Alumni Misrepresent Student Experiences

J Street U Oberlin Board

To the Editors:

In light of the recent [Oberlin Alums for Campus Fairness] symposium, “Building a Hate-Free Campus through Civil Discourse,” it is important for students to come together and engage with the complicated dynamics of anti-Semitism, Israel-Palestine politics on campus and alumni involvement in the narratives portrayed about Oberlin. Student Senate wrote a letter with the intent to engage with these topics (“Student Senate Condemns OCACF Actions,” Sept. 23, 2016, The Oberlin Review). J Street U’s lack of involvement in the letter was due to numerous circumstances, including differences of opinion with some of its content and limited time to contribute effectively. While individuals associated with J Street U were in conversation with Student Senate, J Street U as an organization did not contribute.

It is important for students to work toward representing a collective student voice in opposition to the alumni. However, we feel that elements of the Student Senate letter lacked nuance when it came to the difference between actual anti-Semitism and claims of anti-Semitism conflated with anti-Zionism. We agree with the Student Senate letter that the way in which ACF highlighted Professor Karega’s posts was out of the context of student experiences with anti-Semitism on campus. In addition, we believe that some of Professor Karega’s Facebook posts were anti-Semitic. The actions taken by the alumni do not preclude the need to acknowledge legitimate anti-Semitism when it presents itself. We need to separate the alumni’s conflation of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment from actual anti-Semitic tropes and rhetoric. The conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism made by ACF contributes to our inability as a student body to recognize legitimate anti-Semitism.

Student Senate’s interest in a collective voice determined by different student organizations is an important one. While, symbolically, a co-signed letter demonstrates that organizations are working together, in reality, the important conversations have not yet happened. We are looking to Student Senate to convene a conversation with relevant groups so together we can grapple with underlying dynamics on campus.

How do we identify and act on real anti-Semitism when we see it? How do we foster an environment that creates an intersectional understanding of racial justice and anti-Semitism and pursues justice in all forms? How can students take ownership of narratives about our institution? Student organizations must develop relationships so students can respectfully engage with each other’s work in an authentic way. We look forward to having these conversations on a campus that is unencumbered by the unrepresentative narratives driven by ACF.

– J Street U Oberlin Board