Open Letter to the UIndy Community:
Note: This letter was meant to be an op ed in the Reflector. Unfortunately editors decided not only, to not publish this letter, but that they would not cover the story at all- another case of social justice struggle being silenced in favor of political expediency.
On April 2nd the Student Senate passed a resolution in support of the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against the state of Israel until it respects Palestinian human rights and international law.
The resolution passed by a two-thirds majority- a super-majority- and calls on the Board of Trustees to divest from corporations found to be complicit in the violation of international law. The Divestment Resolution, signed by 10 student organizations, was the first of its kind, making it a historic piece of legislation in the senate. After the vote, administration dismissed the vote by claiming the senate did not represent the student body.
Dear Members of the Board, Faculty, Staff, and Students:
Fifty years ago, Malcolm X stated that American “democracy is hypocrisy.” He of course was speaking in the context of horrific violence and terrorism aimed at Black Americans and other marginalized groups that began with the colonization of Turtle Island/North America and which persists through state-violence and oppression to this day. He meant that democracy was only being utilized when it was convenient, yet dismissed when it was not.
As UIndy SJP’s campaign unfolded this past semester, I was able to find a microcosm of “democracy as hypocrisy” at our own university. I write this letter out of a loving concern for this institution that has given me much and as a clarion call for all who recognize that intellectual spaces like UIndy ought to be morally guided and compelled by principle and not by political calculation.
When divestment campaign leaders met with you last year, President Manuel, you told them that their aspirations for social justice were well intended but that they should go through the proper channels. You asked leaders to meet with students, argue their positions, engage with the opposition, and then bring the matter to a vote in the Student Senate. When they eventually did those things and more, they were met with a highly disappointing response from administration.
As part of their campaign, student leaders had communicated with all student organizations on campus. They convinced nine student organizations to sign on to the resolution. They engaged with the opposition in respectful dialogue despite their Islamophobic rhetoric and confabulation of human rights activism with Antisemitism. They also negotiated with administration as they tried to delay the initial vote for divestment, and after administration insisted that a well-funded outside pro-Zionist organization could come and testify against students. Not only that, but they accepted that the vote would have to be upheld by a super-majority, and that abstaining votes would not count in favor of the majority. (In fact, abstaining votes were made to count for the minority, which is unheard of in organized politics.) Despite these challenges, they won. We won. The students of the senate stated unequivocally, by a clear margin of victory, that we support divestment. That we support conscientious investment, loving struggle, and Palestinian life. And we stood ready to reap the benefits of democracy.
This is where Malcolm comes in. A letter emerged from the Dean’s office stating that, while the Senate voted in favor, the Senate “does not speak for the entire student body, University or Board of Trustees, nor are its decisions binding on any other campus groups”; effectively, that the student voice through the democratic process was not going to be fully respected. Administration seemed to be celebrating the democratic process as long as it was not politically inconvenient.
In this instance members of our campus community should be reminded about history. During the struggle against South African apartheid—the campaign against that country’s system of white supremacy—many University administrations initially refused or were slow to honor votes by student governments to divest. Eventually, even President Ronald Reagan would denounce apartheid once its racism and inequality were clear to a majority of Americans.
A letter calling for action regarding the passed resolution has been delivered to the Board of Trustees and UIndy Dining Services, and we wait for a response.
At this juncture, decision makers on campus have a chance to be ahead of history. By respecting the student vote to divest they can honor student democracy and forward the mission of global justice and equality. They should join with supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, novelist Alice Walker, and physicist Stephen Hawking, as well as institutions- like our own affiliation- the United Methodist Church– and others like the United Church of Christ. They should prove to their students that they respect the University’s own commitment to free speech and fairness both on our campus and in Palestine.
The school year is coming to a close. I invite students, faculty, and staff, to write to members of the Board of Trustees and UIndy Dining Services, and to call on them to honor our voice. I invite administrators to support this call and to do the same. I invite the Board and UDS to uphold the call for divestment, and to support BDS and its humanitarian plea. I invite all of us to take seriously the words of Martin Luther King Jr., that:
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
I invite all of us to act urgently, vigorously, and positively in loving struggle for non-violent efforts in support of a just peace in Palestine and Israel.
Program Coordinator, Students for Justice in Palestine
Class of ‘16
Fulbright U.S. Scholar
UIndy Men’s Soccer Alum