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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