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Student Senate Letter Admonishes ACF

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Student Senate Letter Admonishes ACF

College junior Matthew Kornberg raises their hand at last night's Oberlin ACF anti-Semitism symposium at The Hotel at Oberlin. Student Senate released a letter condemning the group earlier in the week.

College junior Matthew Kornberg raises their hand at last night's Oberlin ACF anti-Semitism symposium at The Hotel at Oberlin. Student Senate released a letter condemning the group earlier in the week.

Sawyer Brooks

College junior Matthew Kornberg raises their hand at last night's Oberlin ACF anti-Semitism symposium at The Hotel at Oberlin. Student Senate released a letter condemning the group earlier in the week.

Sawyer Brooks

Sawyer Brooks

College junior Matthew Kornberg raises their hand at last night's Oberlin ACF anti-Semitism symposium at The Hotel at Oberlin. Student Senate released a letter condemning the group earlier in the week.

Louis Krauss, News Editor

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Igniting conflict with Oberlin Alums for Campus Fairness, which has repeatedly denounced Professor of Rhetoric and Composition Joy Karega for what it considers to be anti-Semitic Facebook posts, Student Senate published a letter Tuesday morning condemning the group’s actions over the past year. The statement’s publication closely coincided with an ACF-led symposium on modern-day anti-Semitism yesterday evening.

“When alumni intimidate, marginalize and harass Oberlin students, eventually enough is enough,” said Student Senate Liaison and double-degree senior Jeremy Poe, who drafted the letter on behalf of Senate.

The statement, written in consultation with current and former members of ABUSUA and Students for a Free Palestine, argues that ACF fails to take student opinion into account when claiming that Oberlin’s campus contains widespread anti-Semitism.

Oberlin J Street U, a student organization that looks to promote peace and social justice in Israel and the Middle East, was originally listed as a consultant on the letter as well, but members later asked that the organization’s name be removed. The group released an official statement on its Facebook page last Tuesday.

“We support much of the letter’s sentiments, and want to affirm our continued discontent with Oberlin ACF’s actions, including the panel this Thursday,” the statement read. “Yet we have concerns about some of the content of the letter and did not feel that it fully represented our perspective.”

Oberlin ACF is a group of alumni that aims to reveal and stop anti-Semitism on campus. The group originally began as a private Facebook group titled “Obies Against BDS” (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) in December 2015.

According to students, the group initially included students, alumni and parents.

Student members were quickly removed and blocked from the group after requesting that they have more input and that the group condemn Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. After being expelled from the Facebook group, some students received messages from alumni allegedly belittling them for not understanding the situation well enough.

Still, some of these students feel as if the online harassment does not parallel the seriousness of the “real issues” ACF has with understanding the campus. College junior and J Street U Co- Chair Emily Isaacson, who said she received hurtful messages and voicemails, stressed that the focus should be more on improving the group itself.

“I was hurt, but I care much more about the issues that negatively affect campus,” Isaacson said. “Some of the actions by members who sent things to me were disrespectful and hurtful, but I think if I and others from J Street wrote the letter, we would have characterized things a little differently.”

Oberlin ACF President Melissa Landa, OC ’86, said this was a “mischaracterization” and that students were removed simply because the group was figuring out its identity, and ultimately decided to be an alumni-only organization.

One of students’ main complaints about ACF is its characterization of the College as widely anti-Semitic despite rarely visiting campus. Instead of gauging the campus climate by spending significant periods of time in Oberlin, the group typically relies on anonymous student reports of anti-Semitism. College junior and Hillel Treasurer Rebecca Primoff said she agrees with Senate’s letter and believes anti-Semitism on campus is not as bad as the alumni make it out to be.

“I just don’t feel anti-Semitism anywhere in my day-to-day life here,” Primoff said. “If they used their resources to reach out to students instead of making all these claims from afar, it would make a much bigger difference.”

When asked whether it bothered her that multiple members of Hillel said they do not support ACF, Landa said  “We don’t need support for our organization, but we’re hoping people participate in the symposium.”

Another point of contention between Oberlin ACF members and students who oppose the group is that relying on anonymous student reports makes it difficult to prove whether anti- Semitism is actually prevelant. Landa said she wishes more people who come to her would allow ACF to use their names.

“I had a student write something so powerful, but they told me they didn’t want it published with their name on it, so I had to do it myself. We have several students who have said horrifying things, and they will not put their names out there. It’s not only cause for concern, but it’s pretty much all I need to know about how bad things are there.”

Landa and several other ACF members led last night’s symposium, which was originally scheduled at the Local Coffee and Tea, but was moved to The Hotel at Oberlin last minute after Local co-owner Jessa New pulled out of the event. The College also kept its distance from the event by not agreeing to host the symposium on campus. President Marvin Krislov was unavailable for comment.

Despite Landa promoting the event as a way to promote peaceful discussion on anti-Semitism, many students were upset about the group’s visit. Poe took issue with the group attempting to appear like they were engaging in civil discourse.

“ACF building a hate-free campuss through civil discourse is disengenuous because I don’t think they have been civil,” Poe said.

As the event was held at the Hotel, its security laid outside Safety and Security’s jurisdiction. Instead,  two plainclothes Oberlin Police Department officers were assigned to the symposium, standing near the exits as alums delivered speeches.

