “Many of those that were in attendance at the event felt as though the panel was beneficial in providing an outlet for students to speak about their experiences, while also allowing attendees to understand the concepts and ask relevant questions. The Editorial Board hopes that larger and more accessible events similar to the panel will be planned in upcoming quarters so that this dialogue can be open to the greater campus community.”
The Vanguard is afraid that the moment will pass us by. Back in 2009, the Davis City Council, for two consecutive meetings, pondered the issue of a resolution against the bombing of Gaza. The first meeting brought forth a largely student, pro-Palestinian crowd. The second meeting was more heated and had a much more mixed audience.
In the end, the council punted the issue to the Davis Human Relations Commission and, apparently, after some meetings, the only thing that came out of it was trees were planted near the train station.
Obviously, a community forum is not going to resolve the underlying issues in the Middle East and in Israel. Recent national events, including the flap over Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech as well as this week’s flap over accusations that a Republican Senate Letter to Iranian Leaders overstepped their boundaries in leaving politics at the shore, illustrate that this issue is far from resolved and may never be resolved.
But in a very real way this is not about the Israeli-Palestinian issue but rather about community members who share our community. The question is whether we can have a civil dialogue and reach common understanding about the impact of hate and hate speech in our own community.
If we cannot come to some sort of understanding and more peaceful coexistence, it is hard to imagine that the larger issues at a more global level stand to fare much better.
—David M. Greenwald reporting