As a Jewish student at the University of Connecticut, this column has been an uncomfortable one to write. Specifically, when I’ve thought about recent incidents, such as the altercation on Fairfield Way between members of Students for Justice in Palestine and members of UConn Hillel that happened last semester or what happened between Jewish students and Muslim students in Homer Babbidge Library on Feb. 28, I’ve felt obligated to speak out as a student with a platform, but I have not been sure what to say. One thing remains clear to me: All students, as well as other members of the community, deserve equitable representation here at UConn, as well as the respect of their fellow community members.
Let me get one thing out of the way immediately — a person who identifies with a certain group should never be assumed to adhere to all ideologies, beliefs or other characteristics of said group. For example, I am Jewish, and because of that fact people in the past have assumed I support the state of Israel. While I do believe that Jews have an ethnic right to live in Palestine just as Palestinians and other groups do, I do oppose the current setup of the state of Israel and many of its actions. No one should automatically assume that because I am Jewish, I support the state of Israel, and on the flip side of that, no one should assume that Palestinian students, or more broadly Muslim students, support certain things either. These groups are not monoliths, and people always deserve to be seen as individuals.
On the subject of the altercation in Homer Babbidge a week ago, lines were certainly crossed that should not have been. The Daily Campus printed a news article on Friday, March 4, where one of the Muslim students involved alleged that a Jewish student approached her and her friends, asking about a poster that was part of a campaign in support of Palestine set up by the UConn Muslim Student Association, a campaign the interviewed student had nothing to do with. According to the student in the article, after initiating conversation, the student who asked about the poster then proceeded to remove the posters from a nearby bulletin board, crumpling them and throwing them away. When I reached out to one of the Jewish students involved in the interview, part of the comments I received were that this act was in accordance with the UConn’s posting and canvassing guidelines. While this may have been true, the alleged conduct of the students removing the posters was not okay. If their only goal was to correct a violation of UConn guidelines, there are ways of going about that that do not involve taking matters into one’s own hands and ripping material off the wall. Also, implying that other students might be involved with a certain campaign simply because they identify a certain way is also wrong. Likewise, the Jewish student I reached out to mentioned that they have been the subject of bullying and threats since the incident, and while civilly calling out bad actors is one thing, it must also be acknowledged that there is a line there as well.
Just like any other event, context cannot be ignored. The students who attempted to remove the posters from the library claim that their goal was to engage in “respectful dialogue.” This may well have been their goal in their minds, but the way that their actions could be perceived based on recent events is understandable. At a rally on Nov. 2, 2021 held by Students for Justice in Palestine, members of UConn Hillel distributed pamphlets with the same stated goal, one of which being incredibly generalizing of Muslim people. The messaging from this pamphlet did not reflect a desire to engage respectfully, and neither did the removal of the posters on the wall.
In short, actions speak louder than words, and if one’s actions don’t line up with their words, those words become invalidated. When dealing with issues that cause many people to feel a great deal of emotion, whether that is anger, fear or anything else, sensitivity should be the first instinct. For example, instead of confronting a fellow student directly about something they did not have to do with, perhaps contacting the library official in charge of posting and canvassing about the issue would have been a more civil choice.
I remember feeling unsafe as a UConn student when seven antisemitic incidents occurred on-campus during my sophomore year. I also remember UConn Hillel, as well as many individuals in the Jewish UConn community, putting in a great deal of work to make this school feel safer. This is why I feel I can empathize with students who have been negatively affected by recent events, whether it be the altercation in the library or the distribution of the pamphlet. I know how it feels to worry about my safety at UConn because of my identity, and no one deserves that. I know that we can all do better to respect our peers, and that’s a very simple bottom line all of us can very easily uphold, just by being more sensitive to those around us.