However, after hearing that ACF was possibly planning to film protesters as Landa and others entered the building, Students for a Free Palestine and ABUSUA organizers decided to instead host a community-building event around the fire pit in Tappan Square, adjacent to the event space. Approximately 70 people sat in a circle in Tappan, discussing how to address perceived injustices on campus and how to move forward. College senior and SFP member Natalia Shevin said the event was overall very positive and demonstrates the effectiveness of unpacking issues within the student body.

“The discussion shows that students are committed to creating spaces of our own to address issues on our campus, and we do not need outside intervention to facilitate that,” Shevin said. “Conversations about students should involve students.”

And while some anticipated heated confrontation between ACF and student groups like SFP and ABUSUA, bystanders along College Street instead bore witness to two different places of quiet reflection and conversation. Both Poe and Landa said they would be happy to meet along with other student organizations in the future to discuss concerns raised over ACF and how to address them.

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7 Responses to “Student Senate Letter Admonishes ACF”

  1. melissa landa on September 23rd, 2016 5:38 PM

    What a shame that you didn’t report on the productive ACF symposium and on the fact that members of the student senate and of SFP chose to attend. What a disappointment that you chose to take my comment, “We don’t need support,” out of context, giving the impression of disregard for students. What a lost opportunity, Louis. Instead of focusing on a well-attended and peaceful evening, and on looking to building partnerships, you decided to fuel the cinders. Should I now conclude that my invitation to a SFP meeting and to dialogue further with the student senate was disingenuous, too? Last night, Stacey Aviva Flint commented that students should view the press with skepticism, understanding that they are motivated by increasing readership, and not always by conveying events accurately and objectively. In response to Stacey’s remark, several students expressed their agreement. It looks like you have earned yourself some snaps with this article.

  2. Sawyer Brooks on September 24th, 2016 3:47 PM

    Honestly, as someone who attended the event through the entire evening, I feel there was very little meaningful dialogue. You stacked the forum with panelists who were on your side and refused to allow responses from students to anything they or you said; the evening was anything but productive and for me, served to “fuel the cinders.” The main takeaway I had was that neither you nor the rest of the anti-BDS group were interested in having your views challenged yet want students to challenge theirs.

    I recommended the above photo be used because it’s representative of the evening: students attempting to get a word in to clarify or follow up on their questions but being actively ignored and silenced especially when they brought up what I thought were very good points of discussion that could have benefitted from an open discussion.

    If you actually care about reaching common ground wth students and changing the campus climate, collaborate with the senate and/or student groups and hold an open forum that’s longer and encourages discussion between panelists and students/those asking questions. Attacking journalists or holding panels whose design discourages all but the promotion of your ideas will not help bridge the gap between the alumni and students.

  3. Melissa Landa on September 25th, 2016 1:08 PM

    Rather than engage in a battle about conflicting perceptions and perspectives, I will simply respond to your challenge that we “collaborate with the senate and/or student groups and hold an open forum that’s longer and encourages discussion between panelists and students/those asking questions.”
    We would welcome that opportunity and we are open to students’ suggestions about how to proceed. In will get in touch with student leaders within the next few days and hope to have good news to report back.

  4. Norman Birnbach on September 25th, 2016 12:11 PM

    The criticism that the symposium wasn’t balanced is a specious claim for two reasons:
    1) Our symposium was not intended to address Israel or Israeli government policy. Instead, our symposium was focused on anti-Semitism, Jewish identity, Jewish student life at Oberlin and ways to bring about civil discourse on campus. Demanding balance for our symposium on Jewish identify would have meant inviting someone from the alt-right to speak against Jewish identity.
    2) When Robin Kelley spoke on campus in March, in a speech entitled on, “Fighting Apartheid Since 1948: Key Moments in Palestinian and Black Solidarity,” we didn’t see a letter from the Student Senate demanding balance on that program. At that event, paid for by the college and sponsored by several academic departments, Kelley said things that were offensive to Jews without any concern about balance.
    What seems to be lost is that OCACF’s focus is on Jewish identity and Jewish student life on the Oberlin campus and the need to confront anti-Semitism — just as we need to confront other forms of hatred and bigotry. The debate about Israeli policy may be worth having but we’re not trying to politicize Jewish identity, even as OCACF critics seem insistent on doing. They keep bringing it back to Israeli policy as a way to ignore the fact that for many (though not all) Jewish students at Oberlin, the climate has become filled with tension, a sense of dread, and fear of being ostracized based primarily on their religious identity. Jewish students at Oberlin shouldn’t have to live with that. Subverting the conversation about Jewish student life at Oberlin — by trying to make the discussion be about Israeli policies or about so-called concerns about a perceived lack of balance — should not be tolerated.

  5. Melissa Landa on September 25th, 2016 1:14 PM

    One more offer: We kept all the index questions on which questions were written. I am happy to share the questions with The Review accompanied by our answers. I am also happy to share the video of the event when it is ready. Please let me know if either of those offers interests you.

  6. Melissa Landa on September 25th, 2016 7:58 PM

    Correction to my first comment: I mistook a student senator for an SFP member and I, therefore, do not know if there were any SFP members at the symposium. The invitation I received was to attend one of the Student Senate’s open meetings. Apologies for any confusion.

  7. Melissa Landa on September 27th, 2016 10:07 PM

    As Promised:

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